If you’re interested in growing garlic at home, the first thing you’ll need to figure out is the best type of garlic to grow for your area. Both hardneck and softneck varieties grow best in certain climates, so let’s talk more about the differences between these two garlic types.
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All garlic is divided into two main categories – hardneck and softneck. Underneath that, there are 11 main types of garlic, and beneath that, there are 100s of specific garlic varieties. So there’s way more options available to you than the one type they sell at the grocery store. That’s one of the many reasons why we recommend growing garlic at home, but I digress…
Garlic is an incredibly hardy crop – it loves the cold, can stand the heat, it’s drought-resistant, pest-resistant, and so much more! For that reason, garlic can be grown anywhere – in all grow zones.
But the main difference between hardneck and softneck garlic is how cold your winters get. Hardneck garlic needs an extended period of cold to fracture and form cloves. So the colder your zone, the better your hardneck garlic will perform. In contrast, softneck garlic doesn’t have these same requirements and can be grown in downright tropical environments.
Personally, I love this graphic from GroEat Garlic Farm. It shows the different USDA grown zones in comparison to the best garlic for your area. Officially, they say that zones 1-5 are best for hardneck garlic and zones 8-12 are best for softneck garlic. Any zone in between you can grow both types of garlic.
Here in zone 8, we find that both hardneck and softneck varieties grow well.
Now let’s delve into some of the other differences be these types of garlic.
One of the biggest benefits of growing hardneck garlic is that they give you garlic scapes. Scapes are the edible flowerstalk of the garlic plant. They shoot up in early summer, long before your garlic is ready, and feature a delicate garlic flavor. We love to eat them raw, grill them, pickle them, and even make compound butter.
Learn more about harvesting and uses for garlic scapes.
Easy to Peel
Heads of hardneck garlic usually have just a few cloves, but they’re typically massive. That makes hardneck garlic a little easier to cook with and enjoy because there’s less cloves to peel.
This point is arguable, but we’re firm believers that hardneck garlic tastes better than softneck garlic. Hardneck garlic lays claim to some of the hottest varieties in the world, like Georgian Fire, and also some of the most classic garlic flavors, like Music.
The “soft necks” of this garlic type make it the easiest to braid. If you’re looking for those very cottagecore aesthetic kitchen vibes, nothing beats a braid of garlic hanging on the wall. Technically some folks say that hardneck garlic is braidable too, but it takes some soaking and extra effort that we find not worth it. If you wanna braid garlic, grow softneck.
There’s a reason why it’s primarily softneck garlic that’s sold at the grocery store. These types have an incredible shelf life, sometimes storing for a year or more. For that reason, we try to grow a few softneck varieities to carry our culinary garlic supply into the early summer.
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