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How To Grow And Use Different Types Of Garlic

How To Grow And Use Different Types Of Garlic

By Park Seed
Illustrations courtesy of Park Seed

There are so many benefits of growing garlic. It is easy to plant, low-maintenance, and, in addition to its delicious flavor, garlic can act as a beneficial companion to other plants in your garden by helping to deter pests. What are the different kinds of garlic to grow and which one is right for you and your garden? Read on to learn more.

Choosing which kind of garlic to grow will depend on your location and flavor preference.

Aromatic and flavorful, garlic is a kitchen staple in every culture and in gardens worldwide. Garlic's cultivation began over 5000 years ago, becoming a cornerstone in culinary traditions and medicinal applications from ancient times to today. Garlic is easily grown, beloved for its versatility and robust flavor, has an extended storage life, and is an adaptable edible to grow in the garden whether you’re a new or experienced gardener.

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Softneck Garlic

Softneck garlic, known for its milder, less pungent flavor when compared to its hardneck counterpart, is a favorite among chefs, home cooks, and is typically the kind you find at the grocery store.

Softneck garlic is easy to grow. It requires a shorter cool season and is adaptable to different growing conditions, making it a great choice for a wide range of mild and warm climates. This type of garlic has a softer stem, which is why it's often used to make those classic garlic braids you might see hanging in kitchens. 

The taste of softneck garlic is subtly pungent yet not overpowering, offering a perfect balance to enhance a variety of dishes from sautéed vegetables to hearty stews. Additionally, softneck garlic is known for its longer shelf life, ensuring you can enjoy its delightful flavor for up to a year. The many layers of tightly bound, papery skin on softneck garlic cloves help them stay fresh longer.

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Hardneck Garlic

Hardneck garlic is renowned for its robust and complex flavor. This type of garlic is characterized by a stiff central stalk and fewer but larger cloves than its softneck counterpart. It thrives in cooler climates, making it an ideal choice for gardeners in regions with cold winters. 

The flavor of hardneck garlic is more pronounced and richer than softneck varieties, with a spicy yet nuanced taste that adds depth to a wide range of dishes. Hardneck bulbs can be stored for six to eight months and its cloves are easier to peel. Hardneck garlic is often used in recipes where garlic is the star, such as in roasted garlic spreads or bold garlic-infused sauces. 

Hardneck garlic produces edible scapes, which are the curly flower stalks that emerge in the spring. These scapes are a delicacy themselves, offering a milder garlic flavor that's excellent in stir-fries, pestos, and salads. Cut the scapes to encourage garlic to focus its energy on growing big bulbs.

Elephant Garlic

Despite its name and appearance, elephant garlic is actually more closely related to the leek than to true garlic, which corresponds with its larger size and milder flavor. Elephant garlic produces very large bulbs, each containing a few oversized cloves. It grows well in a variety of soil types and climates, although it prefers well-drained soil and full sunlight. 

Its flavor is much milder and less intense than traditional garlic, leaning toward a slightly sweet, onion-like taste. This makes it perfect for dishes where a subtle garlic flavor is desired without overwhelming other ingredients. It can be used both raw and cooked in salads, soups, roasted vegetable dishes, or even as a standalone roasted bulb, where its natural sugars caramelize to create a deliciously sweet and savory treat. Elephant garlic is a conversation starter due to its remarkable size and mild taste.

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Softneck Garlic is a Must-Have for Year-round Fresh Garlic from your Spring and Fall Garden

Softneck garlic has so many beneficial qualities. In addition to braiding for decorative storage, softneck garlic boasts a longer shelf life, ensuring you have fresh garlic on hand for extended periods, so grow a lot! It also has a higher yield, making it a productive choice for your garden. Hardneck garlic has its benefits, too. It’s easier to peel, produces scapes, and has a better tolerance for cold. 

A Step-by-Step Guide to Braiding Soft-Neck Garlic

Braiding soft-neck garlic is not just practical; it’s an art form. Here’s a simple guide to get you started:

  1. Harvest and clean: Gently dig up your garlic and brush off the soil. Let them dry for a few days in a cool, shaded area.
  2. Sort and trim: Select bulbs of similar sizes and trim the roots, leaving long stems you can gather.
  3. Start braiding: Begin with three bulbs (you can tie the first three bulbs together with twine for stability) and gradually add more, weaving the stems together tightly in a braided pattern.
  4. Secure and hang: Once you reach the end, loop the stems to make a hanger, tie the loop securely with twine and hang it in a cool, dry place.

What are Garlic Scapes?

Scapes, the curly green shoots that emerge from garlic bulbs, have a milder flavor. Crunchy when raw, garlic scapes become tender when sautéed or grilled. In softneck garlic, scapes are less common than with hardneck varieties, but equally flavorful. Trim the scapes so your garlic focuses energy on growing large bulbs. Try making garlic scape pesto. It’s a unique twist on this favorite sauce.

Expert Tips for Growing Soft-Neck Garlic

Growing soft-neck garlic is pretty straightforward. Start by choosing a sunny spot with well-drained soil. Plant the cloves in the spring or fall, about two inches deep and six inches apart. Water them regularly. Harvest when the leaves begin to brown, and enjoy the flavorful results.

Try growing Park Seed's softneck garlic. To plant, grow, braid, and savor homegrown garlic, start here!

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