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What's the Difference Between Softneck & Hardneck Garlic?

Growing garlic in your own garden lets you play with flavors you cannot find in stores. We carry more organic seed garlic than any other garden company, at the best prices, so plunge in and get garlicky.

How to Grow Garlic

Learn the nuts and bolts of growing and harvesting garlic in our video How to Grow Garlic and our downloadable Garlic Growing Guide.

The question is, which varieties of garlic seed do you want to plant? Softneck or hardneck or both?

Garlic has a Neck?

By the time you see garlic in the store it has been trimmed, but there is still a papery tuft that stands above the bulb. That's the covering of the "neck" of the garlic. Garlic also comes with different colored skins around the cloves. The cloves themselves are always a creamy white.

3 bulbs or California Early White softneck garlic on a white background. One is cut in half horizontally and one has cloves broken off.

Softneck Garlic

This is the type of garlic you'll find in most grocery stores. The bulb has a mild flavor. A great virtue of the softneck garlic (Allium sativum ssp. sativum) is that it stores very well.

Since the necks are (literally) soft, you can cut them nice and long for braiding. A braid of garlic makes a winning kitchen gift for friends and family!

Which to choose? California Early White has no hot bite in its flavor, grows rapidly and is ready to harvest early. If making garlic braids is your top priority, plant California Late White. You'll get a stronger flavor with this garlic, and it does better in warm climates than the Early variety.

5 bulbs of organic Spanish Roja hardneck seed garlic on a white background. One bulb is cut in half horizontally and one has cloves broken off of it.

Hardneck Garlic

Hardneck garlic (Allium sativum ssp. ophioscorodon) are closer to wild garlic, with complex flavors. These are the garlics that some compare to wines with subtle differences that reflect the regional soil and weather patterns.

One simple benefit to the cook is the way some of their skins slip off smoothly. Hardnecks do not store as long as softnecks; cure them, eat them within 6-10 months, and get to know their distinctive flavors.

Spanish Roja's flavor in particular is rich and classic. It does have a shorter shelf life, of 3-4 months, so go ahead and enjoy this best seller early.

What about Elephant Garlic?

This big guy is technically in the leek family, but you'd never know by the look or the taste. Kids love harvesting this giant of the garlic patch, and elephant garlic keeps well too, with a mild flavor.

Still can't Decide?

That's why we created our Garlic Combo Pack, to let you try a little of this and a little of that, at a bargain price! It's a gastronomical delight featuring organic California Early White softneck seed garlic, organic Russian Red and organic Purple Italian hardneck seed garlics, a conventional Elephant seed garlic, and even some organic French Red Shallots for delicate flavors.

Storing Garlic

Garlic keeps best at 60-65°F with moderate humidity. Store it in a dry location, a paper bag or mesh tubing works great. If you need help keeping tabs on the temperature and humidity in your storage area, try our Digital Indoor/Outdoor Thermometer.

Cover of the book 'Grow Great Garlic.'

More on Garlic

Welcome to the world of seed garlic!  Plant some garlic this year, keep track of what you like, and experiment with new varieties in the years ahead.

Once you start growing garlic at home you'll be spoiled by having your own cured garlic to cook with, in such a range of flavors.

Our favorite Garlic Book - It's hard to keep Growing Great Garlic on the shelves here. Ron Engeland's popular book is the ultimate guide for the organic garlic grower; in addition to practical advice, you'll learn more about garlic in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Our Resource Center - For more information on garlic visit our Resource Center to watch our videos, read more articles and tips, try our delicious recipes.

20 comments

  • Virginia, you can grow softneck garlic. You will also want to make sure that your soil is amended with compost and has sufficient nutrients to support growing garlic.

    Suzanne
  • Can garlic be grown in the desert?

    Virginia
  • Rob, I would not recommend growing in a basement. Garlic needs full sun and ample room for the roots and bulb to develop.

    Suzanne
  • Can you grow garlic in your basement in flats?

    Rob
  • Lynn and Don, for hardneck garlic you can trim off most of the stem. I would leave about 1/2". Just don’t want to trim it so close that you are cutting into the tops of the garlic cloves.

    Suzanne
  • How much of the “hard neck” of hardneck garlic should one remove before storing?

    Lynn
  • In order to store hardneck garlic, how much of the “hard neck” should one remove?

    Don
  • Dorothy, in zone 5 you should grow hardneck garlic. Look for varieties that say does well in cold winters. Plant it in October and make sure you put down a thick layer of mulch in the winter to protect from freezing. In the spring remove some of the mulch and fertilize it.

    Suzanne
  • What is the best garlic for me to plant in zone 5? I am new to growing it. So far, it’s been a bomb for 2 years!

    dorothy J myers
  • SJ, the garlic should be growing in full sun.

    Suzanne
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