Different Types Of Garlic: Garlic Varieties To Grow In The Garden
Of late, there has been much in the news about the promising possibilities garlic may have in reducing and maintaining a healthy level of cholesterol. What is known for sure, garlic is a terrific source of Vitamins A and C, potassium, phosphorus, selenium and a few amino acids. Not only nutritious, it’s delicious! But have you ever wondered about the different types of garlic plants you can grow? Find out in this article.
Garlic Varieties to Grow
Garlic’s history is long and convoluted. Originally from Central Asia, it has been cultivated in the Mediterranean for over 5,000 years. Gladiators ate garlic prior to battle and Egyptian slaves purportedly consumed it to give them strength to build the pyramids.
There are basically two different types of garlic, although some folks lump elephant garlic as a third. Elephant garlic is actually a member of the onion family but is a variant of the leek. It has very large bulbs with very few cloves, three or four, and has a sweet, mellow onion/garlic flavor and a similar mien, hence the confusion.
Garlic is one of 700 species in the Allium or onion family. The two different types of garlic are softneck (Allium sativum) and hardneck (Allium ophioscorodon), sometimes referred to as stiffneck.
Of the softnecked variety, there are two common garlic types: artichoke and silverskin. Both of these common garlic types are sold in the supermarket and you have more than likely used them.
Artichokes are named for their resemblance to artichoke vegetables, with multiple overlapping layers containing up to 20 cloves. They are white to off-white with a thick, hard-to-peel outer layer. The beauty of this is their long shelf life — up to eight months. Some artichoke garlic varieties include:
- ‘California Early’
- ‘California Late’
- ‘Polish Red’
- ‘Red Toch’
- ‘Early Red Italian’
- ‘Italian Purple’
- ‘Lorz Italian’
- ‘Inchelium Red’
- ‘Italian Late’
Silverskins are high yielding, adaptable to many climates and are the type of garlic used in garlic braids. Garlic plant varieties for silverskins include:
- ‘Polish White’
- ‘Chet’s Italian Red’
- ‘Kettle River Giant.’
The most common type of hardneck garlic is ‘Rocambole,’ which has large cloves that are easy to peel and have a more intense flavor than softnecks. The easy-to-peel, loose skin lessens the shelf life to only around four to five months. Unlike softneck garlic, hardnecks send out a flowering stem, or scape, that turns woody.
Hardneck garlic varieties to grow include:
- ‘Chesnok Red’
- ‘German White’
- ‘Polish Hardneck’
- ‘Persian Star’
- ‘Purple Stripe’
Garlic names tend to be all over the map. This is because much of the seed stock has been developed by private individuals who can name the strain anything they desire. Therefore, some garlic plant varieties may be very much the same despite different names, and some with the same name may be very different from each other indeed.
“True” garlic plant varieties do not exist, hence, they are referred to as strains. You very well may want to experiment with different types until you find the ones you prefer and that do well in your climate.
Edible Landscaping - How to: Plant Garlic
Purchase garlic bulbs from the garden center or through the mail. Grocery store garlic varieties usually aren't adapted to grow well in most climates.
Plant garlic cloves around the first fall frost in your area.
The "stinking rose" has been grown for thousands of years for its flavor and medicinal properties. Raw garlic is touted as being a cure for everything from the common cold to high cholesterol to an abundance of vampires. (Watch out Twilight fans.) But it's mostly grown for its flavor. The spicy taste of garlic cloves is used in ethnic dishes from Asia to South America, flavoring stir fries, salsa, salads, and a variety of meat and vegetable dishes. The flavor varies depending on the variety. Some varieties have a spicy hot flavor while others are milder.
Whatever variety you decide to grow, make sure it's adapted to conditions in your climate. Garlic found in grocery stores is most likely from California (or, these days, China) and will be best adapted to that climate. It's best to purchase garlic from local garden centers or through the mail, finding the varieties best suited to your region.
There are three types of garlic available. Hardneck varieties such as 'Russian Red' and 'German Extra Hardy', have 5 to 10 cloves per bulb and the plant forms an edible scape (curly flower stalk) in early summer with small garlic bulblets at the top. They will last up to 6 months in storage. Softneck varieties, such as 'New York White' and 'Silverskin', produce 12- to 18-cloves per bulb and have a soft leaves that are easy to braid after harvesting. They last longer in storage than hardneck varieties (up to 9 months). A third, less common type, is elephant garlic. Elephant garlic is more closely related to leeks than garlic. It's a giant form of softneck garlic with plants growing up to 4 feet tall. They produce 4 large cloves per bulb. The flavor is milder than other garlics and they store well.
Unlike most other vegetables, garlic is best planted in fall. In cool climates you can plant in spring, but the bulbs will be noticeably smaller. In warm winter areas you can plant right up until January. In most other areas, plant garlic cloves around the time of your first frost date (about 4 to 6 weeks before your ground freezes). That would be October and November for most of the country. Garlic grows best in cool weather. Plants will establish root systems in fall and start growing in spring with warmer weather. You'll be harvesting in June or early July. Here's how to plant.
Hardneck garlic varieties will produce a scape that is edible and should be removed for best bulb production.
Save the biggest garlic bulbs from last year for planting again in fall.
- In all but sandy soils, build raised beds 8- to 10-inches tall, 3-feet wide, and as long as you like. Garlic tends to rot in cold, wet soils. Raised beds help keep it dry in winter.
- Amend the raised beds with a 1- to 2-inch thick layer of compost before planting.
- Break apart the bulbs carefully to separate out the individual cloves.
- Set cloves, pointy side up, spaced 4- to 6- inches apart in rows on the raised bed. Push them 1- to 2-inches deep into the soil. Plant elephant garlic 6- to 8-inches apart.
- Keep garlic beds well watered.
- Don't worry if a few garlic cloves sprout shoots during warm fall weather. This is natural and the growth will stop once cold weather hits. The bulbs will not be damaged.
- Protect the bed from digging dogs, cats and wildlife with chicken wire spread over the bed. Animals love to dig in newly formed beds, uprooting the garlic cloves.
- In cold winter areas, cover the garlic beds after a few hard freezes with a 4- to 6-inch thick layer of hay or straw. This will protect the garlic cloves from heaving out of the ground in winter during cycles of freezing and thawing.
- Remove the mulch in spring with warm weather and garlic top growth. Apply a high nitrogen fertilizer, such as fish emulsion, when three leaves have formed in spring.
Is Garlic Toxic?
Though edible for humans, garlic is very poisonous to dogs and cats. The toxicity of garlic depends on the amount ingested and the breed/size of the animal, but it almost always will lead to some sort of reaction. Members of the allium family (including onions, chives, and leeks) can be responsible for severe toxicity that causes red blood cell destruction. If you notice your pet exhibiting any of the symptoms below, contact an emergency vet immediately.
Symptoms of Poisoning
- Irritation around the mouth
- Excessive drooling
- Red urine
- Wobbly gait
- Increased heart rate
- Difficulty breathing or panting
- Pale gums
Here’s what to know about planting garlic:
Where to grow
Garlic grows well in pots and containers. It will also do well right in the ground or in a garden bed. It depends on the soil, watering, air temperature, and sunlight.
It requires a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight per day. If you plant it in pots and containers, consider moving them to maximize sunlight. The plants will do well in full sun.
Be sure to use quality, nutrient rich soil. Soil matters. Plant in fertile, well-draining soil with neutral pH level. Loamy soil is ideal. Plants can also tolerate some clay.
The key is that it drains well.
You can use potting soil. The top six inches of soil should be enriched with organic matter including a layer of compost.
Soil temperature should be around 50 degrees F when planting.
What month to plant garlic
In warmer climates: Plant garlic late October, November, or December.
In cooler climates: Plant garlic in September, October, or November.
Ideally, you should plant garlic one month before the ground freezes.
While you may be used to planting right after the last frost, with garlic, the best time to plant garlic is before the first frost.
In North America, this means planting in the fall as it starts to get colder and not in the spring as it starts to warm up.
Optimum air temperature is 32 – 50 degrees Fahrenheit during the first 60 days after planting the cloves.
Roots will develop during the colder months. Growing outdoors or indoors
If you have properly vernalized the garlic, you can garlic grow in pots indoors or in a greenhouse.
How to grow garlic in pots
Choose a container that’s a least 8 inches deep. If has a diameter of 8 inches or more, you can plant several cloves.
Be sure it has adequate drain holes as garlic plants don’t like to be wet.
Garlic plants are ideal to grow in pots indoors or outdoors.
Growing garlic in pots means you can grow it on the patio, deck, windowsill, and other small spaces. You can also move the container around to a sunny spot to maximize sunlight. It’s ideal for a mini garden on the balcony.
If you use new potting soil, there will also be less chance of pests such as nematodes and fungal diseases.
Garlic plant growth after three months.
Being garlic is a cool season crop, consider your plant hardiness zone and what else grows in the cooler months. Garlic pairs well with cabbage and spinach.
It will also do well on its own, among other garlic plants.
Put down a layer of mulch such as alfalfa, leaves, hay, or straw. Mulch will do many things to help garlic plants.
In the summer months, it will help retain moisture and prevent weeds. Mulch for winter will help provide warmth and protects nutrients in the soil.
Planting the clove
Before you plant the clove, it’s important to look at both ends. Plant the pointy side up and the flatter side down to grow roots.
When planting, space each garlic clove at least four inches apart. If you have space, six or eight inches apart is better.
If planting in rows of garlic in a garden, space rows 12 inches apart.
Fertilize garlic in the spring. Ask at your local garden center for a recommendation. Otherwise, choose one that’s high in nitrogen. You can also add fish meal, blood meal, or bone meal. Choose organic fertilizer when possible.
Remove snow from garlic plant if possible to avoid root rot. Garlic plants are cold hardy. This is softneck garlic.
Cloves require less water in the colder months and more when it’s warm. It’s important not to overwater so they don’t get root rot.
On average, water once a week. Plan on watering half an inch to one inch per week.
Consider the rainfall each week as well. If possible, remove snow as well.
Seed garlic isn’t the same as garlic seeds. These are bulbs you buy from a garden center to be sure they aren’t treated with growth inhibitors. They are grown to be replanted.
Pests and diseases
Most animals won’t eat the plants which is good news. Some may dig it up.
Insects and pests to watch out for include leaf miners, bulb mites, nematodes, and more.
Also be careful not to overwater. Root rot is common.
When to harvest garlic
It takes seven months or longer to grow garlic. Be sure to note when you planted it. It will be ready for a summer harvest, typically June and July.
Whether you planted hardneck or softneck garlic, it’s harvest time when about half the leaves turn yellow. The lowest leaves should wither and turn brown.
Then it’s ready to pick the underground bulbs. If you are growing hardneck and see a long curling stem, that’s called a scape. Scapes are edible as well.
How to harvest garlic
Root around with your hands or use a garden fork or small hand shovel to gently work out each bulb. Don’t pull them out from the stem and leaves. Start from the bottom and work your way up.
Loosely shake the dirt from the bulbs. It’s important to not wash the dirt off.
Be gentle and don’t disrupt the papery skins. Keeping them intact will increase the time you can store them.
How to store garlic
Put aside some garlic you will use in the first month. You can leave it on the kitchen counter, in the refrigerator, or in a cool and dry place.
If you want to store it, cure it first. Hang garlic in bunches for 3 – 4 weeks to cure. It’s best to hang them in a place that won’t get light. Hang the garlic plant, including the roots and stalk, with the bulb side down.
If you grow larger bulbs, let them cure for a month.
How long does garlic last
Homegrown heads of garlic can last up to six months. It’s best to keep the bulbs intact until you are ready to use them. They’ll stay fresher and be more flavorful.
Overall, growing garlic is easy. It’s ideal for beginner gardeners as it doesn’t require much upkeep. It’s among the easiest vegetables to grow.
You can grow garlic with hydroponics with proper lighting and substrate.
- Garlic (Allium sativum L.) is a close relative of onions and chives.
- It is a medicinal and culinary herb.
- Garlic forms bulbs that separate into many cloves.
- Each clove is covered with a white-purplish or pinkish, papery sheath.
Soil pH and fertility
Soil testing and fertilizer
- Have your soil tested.
- Garlic grows best in well-drained, moisture-retentive soil with pH between 6.0 and 7.0.
- Improve your soil’s organic matter content by adding well-rotted manure or compost in spring or fall.
- Do not use fresh manure as it may contain harmful bacteria and may increase weed problems.
- Prior to planting, till your soils to provide a loose growing bed for bulb growth.
- Garlic has a moderate to high demand for nitrogen, so you can incorporate urea before planting.
- Top dress as soon as shoots emerge, then again two to three weeks afterwards.
- Avoid applying nitrogen after the first week in May, or you may delay bulbing.
- You may not need additional nitrogen in the spring if you incorporated enough compost in the fall.
- Continuous use of high phosphorus fertilizer such as 10-10-10 or 15-30-15, or high rates of manure or manure compost results in phosphorus buildup in the soil.
- If your soil tests high in phosphorus, use a low phosphorus (such as 32-3-10, 27-3-3, or 25-3-12) or no phosphorus (such as 30-0-10 or 24-0-15) fertilizer.
- Some runoff may occur with phosphate fertilizer. It can then become a major pollution concern in our lakes, rivers and streams.
- High levels of phosphorus support over-production of algae, which causes significant reduction in water quality.
Choosing garlic varieties
The mild climate of northern California grows most commercial garlic. These varieties of garlic will not grow well in Minnesota, and will develop a "hot" flavor.
When choosing garlic for your garden, use varieties adapted to cold climates.
Note that elephant garlic is a type of leek, not a true garlic.
- Softneck types include Artichoke and Silverskin.
- These varieties typically produce more cloves and are easy to braid.
- Softneck varieties do not grow a flowering stalk like the hardneck types. Climate can change this quality. A variety that is softneck in one location can form a flowering stalk in a different location.
Growing garlic from cloves
- To grow garlic, you must plant cloves. Purchase cloves from national or local garlic seed producers.
- Avoid planting cloves from garlic purchased at the grocery store. This garlic, primarily the softneck variety, does not do well under Minnesota conditions.
- Plant cloves in the fall, usually one or two weeks after the first killing frost.
- Roots and shoots will emerge from the cloves by the first hard freeze, but shoots will usually not emerge from the soil until the following spring.
- Separate individual cloves a day or two before planting.
- Plant cloves in double rows, six inches apart. Center the rows on beds, 30 inches apart. Plant cloves pointed side up, with the base of the clove two to three inches from the soil surface.
- Cover beds with three to four inches of leaf or straw mulch to prevent fluctuating temperatures during the winter and early spring, and to help control weeds.
- Remove mulch in the spring after the threat of hard freezes is over to help the soil warm up. You can also leave it in place to help with weed control and preserve soil moisture.
How to keep your garlic plants healthy and productive
- Proper watering will help growth of your garlic plants.
- Soak the soil thoroughly when watering, to a depth of at least one inch each week during the growing season.
- Sandy soils require more frequent watering.
- Stop watering two weeks before harvest to avoid staining bulb wrappers and promoting diseases.
- Control weeds early, they can easily overtake young garlic plants.
- Use mulch to reduce annual weed growth. Use straw free of weed seed as mulch.
- A thorough, shallow cultivation before reapplying straw mulch in the spring will reduce annual weed populations.
Insects are not a major problem with garlic, although onion maggot is a potential pest. Onion maggots bore into plant stems, causing the plants to turn yellow and wilt.
Garlic is vulnerable to several types of rot. Fusarium basal rot is the most common.
To avoid these diseases, plant only healthy cloves, manage weeds in the garden and take care not to injure garlic bulbs while working in the garden.
Plant garlic in an area where you have not planted onions, chives, leeks, shallots or garlic for the past four years.
For help diagnosing unknown problems, visit What's wrong with my plant?
- Harvesting too early will result in small bulbs. Harvesting too late will result in cloves popping out of bulbs.
- Depending on variety and climate zone, harvest garlic between late June and late July.
- Begin harvesting when the lower leaves turn brown and when half or slightly more than half of the upper leaves remain green.
- Alternatively, you can pull a few bulbs and cut them in half. If the cloves fill the skins, then the bulbs are ready to harvest.
- Harvest the garlic plants with shoots and bulbs attached. Knock off any large clumps of soil.
- Put the plants in a warm, dry, airy place for three to four weeks to cure. This will dry the sheaths surrounding the bulbs, as well as the shoots and roots.
- After curing, cut the shoots one-half to one inch above the bulbs and the roots trimmed close to the bulb base.
- You can save garlic cloves from one crop to the next. Keep the biggest one for planting the following year.
Carl J. Rosen and Cindy Tong, Extension horticulturalist
These variety of garlic are closely related to wild garlic and come with complex flavors. Hardnecks grow fewer cloves, but they are larger and easier to peel. The tall stalks can also be harvested and are great for mixing into stir fries, or for making green garlic pesto. A single hardneck bulb can yield 5-8 times its own weight when harvested! They also tend to have a much shorter storage life than softnecks.
These are the cloves sought after by chefs due to their exceptional flavor and their easiness to peel. Hardnecks are better suited for growing in colder climates, though they can be grown in hot and humid climates too. One thing to be careful of when planting hardnecks is to make sure you plant them “right side up”: the pointed end goes up.
Porcelain garlics have the largest bulbs of all the “true garlic” plants. They also contain the highest amount of allicin, which makes them the best type to eat for health benefits. Most porcelains are pretty cold tolerant. Some, such as Northern White, have been documented to survive down to -18 Fahrenheit! This type is hot if eaten raw, but sweet when baked.
This garlic’s scapes are sought after almost as much as the bulbs themselves. This is a late-harvest garlic that tends to be more expensive, as farmers have to set aside a larger part of their crop for the next season. On average, they’ll last up to 6 months if stored properly.
Photo credit Pixabay
This is the most common hardneck variety to grow. The clove skins are much looser than those of other garlics, and often not even enclosed entirely around the cloves. This can sometimes cause a bit of normal discoloration. Though easier to peel—making them perfect to cook with—the downside is their short storage life These only last 4-6 months.
Rocamboles are rarely white, and are mostly brown with purple splotches and stripes. They don’t grow well in warmer climates, and require a cold winter and a cool spring for the best flavor. These are fiery when eaten raw, though milder varieties are available as well.
You’ll recognize this type by their bulb wrappers’ vivid purple stripes. Out of all the baking garlics, purple stripes are the sweetest of them all. Some folks even add roasted garlic to partially thawed ice cream and re-freeze it, claiming it will then have the taste and texture of Butter Brickle ice cream. Starbright is one variety that has a slight nutty flavor, and Chesnok is a good roasting garlic.
They grow successfully all over the USA, even withstanding hot Texas summers. Their harvest time is somewhere in the middle of typical garlic harvest. If stored properly, they should last around 6-8 months.
As it turns out, one of my personal favorite garlics to grow is not even a true garlic at all!
Elephant garlic is actually related to the leek family. Besides their immense size, I enjoy the pinkish-purple flower stalks that usually come out in late spring. The large bulbs are made up of 5-6 large cloves, which have smaller bulblets growing around them as well. These tiny cloves are called “corms”. If you plant one of the corms, it’ll produce a non-blooming plant with just a single large clove during its first season. If you can wait another season to harvest, it will have grown into a giant, multi-cloved head of elephant garlic. These love to grow in full sun anywhere in temperate zones, as far down as the tropics.
You’ll need to discontinue watering your garlic plants about 3 weeks before harvest time. I suggest cutting some of the choice scapes off the hardnecks and saving those delicious bits separately. After harvesting mature garlic, it’s time to cure it. Remove any dirt, leave the wrappers on, but don’t wash it! You can leave the roots on, as they have a moderating effect on drying time. If you only have a few garlics, just put them somewhere warm and dry. Keep them away from direct sunlight, in a place with good air circulation. If you have a larger harvest, you may want to hang them in bunches. Just don’t hang so many in a bunch that they don’t get proper air circulation. You may want to turn on an oscillating fan to help with circulation. After about 2 weeks of drying, they should be ready to store.
Keep your dried garlic at a cool, stable room temperature: about 60-65 Fahrenheit. If you take cold stored garlic and bring it into warmer temperatures, it will begin to sprout. Mesh bags are perfect for storing individual garlic cloves, and if you’re saving bulbils for next season’s crop, a brown paper bag works well too.