Gourmet Garlic: Hardneck vs. Softneck Garlic


When perusing the gourmet garlic at your local Farmers Market you may notice that the bulbs, although often bearing a cultivar name such as 'Music' or 'Inchelium Red,' tend to be of two distinct types: those that have a stiff stalk attached to the bulb, and those that do not.

Classifying Garlic

In the early 1990s, Ron England proposed that garlic be separated into two subspecies based on their ability to bolt. Bolting strains were classified as Allium sativum subsp. ophioscorodon and non-bolting as Allium sativum subsp. sativum. Later research proved that classifying garlic was much more complicated (for a comprehensive overview, please refer to The Complete Book of Garlic by Ted Jordan Meredith), however the rough separation originally proposed by England is still popular, although less formally and more commonly referred to as ‘hardnecks’ and softnecks’.Hardneck
hardneck garlic

The Difference Between Hardneck Garlic and Softneck Garlic

The most obvious difference between hardneck (above) and softneck (below) garlic is their appearance. Hardnecks are so-called because of the long flowering stem growing through the center of the bulb. Called a scape, this stalk produces an umbel, a terminal pod within which bulbs are produced. Bulbs can be removed from the scape when mature and planted in the same way as cloves, although they usually need two or more season’s growth before they produce a differentiated bulb. The bulb surrounding the scape of a hardneck variety consists of a single layer of regularly-shaped cloves. The number of cloves vary between hardneck cultivars, but tend to fall between four and twelve.

Softneck cultivars on the other hand, yield a greater number of cloves and a generally larger bulb. Usually softneck varieties produce between eight and twenty cloves per bulb, while some cultivars contain cloves numbering in the high thirties. Irregular in shape, the cloves are present in two or more concentric layers, each wrapped in their own skin. This much higher number of cloves is likely a reproductive compensation for the lack of a flowering stalk - rarely will a softneck cultivar produce bulbs. Under stressful conditions a softneck type may partially bolt and grow a short pseudostem which will subsequently produce a small number of bulbs. These bulbs can be seen bursting out just above the bulb, or even be found clustered within the bulb itself.

softneck garlic

Generally speaking, hardneck varieties tend to grow and thrive better in regions with more severe winters. They require a greater period of vernalization than softneck cultivars, so a prolonged period of cooler weather is ideal. In turn, softnecks tend to perform in regions where the winters are significantly milder. We are extremely lucky in our location in British Columbia: our weather is cold enough to amply accommodate our hardneck cultivars, yet mild enough that we get good results with our softneck cultivars as well.

11/24/2017 4:35:54 AM

The types of bulbs I bought are "Elephant." and "Romanian Red" Both of which, if I'm not mistaken are in the soft neck group. I will plant these in a raised bed, which has good rich soil and good drainage. Also, when there's sunshine, this spot will have full sun. I hope i'm doing something right along this path that will allow me to sell what I harvest. Providing there is a harvest! If anybody has any advice, ANY at all, please just bend my ear! I'm open to all suggestions, advice on to dos and not to dos. Thank-you, Phyllis,

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters