How to Choose the Best Garlic Varieties For Your Garden

If you’ve only ever bought garlic from the grocery store, chances are you’ve tried one or two types of garlic and may have thought that’s all there is.

But venture out into growing your own garlic at home, and you’ll find dozens of varieties that range from mild to hot, white to purple, and everything in between, with each one differing in flavor far more than you’d think.

Many gardeners are surprised by the sheer number of garlic varieties available for planting, and choosing the right one for your growing conditions and personal taste can be tricky.

You may have even heard a couple of terms thrown around, like hardneck and softneck, but what do they really mean? And can you plant just about any garlic in your climate?

Below, I’ll help you unmuddy the waters to find the best kind of garlic to grow in your area.

How many garlic varieties are out there?

True garlic (Allium sativum) is commonly divided into two subspecies: softneck and hardneck.

Then there are are 2 groupings of softneck garlic and 8 groupings of hardneck garlic, totaling 10 major groups of garlic.

Within each group are various named strains (cultivars), adding up to roughly 600 cultivars that currently exist in the world (with about 120 of them originating in Central Asia, making that region the epicenter of garlic biodiversity).

But in the United States, we usually see far less than that in our garden catalogs, and the garlic we do have access to for home cultivation are somewhat climate-specific.

If you’re in the south, for example, you won’t be able to grow hardneck garlic that’s bred for northern climates.

The good news is you can grow several different varieties of garlic each season (even mixing softneck and hardneck types if you’re in the right climate) and they won’t cross-pollinate.

Softneck garlic varieties

First, let’s talk softneck garlic (Allium sativum var. sativum).

Whether you knew that’s what they’re called or not, softneck garlic is most familiar to everyone because you’ve been eating it your whole life.

The two most common kinds of garlic sold in supermarkets—whether they came from Gilroy, California, or China or wherever—are both softneck varieties.

Softneck garlic is named for its soft, braidable stems (famously hung from many an Italian restaurant) and is sometimes called braiding garlic because of that characteristic.

The softneck type was originally selected from hardneck garlic. The cloves tend to be either hot and aggressive (as with Silverskins) or mild and almost vegetable-like in flavor (as with the Artichoke group).

Compared to the exciting array of garlic out there, softneck varieties tend to lack the complexity and heat of hardneck types.

Size-wise, softneck bulbs have smaller cloves than hardneck types. But don’t that let fool you—it’s not uncommon to see bulbs up to 3 inches across, which means they produce up to twice as many cloves per bulb, all arranged in multiple layers with the smallest cloves clustered in the center.

This means there are more plantable cloves per bulb—which is great for gardeners—but since they’re harder to peel, not so great for home cooks who may find them tedious when making a big meal calling for lots of garlic.

Softneck garlics mature quicker than hardnecks and don’t require any effort mid-season to harvest scapes (the central flowering stalk on hardneck garlic). They can also be planted mechanically and have a longer shelf life, so they’re the preferred type for growing commercially.

Under optimal conditions, softneck garlic can sometimes store for up to a year after harvest!


Artichoke softneck varieties are the most domesticated of all garlics, and for good reason: They produce reliably large bulbs and have a simple savory flavor that no one can complain about.

This group of garlic is named for their overlapping layers of cloves that resemble the structure of an artichoke. A typical bulb yields 12 to 20 cloves in 3 to 5 layers.

If you want to try something new, you can’t go wrong with Inchelium Red, Lorz Italian, Sicilian, California Early, or Transylvanian.


Though Silverskins are among the latest maturing of all the garlic varieties, they’re also tolerant of a wide range of growing conditions and are quite productive.

They’re a great choice for spring-planted garlic if you want a variety that’s more apt to produce decent-sized bulbs by summer. The average bulb has 12 to 20 cloves.

Popular selections include Nootka Rose, Silver White, Sicilian Silver, Mild French, and Mexican Red.