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Types of Garlic and How to Grow and Harvest Garlic

Do You Know the Types of Garlic?

Ah, garlic. Garlic growers and connoisseurs know that there are three overarching types of garlic. These are softneck, hardneck and elephant garlic.

  • Softneck garlic
  • Hardneck garlic
  • Elephant garlic

In this article you’ll not only learn more about the types of garlic, but also how to grow garlic as well as the health and nutritional benefits. You’ll be pleased to know that while garlic takes a long time to reach maturity, it’s easy to grow, and oh so worth it!

Garlic, Allium sativum, is an ancient plant used for flavor, health and medicine for over 5,000 years.

Nutrition and Health Benefits of Garlic

Healthy for you, garlic has numerous potent health benefits. Garlic is low in calories and very rich in Vitamin C, Vitamin B6 and Manganese, plus traces of other nutrients.

Garlic contains allicin, a sulfur compound with many health benefits. Medicinal benefits of garlic include:

  • Cardiovascular health
  • Inflammation
  • Antibacterial
  • Antiviral
  • Cancer prevention
  • Expectorant
  • Immune enhancer
  • Helpful in iron metabolism.1)https://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=60

Garlic is a power packed plant that’s easy to prepare and grow.

Garlic Festivals

Garlic is so loved that in the US there is a National Garlic Day in the spring of each year.

In many cities around the country there are actually annual garlic festivals. These festivals occur from spring through fall, so just search garlic festival and your city or region name to find the most up to date information for your area.

GARDEN SEEDLINGS ~ Micro quizzes for planting seeds of knowledge:
What flower family does garlic belong to?
~gardensall.com/types-of-garlic/

A Member of a Flower Family

But what is garlic? Is it a vegetable…? An herb…? A Flower?

Garlic, Allium sativum, is a member of the lily and amaryllis, Amaryllidaceae, family along with onions, leeks, shallots, scallions and chives known as allums.2)https://www.britannica.com/topic/list-of-plants-in-the-family-Amaryllidaceae-2058006

Garlic, Allium sativum, is a member of the lily and amaryllis, Amaryllidaceae family known as allums, along with onions, leeks, shallots, scallions and chives.

Garlic - allums of the lily and amaryllis family   along with onions, leeks, shallots, scallions and chives. #GarlicPlanting #HowGarlicGrow #GarlicToGrow #Garlic #Allums #AlliumSativum #TypesOfGarlic

When to Plant Garlic?

Fall is the best time to plant garlic, but you can also plant it in early spring, when the soil is fresh and soft. Many choose to plant garlic in spring while they’re getting their spring gardens going.

Long Growing Season

Garlic needs a long growing season at 6-8 months. It’s wonderful that garlic is still relatively inexpensive since it takes so long to grow to maturity, but you can grow a lot of garlic in a small amount of space.

The spring planted bulbs are often smaller than fall planted bulbs, but should still be tender and delicious.

Garlic matures in 6-8 months:
👨🏼‍🌾 Fall 🍁planted garlic is harvested in the spring or summer☀️
👨🏼‍🌾 Spring 🌱 planted garlic is harvested in summer ☀️ or fall 🍁

Fall is the best time to plant garlic. #PlantingGarlic #WhenToPlantGarlic #FallCrops #FallGardening #WhatToPlantInFall #Gardening #VegetableGardening
Planting Garlic – image by GardensAll community member Tim Hill of his wife Wanda Pothier-Hill

What Types of Garlic to Grow?

But what types of garlic are best to grow? When looking for the right variety for your garden, it’s helpful to know the different types of garlic that are available to you.

Ah, garlic. This plant also called a vegetable or herb, is the aromatic foundation of cuisine around the world, humans have been using this ancient plant for flavor, health and medicine for over 5,000 years. In this article on how to grow garlic, you'll be pleased to know that while garlic takes a long time to reach maturity, it's easy to grow, and worth it! #GarlicPlanting #HowGarlicGrow #GarlicToGrow #Garlic #HowTo #Cloves #TypesOfGarlic

3 Types of Garlic:  Softneck, Hardneck, or Elephant

Garlic can be divided into 3 types.

SOFTNECK GARLIC

Most grocery store garlic is softneck garlic.  

Softneck varieties store the longest and are best suited to temperate climates.  Mild in flavor, these bulbs contain a lot of cloves, ranging from large to tiny.  

If you want to make long, beautiful braids of garlic, then softneck is the garlic type for you. Garlic varieties in the softneck category grow best in regions with mild winters.  

Softneck Garlic is mild, can be braided and grows best in mild winters.

shutterstock_4021840
Softneck garlic stems are soft enough to be braided

HARDNECK GARLIC

Hardneck often has fewer cloves than soft neck garlic, but they are more uniform in size.  

As a rule, hard neck varieties are stronger in flavor than soft neck, and can contain subtle flavor differences that garlic connoisseurs will appreciate.  

You can’t braid hardneck garlic, and it also doesn’t have as long a shelf life, usually not much more than six months, even after curing.  Hardnecks are the cold hardy type, so choose hardneck garlic for regions with harsher winters.

Hardneck garlic is stronger in flavor, won’t braid, and doesn’t last as long but is cold hardy.

hardneck-garlic

ELEPHANT GARLIC

This garlic type is actually a leek!  As the name suggests, elephant garlic grows the largest of the three types, and has the mildest flavor.

These consistently huge elephant garlic cloves store well, though it doesn’t braid. This garlic type is fun in children’s gardens, due to its large size and non-toxicity.  

The mild-flavored, huge elephant garlic tends to be hardy to growing zone 5, and stores well.

elephant garlic clove compared to regular garlic clove
The huge, mild-flavored elephant garlic clove compared to the more common softneck garlic clove.

Now that you know a little about each type, and which is best for your region, let’s learn about garlic’s growing stats, soil needs, and harvesting.

How to Grow Garlic

  • Propagation:  seed garlic from local markets or online sources, bulbils (hardneck varieties), seeds
  • Growing Media: pH rich soil
  • USDA Hardiness:  5-10 (some hardneck varieties can tolerate colder)
  • Germination: months, usually not until spring
  • Spacing:  4-6”
  • Height:  1-2’
  • Width:  3-4”
  • Soil:  fertile, well draining a must, pH neutral
  • Light Needs:  Full sun
  • Water:  Allow soil to dry out a little between waterings.  Don’t overwater!
  • Pests/Diseases: subject to water rot or fungal disease if kept moist

TIP: Garlic prefers rich, pH neutral soil.

Planting Garlic

SOIL

Plant garlic in rich pH neutral soil that’s well draining to ensure that water rot or fungal diseases don’t develop.  Mounded or raised beds work well in areas where the land is flat, or the soil is clay.  

It’s a good idea to avoid planting garlic where any other alliums (onions, leeks, garlic) have been planted the previous season.  This ensures both better soil health and less risk of passing on any diseases to the new crop.

TIP: Avoid planting garlic where any other alliums (onions, leeks, garlic) were planted the previous season.

PLANT FROM SEED

It’s easiest to plant your garlic from “seed garlic,” which are just bulbs that you’ve purchased specifically for growing, or saved from your previous season’s harvest.  You can actually grow them from seed, but like most alliums, they’re a slight pain.  You’ll have to start them indoors, and care for them for a long time until they’re big enough to put outside.

Seed garlic generally hasn’t been sprayed with a growth inhibitor. Store bought garlic often is sprayed with growth inhibitor to retard sprouting while still on the store shelves. You can still plant store bought, and while sprouting success can vary, garlic is a pretty tough plant that’s easy to grow.

If you’re starting from seed garlic, first separate the bulbs into individual cloves.  Don’t cut the cloves up. Each will develop into its own bulb.  Plant each clove with the blunt (root) end facing down, pointed end facing up.  About 1-2” depth is sufficient.  Mulch over the bed heavily, 4-6 inches.  The harsher your winters, the heavier you should mulch.  

TIP: Garlic is best grown from bulbs than seeds.

If the cloves sit in waterlogged soil for extended periods, rot will set in. Allowing the soil to dry out just a little between waterings will be beneficial. So if you’re planting in a field, make sure you have well drained soil or raised rows for drainage.

TIP: Don’t over water garlic!  

Garlic Bulbils

What are garlic bulbils?

Bulbils form when a scape is allowed to mature. The scape is the stalk growing out of a bulb. Although it is sometimes referred to as a ‘garlic flower’ it is not really a flower.
SOURCE: Boundary Garlic Farm, BC, Canada3)https://www.garlicfarm.ca/garlic-bulbils.htm#:~:text=Bulbils%20form%20when%20a%20scape,clones%20of%20the%20parent%20plant

It’s good to plant your garlic from bulbils every few years. There are disadvantages, such as longer growing time. It takes several years to grow full sized bulbs from bulbils. However, to grow from bulbils every few years helps strengthen and multiple your crops.

Advantages of Growing Garlic from Bulbils

  • More economical – many more bulbils than cloves
  • Avoids soil-borne disease
  • Increases vitality of strains
  • Clones of parent plant
  • Out-performs parent plant
    SOURCE: Boundary Garlic Farm, BC, Canada
Mature bulbils of the Porcelain, Northern Quebec, in early August. Image by Boundary Garlic Farm, BC, Canada

Planting Garlic in the Fall Video

GARLIC SCAPES

When the leaves begin to grow in the spring, give them a feed.  

  • Top dress with organic fertilizer or compost that’s high in nitrogen.  
  • Cut off any bloom scapes that appear.  

To trim off bloom scapes will sacrifice the lovely pinkish-lavender puffball flowers, however it’s important to clip off the flowers, especially for the hardneck varieties. This helps to send more energy into the bulb. The good news is that at least the garlic scapes are edible and delicious. They taste just like garlic and are great in salads, omelettes, pesto and anywhere you’d use garlic  

Cut off garlic scapes before it flowers to grow healthier bulbs.
You can use the garlic in salads, stir fry, or make garlic scapes pesto.

garlic-scapes

GARLIC FLOWERS

For edible landscape gardens, you may want to bring your garlic to flower for aesthetics. The flowers are delicious and edible too, and a wonderful addition to salads.

You could grow an area of garlic that you let go to flower, such as in a front yard garden bed like in this cover image, as one idea. It would be interesting to compare the taste of the garlic scapes and garlic flowers in different dishes and as compared to the garlic bulb.

Garlic flowers are edible, delicious and a wonderful addition to salads!

garlic-flower

Quick Garlic Scape Pesto

Recipe by Jennifer Capestany, herbalist

  • 10 large garlic scapes
  • ⅛ cup toasted pine nuts, or sliced almonds, or pistachios (optional)
  • ⅓ cup fresh parmesan cheese, finely grated (adjust amount to taste)
  • up to ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Add scapes and parmesan to a food processor.  
  2. Blend, adding the oil slowly until you get a mostly smooth paste.  
  3. Stop adding oil when you reach the texture that suits you best.  
  4. Salt and pepper as desired.  

This pesto will keep in the fridge, covered, for about 10 days. Tastes lovely with zoodles (zucchini noodles) pasta, chicken, fish, or steamed vegetables!

TIP:  Leave a few scapes to mature, they may develop bulbils, which can be planted just like cloves to produce a new bulb.

Companion Planting with Garlic

Garlic is beneficial for many garden plants, fruit trees, and roses.

Nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers) and brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, kale, cauliflower) are varieties that especially enjoy having garlic nearby.  Simply interplant garlic with these crops to see benefits.  Garlic will have an inhibitory effect on legumes. Avoid planting these together.

For more on companion planting, try Roses Love Garlic by Louise Riotte.

Plant garlic near roses, but avoid planting garlic near legumes.

Harvesting Garlic

Usually, you harvest when the leaves start dying back. That’s an environmental trigger, so you see how you can end up with smaller bulbs if you don’t give it a long time to grow.

After a very long season, and in the height of summer, you will notice that the base stems of your garlic plants begin to brown or harden.  Some of the leaves may also brown and begin to die.  This is your clue that the garlic is ready to harvest.

TIP: Harvest garlic when garlic leaves, base stems brown and die.

Harvesting Garlic with a Trowel

Since we have a small garden and a small row of garlic, we just harvest with a trowel. What you don’t want to do is try to pull the garlic bulb up by the stalks.

Don’t pull garlic bulbs out of the ground by the stalks. Instead, excavate the garlic bulbs using trowel or garden fork.

Curing Garlic

Spread the plants out in a well-ventilated area and allow to cure for 2-3 weeks.  Then you can cut off the tops and store in a cool, dry place in mesh bags.  Alternatively, you can leave the tops on, braid your garlic, and hang them in strings.

how-to-prep-garlic

The key here is to never store them in an airtight container.  Garlic bulbs should be kept in a place where they can continue to get air flow.  Eric of Gardenfork TV gives us more details on harvesting garlic.

TIP: Never store garlic in an airtight container.

Another Method for Harvesting Garlic with a Garden Fork

Enjoy this video demonstration of harvesting garlic.

See how easy?  Garlic is small enough that you can fit a large amount into a small bed, and provide for your own garlic needs year round.

For a free PDF download on how to grow garlic, there’s a great resource at GarlicFarm.ca.4)https://www.garlicfarm.ca/pdf/growing_curing_garlic.pdf

If you love roasted garlic you’ll also love black garlic. More than delicious, black garlic is remarkably nutritious.

Here’s a great roasted garlic hummus recipe on our recipe site.

From the GardensAll Community

Contributor, Teresa McCullar

I’ve got rocambole garlickillarney garlicAsian tempestsomething red, and California white soft neck. (All breeds are written on sticks outside in dirt). Planted yesterday (10/22/16). All in my first top garden.

  • 3 breeds are in a 4×7 area
  • 2 are in a 3×7
  • Softnecks took up a 7 x15
  • Hardnecks are in seed stock phase for next year
  • Every year for next few years, I’ll keep 1/2 to 3/4 for replanting. 

At a 6-12 yield (6 -14 cloves to every 1 planted) I’ll definitely have to cut more new soil every year to sell a bunch. Im utilizing old garden space from this year. Moving main garden to old pig pen (celery, carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes & popcorn next spring).

Teresa and her husband Lee, have homesteading down!5)https://www.gardensall.com/creative-financing-and-living-the-homesteading-dream/

Buying and Selling Garlic as a Specialty Crop

And… for an online “Farmer’s Market” for buying and selling garlic, plus all kinds of in depth information from garlic experts, you may enjoy visiting this GourmetGarlicGardens.com.6)https://www.gourmetgarlicgardens.com/

Wishing you great gardens and happy harvests!

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