I have grown garlic for years and consider it the easiest vegetable crop to grow. I have always been taught that, given our northern zone 5 climate, we could only grow hardneck garlic. Turns out that this is a myth.
Both the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Filaree Farms (keepers of the largest privately held collection of garlic in North America) agree that both hardneck and softneck can be grown in colder climates.
Hardneck garlic varieties (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon) tend to form bulbs with fewer but larger cloves. They form a flower scape (ie flower stock) in mid summer. When the bulbs are harvested, you will see the tough flower stem running down the middle of the bulb, as illustrated in the above image. These varieties are reported to be more cold hardy than softneck garlic.
Softneck garlic varieties (Allium sativum var. sativum) do not produce a flower scape. When they are dry, the center stem becomes very soft and can be used to braid bulbs together. Most of the garlic in grocery stores is a softneck variety. Most sources say that softneck varieties produce more cloves per bulb but this is not strictly correct since the number of cloves depends very much on the growing condition. In the warmer south they do form more cloves than the harneck, but in colder climates the number of cloves for both varieties is about the same. Softnecks also have a longer storage life. The variety named Pioneer is reported to be hardy to zone 3.
Growing Garlic – Hardneck or Softneck?
Given the above descriptions it would seem quite easy to differentiate hardneck from softneck but that may not be true. The University of Minnesota reports that “Climate can have a significant impact on garlic flower stalk formation as well as garlic taste. For example, a variety may be considered a softneck in one location, but in other locations it may produce a flower stalk”, making it a hardneck.
Given the fact that softneck garlic grown in the north forms fewer larger cloves, stores longer, and does not flower so you don’t have to remove the flower, it would seem to be the better choice. Odd that most northern home gardeners around here grow hardneck garlic!! Is there a reason for this, or is it just the result of believing in the myth?
Please let me know if there is a reason why softnecks are not grown more in the north.
Right Time to Plant Garlic
Garlic as a Companion Plant
Garlic is one of the most popular companion plants. It can be grown next to most plants as a natural pest and fungus deterrent. It takes up little space, is not fussy about soil and can grow in most conditions.
But does it actually work as a companion plant? Garlic – the King of Companion Planting
If you grow garlic you should learn about the garlic nematode – it can devastate your crop.
If the above video does not play, try: https://youtu.be/hJdJV95WEMU
1) Photo Source: Jeremy Keith