Hardneck Garlic: Grow Beautifully Delicious Bulbs

4 Shares

Hardneck garlic might be the easiest, most satisfying kitchen staple to grow. Whether you’re a first-time grower or a seasoned pro, pulling plump bulbs out of the ground feels like magic!

So let’s talk about this vital flavoring. We’ll explore the unique characteristics of hardneck varieties. You’ll discover the difference between hardneck and softneck garlic. Everything about the “stinking rose” will be explored today!

Good Products for Hardneck Garlic:

Quick Care Guide

Hardneck garlic
Garlic, both softneck and hardneck types, are easy plants to grow. Source: F. D. Richards
Common Name(s)Stiffneck, hardneck, or topset garlic
Scientific NameAllium sativum var. ophioscorodon
Germination TimeTwo to four weeks
Days to Harvest180-210 days to harvest
LightFull sun
Water:1″ per week until scapes are removed
SoilWell drained soil
Fertilizer5-10-10 complete fertilizer, blood meal, bone meal, or fish meal
PestsThrips, bulb mites, and nematodes
DiseasesBotrytis neck rot, downy mildew,purple blotch

Hardneck vs Softneck Garlic

What’s the difference between hardneck and softneck varieties? It’s all about their physical characteristics. Hardneck garlic has a hard stalk at its center, and softneck garlic doesn’t. Hardnecks typically have thicker, more brittle skin, unlike softneck garlic that tends to be papery and a bit more difficult to peel.

Grocery store heads are usually softneck garlic varieties. They contain many smaller cloves versus the larger, lower number of cloves in hardneck bulbs. In addition, softneck varieties mature faster and their bulbs store longer.

Hardneck garlic, however, produces something incredibly delicious that softneck garlic doesn’t. As the hardneck garlic plant matures, it sends up a flower stem. This edible stalk is called a scape, and should be removed from the plant once it’s curled but before flowering. When stir-fried, scapes have an asparagus-like texture and a mild garlic flavor.

Hardneck Garlic Varieties

Young allium shoot
This young hardneck reveals how the leaves develop above ground. Source: Mickki

Hardnecks fall into six groups, with distinct characteristics. Let’s go over the types of garlic you’ll find.

  • Rocambole: Complex, true garlic flavor, with loose and easy-to-peel skins.
  • Purple Stripe: Purple stripes and splotches on the wrapper/exterior of the cloves, and a super-sweet flavor when baked. Multiple variations, with marbled or glazed varieties.
  • Porcelain: White wrappers, some with purple or red clove skins, hot and strong flavor.
  • Turban: Large, plump cloves with a pungent garlic flavor.
  • Creole: White wrappers, red or purple cloves. Great fresh, but can be difficult to find.
  • Asiatic: Large striped purple/white bulbs, peeled cloves are pinkish, strong spicy flavor.
Variety Description Where To Buy
Amish Rocambole Rocambole.Blue-green plants produce heads with strong, medium-hot flavor; loose skins make cloves easy to peel. Buy Bulbs
Vietnamese Red Purple Stripe. Mildly spicy and sweet with a creamy texture; good for storage. Buy Bulbs
German Extra Hardy Porcelain type. Spicy garlic flavor. White exterior w/ inner red skin around each clove. Reliable variety, stores well. Buy Bulbs
Metechi Purple Stripe. Beautiful white/purple bulb wrapper, pink inner skin. Very wide growing range. One of the hottest garlics when raw. Buy Bulbs
Purple Glazer Purple Stripe. Strong flavor but not spicy. White cloves with purple-striped peel. Buy Bulbs
Thai Fire Turban. White and purple bulb wrapper and dark brown clove skin. Hot flavor. Buy Bulbs
Spanish Benitee Creole. White bulb wrapper with gorgeous purple inner skin. Mild flavor. Stores for 10-11 months. Buy Bulbs
Asian Tempest Asiatic. Super hot raw and mellow when baked. Produces large cloves. Grows well in most areas. Stores great. Buy Bulbs

Planting Hardneck Garlic

Rows of hardneck garlic
Make sure your plants are spaced well to allow for good airflow. Source: Distant Hill Gardens

Planting hardneck garlic is as easy as separating the cloves from the bulb and poking them into the soil. Larger cloves will produce larger bulbs, so be sure to set the little ones aside for cooking.

When to Plant

Hardnecks are usually planted in the fall around mid-October. This gives them a chance to root before the ground freezes and the snow arrives. In the spring, it’ll be one of the first green shoots you’ll see.

Where to Plant

All garlic takes a while to develop. It emerges in spring and is harvested in mid-summer. Plan ahead so you don’t use one of your spring veggie beds for your allium sativum by accident! A quick-growing veggie like spinach, radish, or kale can be used to fill the space after you harvest.

It’s an excellent companion plant for many garden vegetables. It has an ability to drive away pests from cauliflower, peppers, potatoes, and more. Avoid planting it near peas or beans.

How to Plant

Ready to plant? Separate each clove from the bulb. Push them into the soil about 2-3 inches deep. Be sure the pointed end is pointed upward. Space the cloves at least 6″ apart, with rows about 10″ apart.

Spacing is very important! The first year I grew these, I followed the instructions to a T. The scapes were fat and gorgeous. So were the full grown bulbs. I was so enamored with my success that I decided to plant a lot more that fall.

The problem was that I didn’t have the space for correct spacing. I ended up cramming the cloves within 4″ of each other. The following summer, the stalk was tiny and so were the bulbs. So be sure to give your cloves room to form!

Once planted, mulch with leaves, grass clippings or straw to a depth of 4″ to protect them from cold weather.

Hardneck Garlic Care

Frosty garlic in spring
Hardneck garlic is cold-hardy, and can tolerate some light frosts. Source: Odalaigh

Light and Temperature

Hardneck garlic is cold hardy and tolerates overwintering even in harsh climates. Allium sativum does well even in areas with short growing seasons, as long as it gets full sun.

Vernalization, or division of a clove into internal segments which form the heads later, happens in the cold. You can trick your garlic into thinking it’s had cold weather by refrigerating it. But it’s better to plant it where it can naturally achieve the cooler temps it needs.

Watering

Garlic needs about 1 inch of water per week (or water deeply every 8 to 10 days). Stop watering once you’ve harvested the scapes.

Soil

Hardneck garlic prefers sandy loam but does well in most soils as long as they drain well. The bulbs are prone to rotting if they spend too much time in standing water. If you have heavy clay soil, regularly work compost into it so that it improves over time.

Fertilizing

Because of the substantial time it takes for alliums to produce scapes and then bulbs, hardneck garlic is a heavy feeder and requires a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen.

Fertilize at planting time and a few times in spring and early summer, stopping before scapes appear or you’ll have gorgeous leaves but puny bulbs. Supplement with a balanced fertilizer to support overall plant health.

Plan ahead: adding manure or compost to the soil before planting in the fall provides nutrients, improves your soil quality, and helps retain the right amount of moisture in your soil.

Propagating

There are two ways to grow hardneck garlic: plant cloves or plant bulbils. Bulbils are tiny bulbs that are formed if you let garlic scapes mature.

While planting individual cloves results in a garlic bulb in several months, bulbils take 2 to 3 years to produce bulbs large enough to eat. Needless to say, growing garlic bulbs from cloves is a far more popular method.

Harvesting and Storing

Since both types of garlic have different methods used to harvest, we recommend reading our detailed guide on when to harvest garlic. Storing it can also be a bit complex, so we’ve got six different methods for you to choose from!

Problems

Harvested garlic
Once harvested, let your heads cure by hanging them, then store as desired. Source: F. D. Richards

Growing certified disease-free garlic seed and rotating crops are the first tiers of defense against pesky pests and diseases. Hardneck garlic isn’t typically a high-drama endeavor, but there are some pests and diseases to watch out for.

Pests

Thrips are the most common garlic pest. They thrive by sucking the sap from the plant, which could prevent good bulb growth. Insecticidal soap or neem oil (or a combination of the two) can wipe out a moderate infestation.

Bulb mites look a lot like spider mites and hang out in garlic and other alliums’ roots. Bulb mites are bad news, as they are very difficult to eradicate naturally without miticides. If you want to experiment with beneficial insects, predatory mites are effective for controlling both bulb mites and thrips.

Bulb nematodes can move into your garlic plants and live a life of luxury in their stems and bulbs. These tiny roundworms are very difficult to see. You’ll need to rely on the destruction they left behind: cavities in the bulbs and brown rings in the cloves. Applying beneficial nematodes can help curb these annoyances.

Diseases

If you notice blackening on your garlic stems just above the soil line, they may be infected with Botrytis neck rot, also known as botrytis allii. It’s more likely to develop after harvesting due to bulb bruising, improper curing, or improper storage. Your best bet to avoid it is to plant disease-free cloves, harvest bulbs gently, and avoid overwatering.

Downy mildew is another fungus that can quickly invade your garlic crop. Spores in the soil spread during wet soil conditions. Watch for yellow discoloration on foliage that begins on the leaves’ undersides and spreads quickly. Avoid overwatering, allow space between plants for good air circulation, and plant disease-free seed. Treat affected plants by spraying with neem oil.

Purple blotch is another fungal disease that affects alliums. Look for blotchy lesions on the garlic necks, leaves, and bulbs that steadily grow in size and turn purple/brown. This pathogen lives in soil and is triggered to action by heat and humidity. Combat it with good airflow around your plants, avoid overwatering and wetting foliage, and don’t overuse high-nitrogen fertilizer.

Frequently Asked Questions

Garlic scapes
The scapes that garlic hardnecks produce are delicious. Source: Distant Hill Gardens

Q. Are there any non-culinary uses for garlic?

A. Yes! Sulfur and allicin compounds in garlic make it a natural pest and disease repellent. Mix up a garlic spray and say goodbye to problems like powdery mildew, aphids, and more.

Q. Why is my garlic purple?

A. The garlic that we buy at the grocery store is usually bright white, so it might be shocking to see purple garlic. Both hardneck and softneck garlics come in a variety of colors – pinks and purples, streaky or striped. They taste just as good!

Q. Will my garlic bulbs will be small if I don’t harvest scapes?

A. There is conflicting information out there on this topic. In my personal experience and from friends’ anecdotes, removing scapes encourages bulb growth. Bonus: scapes are delicious!

Q. How do I know whether to plant hardneck vs. softneck garlic?

A. Hardneck varieties tend to do better in cooler climates and softneck garlic is usually grown in warmer climates. Many varieties of each type do well regardless of location, so look for common ones grown in your region.

Q: Is elephant garlic hardneck or softneck?

A: It’s a softneck variety. Technically it’s also a leek!


The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:

Erin Matas

Lorin Nielsen
Lifetime Gardener

Did this article help you? Yes No
× How can we improve it?
× Thanks for your feedback!

We're always looking to improve our articles to help you become an even better gardener.

While you're here, why not follow us on Facebook and YouTube? Facebook YouTube