What Kind of Garlic Should You Plant?

garlic bulbs of different varieties

Interested in growing garlic? You’re in luck – garlic is one of the easiest crops to grow in the home garden. You can plant a large amount in a small space, it doesn’t have many pests or diseases, and it loves cold weather.

If you live in a very cold climate like mine in Wisconsin, you’ll be pleased to hear that it survives the harsh winters like a champ. Something I can barely do myself!

(I share more great reasons to plant it here.)

As a bonus, if you plant the right garlic variety it can store for many months in your home, allowing you to use it as the base for delicious meals all year round. Cooking with your own home grown garlic will make dinner prep even more satisfying.

Each year when I post photos of myself using my stored garlic in January, March, and even the next June, I get lots of questions about how I get my garlic to last that long.

If you’re interested in using your own garlic year round (it’s definitely possible, we do it at our house) then it’s important to understand all of the different varieties so you can choose the best one for your situation.

There are a few options when it comes to garlic varieties, so let’s dive right in!

garlic varieties growing in the garden

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Understanding Garlic Varieties

There are two main types of garlic and which one you choose to plant will depend upon what you’re looking for in a garlic harvest.

Softneck garlic is the most common variety found in grocery stores. Softnecks often have many smaller cloves and they sometimes form multiple layers around the stem.

Softnecks tend to store for longer periods of time than hardnecks and they grow well in most climates. If you live in a warmer climate, this would be the garlic type to choose for your garden.

If you’ve seen those pretty pictures of braided garlic on Pinterest and you want to try it for yourself, then softneck garlic is for you because they have a flexible stalk that’s great for braiding.

There are two main types of softneck garlic: silverskin and artichoke.

Hardneck garlic generally has fewer and larger cloves than softneck. Hardnecks produce a scape, or stalk, in late spring that grows from the center of the plant. Most gardeners remove the scapes and you can make a delicious garlic scape pesto from them. (Find my recipe here.)

Because the outer paper on the bulb is thinner they won’t store as long as softneck garlic. They are best grown in cold climates.

There are three main types: rocambole, porcelain, and purple stripe.

Elephant garlic is a completely different kind of garlic and grows huge bulbs.

romanian red garlic and what varieties to grow

Questions to Ask Yourself

Do you live in a cold or a warm climate? If you live in a cold climate you can grow either softneck or hardneck. If you live in a warm climate choose softneck. Warm weather gardeners will also need to pre-chill their garlic, read about it here and here.

Do you like large cloves or small cloves for cooking? Personally, I don’t like to deal with peeling and chopping lots of tiny cloves, so I grow only hardneck varieties in my garden.

Do you want to store your garlic over the winter? I’ve successfully stored garlic for an entire year in my basement. You’ll want to look for garlic varieties that say they’re good for storage. If you live in a cold climate like mine, I recommend growing a porcelain variety.

How much garlic do you want? You can fit a lot of garlic in small space. I grow 220 bulbs a year and it usually fits into less than three raised beds. Think about how often you use garlic in your cooking. At our house, we cook from scratch most nights of the week and our dishes usually start with garlic and onions being thrown into a cast iron pan.

220 might seem like a lot, but we give a bunch away to family and friends, and we save some of our harvest for planting that fall. If you think you use one garlic bulb a week, then you might want to grow around 65 bulbs.

That will give you enough for one per week and plenty for planting in the fall. The great thing about garlic is that once you buy your seed, you can save a portion of your harvest each summer to replant in fall.

How many different varieties do you want to grow? Do you want to keep it simple and just grow one variety, or do you want to experiment and try a few different ones? I usually grow around four varieties each season in my garden.

what garlic varieties to grow.

Where to Buy Your Garlic Seed

When you plant garlic you take a bulb and break it into its individual cloves and plant each clove separately. Over the course of about 9 months, each clove will grow into a bulb. (That’s a pretty good return!) Seed garlic is simply bulbs you buy for planting.

You’ll need to buy seed garlic if you’re planting garlic for the first time this year. Important: Don’t plant the garlic you buy from the grocery store. It’s possible that it’s been sprayed by an anti-sprouting agent and it’s likely a softneck type grown in either California or China.

Instead, shop at your local farmers market for seed garlic or order some online.  Some of the varieties I’ve had luck growing in my Wisconsin garden are:

Inchelium Red: Softneck Artichoke variety with many small cloves.

Music: Hardneck Porcelain variety with big cloves, long storage life, widely grown.

Romanian Red: Hardneck Porcelain variety with purplish coloring on the skins, big cloves, great for storage.

Spanish Roja: Hardneck Rocambole variety, large bulbs, strong flavor, doesn’t store quite as long as Porcelain varieties so use these first.

Some of my favorite places to buy seed garlic online are:

Seed Savers Exchange

High Mowing Seeds

Hudson Valley Seed Library

Boundary Garlic Farm – for Canadian gardeners

Garlic is one of the champions of the garden in my opinion! If you’ve never grown it before, put it on your fall to-do list. I suspect that you’ll fall in love with growing garlic as much as I have!


Growing Garlic

I walk you through the entire process of planting, growing, harvesting and curing your garlic (with full color photos!) in my eBook, The Essential Guide to Growing Garlic.  It’s on sale for only $5 since we’re heading into garlic season! Read about it here.



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