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!
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Quick Care Guide
|Common Name(s)||Stiffneck, hardneck, or topset garlic|
|Scientific Name||Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon|
|Germination Time||Two to four weeks|
|Days to Harvest||180-210 days to harvest|
|Water:||1″ per week until scapes are removed|
|Soil||Well drained soil|
|Fertilizer||5-10-10 complete fertilizer, blood meal, bone meal, or fish meal|
|Pests||Thrips, bulb mites, and nematodes|
|Diseases||Botrytis 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
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.
And here are some of the best hardneck varieties out there.
- Amish Rocambole: Blue-green plants produce heads with strong, medium-hot flavor; loose skins make cloves easy to peel.
- Vietnamese Red: Purple Stripe. Mildly spicy and sweet with a creamy texture; good for storage.
- German Extra Hardy: Porcelain type. Spicy garlic flavor. White exterior w/ inner red skin around each clove. Reliable variety, stores well.
- Metechi: Marbled purple Stripe. Beautiful white/purple bulb wrapper, pink inner skin. Very wide growing range. One of the hottest garlics when raw.
- Purple Glazer: Purple Stripe. Strong flavor but not spicy. White cloves with purple-stripes on the peel.
- Thai Fire: Turban. White and purple bulb wrapper and dark brown clove skin. Hot flavor.
- Spanish Benitee: Creole. White bulb wrapper with gorgeous purple inner skin. Mild flavor. Stores for 10-11 months.
- Asian Tempest: Asiatic. Super hot raw and mellow when baked. Produces large cloves. Grows well in most areas. Stores great.
- Music: Purple Stripe. One of the most popular hardnecks. Cold-hardy, and produces bulbs up to 2 inches. 4 to 7 cloves per bulb.
- Red Russian: Marbled purple stripe. Intense, sweet flavor. Withstands soggy soils well. 2 inch bulbs with 7 to 8 cloves each.
Planting Hardneck Garlic
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 Hardneck Garlic
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 Hardneck Garlic
All garlic takes a while to develop, and you might need to dedicate quite a bit of space as a garlic bed. 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 garlic near peas or beans.
How to Plant Hardneck Garlic
Ready to plant garlic? 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
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.
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.
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 Hardneck Garlic
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 Hardneck Garlic
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 Hardneck Garlic
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!
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.
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.
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
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!
Q: Is hardneck or softneck garlic better?
A: It depends where you live! Hardnecks are generally easier than softnecks in colder regions. They pack more of a pungent flavor too.
Q: When should hardneck garlic be planted?
A: When it comes to hardnecks, plant garlic in fall to grow over winter and harvest in spring.
Q: What should I plant after garlic?
A: Carrots and spinach love the residual microbes left in soil after a garlic harvest.