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Hardneck Vs Softneck Garlic – Key Differences & Similarities

Did you know there are 11 different varieties of garlic? Within these varieties are hundreds of variations and different varieties of garlic. All of them are categorized under two main groups: hardneck and softneck garlic. Garlic is said to go back at least four hundred years ago, coming from China. Central Asia is the only place where garlic grows in the wild.

Garlic’s history is fascinating, touching on almost every ancient civilization discovered. It was thought to be a “gift from gods” as its healing properties, and edible properties were discovered. Usually, when we think of garlic, different varieties don’t come to mind- garlic is just garlic. However, there are so many different unique varieties, which we will be exploring today. 

Out of the eleven different varieties, eight of them fall under the hardneck garlic category. Hardneck garlic is found to be better grown in colder climates, easier to peel, and with fewer (but larger) cloves. The other three varieties fall under the softneck garlic category. Softneck garlic is better suited for warmer climates; it’s easier to store and has many smaller cloves. 

To find out more differences between the two, how to grow them, and more, you’ve come to the right place! 

Complete List of All the Differences Between Hardneck and Softneck Garlic

We have established some key differences between hardneck and softneck garlic. Let’s take a look.

We have established that there are some key differences between hardneck and softneck garlic. Let’s take a look.

Hardneck GarlicSoftneck Garlic
Grows in colder climates- 
Hardneck garlic varieties are very hardy 
garlics and can handle colder weather. 
Hardneck garlic is said to be closer to
the original wild garlic, therefore
being a hardier plant.
Grows in warmer climates- 
Softneck garlic is bit more fragile 
and suits better in warmer climates
(this isn’t to say you can’t grow 
it in cooler climates, it may just need
extra care.)
Store for only four to six months- Hardneck garlic cloves are much
looser around the neck and aren’t so tightly bunched together, leaving room for moisture
and mold to enter.
Can be stored for up to a year- 
Softneck garlic cloves are closer together and tighter around the neck, which
makes it harder for moisture to get in, eventually causing disease and mold. All garlic sold at grocery stores are usually softneck for this very reason.
Are easier to peel Are a bit more tough to peel
Has less cloves- Hardneck garlic grows 
in a single row of larger cloves, though there
are fewer of them
Has more cloves- Softneck garlic grows
many cloves all over each other, though they 
tend to be much smaller 
Hardneck garlic grows a flowering stalk (or a scape), that shoots from the base of the garlic
bulb all the way through the neck. This creates
a “hardneck” thus giving it its name.
Softneck garlic does not develop a 
flowering stalk. This means the stems stay soft: hence the name softneck. 

How to Grow Hardneck Garlic 

Hardneck garlic can be grown from both seeds and the bulb. Let’s talk about how to grow it from the seed.

  • When to Plant Hardneck Garlic- Hardneck garlic is best planted in fall, usually around mid-October, when the weather gets cooler, but the soil is still workable. 
  • Preparing the Seed – The garlic seed is one of the individual cloves. Keeping the skin intact, soak the clove or cloves in a bowl or a bucket overnight. 
  • Soil Preparation – Garlic can be grown in any bed or pot you desire. Garlic grows in soil that is well-draining but holds a lot of moisture. The pH should be at around 6.0-7.0. Prepare your soil with quality organic fertilizer and compost. Before you plant, give the soil a good soak because the garlic bulbs will not be getting water for a while after this. 
  • Planting – Plant your hardneck garlic cloves after soaking in water for at least 12 hours. Garlic is commonly planted in rows, about six inches apart and three to four inches deep. Always make sure to plant your hardneck garlic the right way up, with the points facing upwards. 
  • Caring for Hardneck Garlic– Once the garlic is planted, there is little that needs to be done afterward. When the freeze comes, the bulbs will go dormant, and there is no need to even water. Gardeners will often put down a layer of straw over their garlic during the winter months to insulate the soil. When the spring comes around, you will start to see little green shoots from where the garlic was planted, and this is when you should start watering and fertilizing again.
  • Weeding – An essential part of growing garlic is the weeding. Garlic does terribly if it’s battling for root space, so keeping the weeds at bay is necessary. Although you can leave the garlic alone during the winter, if you live in a place that doesn’t freeze or get snow (like part of California, New Mexico, etc.), then you must make sure your beds are weeded. 
  • Watering Garlic– In the spring, garlic needs about 1 inch of water a week. Depending on your climate, the rain may just be taking care of that. Water every 5-8 days to ensure that it’s getting a proper amount. 
  • Harvesting Hardneck Garlic – Hardneck garlic will start shooting off its scapes sometime in June. These scapes will be very noticeable as they look almost like onion shoots. When these scapes start to curl and leaves start to be yellow, this is when they are ready to be harvested. 

How to Grow Softneck Garlic

With just a few differences, growing softneck garlic is virtually the same as growing hardneck garlic. 

  • Softneck garlic can be planted in the early spring if need be. This isn’t ideal, but because softneck garlic can tolerate warmer temperatures, it may do alright if it’s planted very early spring. Hardneck garlic most definitely will not be able to grow properly in this condition. 
  • Softneck garlic cloves can be planted facing any direction. This makes it easier for them to be planted in mass production or quickly. 
  • Since softneck garlic won’t give off that onion-like shoot, look for a change in the leaves. About 50% of the leaves will turn yellow, which is your cue to harvest. 

Pests That Eat Garlic Plants

Pests are always something to look out for when growing anything. Garlic, like any plant or vegetable, will attract many critters. Here are five of the most common garlic pests and how to control them.

  1. Leaf Miners – Lay their eggs within the leaf tissue of garlic plants. They will eventually chew burrows and holes through the leaves, which is when you’ll start noticing them. Luckily, leaf miners will not attack the bulb of the garlic and only cause damage to the leaves; the plant’s yield will not differ. 
  2. Bulb Mites – Found on plants like onions, leeks, and garlic. Will stunt the growth of the bulb and cause root damage. They can live in the soil for the next season, so rotating your crops is best. There is nothing to be done about bulb mites; however, thoroughly soaking bulbs in sulfur solution before planting and drying them will eliminate any mites on existing bulbs. 
  3. Wheat Curl Mites – Severe breakouts cause the leaves to turn and twist, looking curled and eventually losing color. It can cause bulbs to dry out. Treating these as soon as possible is important to cease any damage to the bulbs. It can be dealt with insecticidal soap. 
  4. Thrips – Garlics most common pest; they suck on the sap from the garlic leaves. Only if the infestation is very severe will the yield suffer from thrip damage. Thrips can be killed with insecticidal soap. 
  5. Nematodes– Too small for the human eye, these worm-like creatures live and thrive inside garlic plants. It can take years for any damage to show itself since nematodes leave so little damage at a time. Nematodes will live in the soil, so the soil will need to be heat treated before anything else is planted there. 

Diseases That Garlic Plants Face

Generally, garlic plants don’t face a lot of diseases. They are straightforward to grow; however, there are some diseases that these plants can contract. There are five common diseases that garlic plants face. 

  1. Downy Mildew– A fungal disease that causes moldy-looking spots on leaves, generally not harmful to the yield or growth of the bulb. 
  2. Basal Rot– A very slow-going disease, sometimes the leaves will yellow and may even die; however, sometimes there will be no symptoms on the leaves and show itself on the bulb where it will look like the bulb is rotting. There is no cure for basal rot.
  3. White Rot– Almost exactly like basal rot, but the symptoms appear quicker. 
  4. Garlic Mosaic Virus– Looks like discoloration on the leaves; later symptoms include the leaves looking very pale and the stem getting pale. The bulbs can be destroyed. There is no cure for this disease. 
  5. Purple Blotch– A fungal disease that also affects onions and leeks, the leaves and stems will look blotchy. Copper fungicides have been known to curb this disease. 

Curing and Storing Garlic

Curing and storing softneck and hardneck garlic is similar the two. However, because softneck garlic doesn’t have the card stock, the stem can be braided for the curing and storing process. It is crucial to braid the garlic together before it dries out. Five minimum up to ten bulbs can be braided together. Hardneck garlic is not braided but rather tied together in bunches of five to ten.

Both varieties are hung in a cool, dry place for up to two weeks. When garlic is curing, it must be safe from the elements and the sun. The temperature also must never get above 90. After two weeks, the skins should be completely dry and wrinkly, and the roots also dry and dusty.

When hardnecks are ready, you can take off the roots and then cut the stem off, leaving about one inch above the bulb. Only the roots need to be cut on softnecks. 

Both hardneck and softneck garlic should be stored at low temperatures, right above freezing. However, they can also be stored at room temperature if the humidity is low. Never store garlic in a refrigerator because this will start the growing process back up.

Make sure there is air coming through the stored garlic. It is typically stored in hanging baskets or mesh bags. Remember, softneck garlic can be stored for much longer- up to a year, and hardneck garlic can only be stored for usually no more than six months. 

Examples of Hardneck Garlic

As I mentioned earlier, eleven main types of garlic fit into the two groups. Eight of those fall into the hardneck category. Here are the eight types of hardneck garlic.

  1. Porcelain- Store longer than most hardneck garlic; very large and easy to eat and peel
  2. Rocambole- Usually looking “dirty” with purple and brown splotches, have very thin skins. Said to be the best tasting out of all the garlic.
  3. Purple Stripe- High yielding, producing 8-12 cloves per bulb, has distinct purple stripes on the skins.
  4. Asiatic- Has broad floppy leaves and may or may not shoot out a scape, known for having beautiful purple cloves. Medium to large cloves. 
  5. Creole- Smaller cloves deep purple and red-tinted; these are long for hardneck garlic and can be stored for nine to ten months.
  6. Glazed Purple Stripe is known for its deep purple color with an almost metallic shine.
  7. Marbled Purple Stripe is a very cold, hardy, and intense flavor when eaten raw.
  8. Turban- Evolved in Asia, great for growing in almost any climate. In cooler climates, it will shoot a scape; in warmer climates, it will not. 

Within all of these eight groups, there are so many varieties of hardneck garlic; here are a few.

  1. Romanian Red (Porcelain)
  2. Chamisal Wild (Rocambole)
  3. Red Grain (Purple Stripe) 

Examples of Softneck Garlic

Of the rest of the varieties of garlic, there are three, and all fall under the softneck garlic category. 

  1. Silverskin- Can be stored even longer than twelve months, tends to be robust and spicy flavors, may bolt in extremely cold weather, 
  2. Artichoke- Called artichoke for its cloves having a unique resemblance to artichokes, large bulbed and high yielding, one of the most popular kinds of garlic
  3. Elephant- Not a true garlic, elephant garlic is a hybrid of leek and garlic combined, originating from Russia; it’s known for being very large, mild-tasting, good for being ornamental, and for eating.

Here are some varieties within those three you can plant and grow. 

  1. Applegate (Artichoke)
  2. Mexican Red Silver (Silverskin)
  3. Early Red Italian (Artichoke) 

Do Hardneck Garlics and Softneck Garlics Taste Different?

Although the flavor depends on which variety of garlic it is, hardneck garlic generally has a more intense flavor than softneck garlic. Hardneck garlic is better in stir-fries, sautees, and dishes that are mainly garlic-based because the flavor is stronger. Softneck garlic is better for things like stews, soups, and chilis, for a subtle garlic flavor that won’t take over the dish. 

Final Thoughts

Garlic is a beautiful addition to any garden. Anyone can grow garlic; it is a wonderfully easy plant to care for and maintain. It also stores very well, so it’s easy to have an abundance of it. There are almost 600 varieties of garlic, but every single one fits into the categories of hardneck or softneck garlic.

There is no right or wrong when it comes down to which type of garlic you want to have in your garden. The great thing is that they both grow almost the same. Hardneck garlic offers a wider range of types you can grow; however, softneck garlic can store for much longer. At the end of the day, you grow what suits you best. Happy gardening! 

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