Garlic is one of the easiest crops you can grow in your garden, and now’s the time to start thinking about planting. Garlic is planted into the garden in the fall, where it overwinters and is then harvested the following spring or summer. The type you decide to grow is based on a number of factors—some which are obvious and others which are not.
1. Your Climate
There are two main types of garlic: hardneck and softneck. Hardneck varieties typically do better in the cooler climates of the North, while softnecks proliferate in the warmer climates of the South. Hardnecks produce seeds, so you can plant these by seed or clove; softnecks don’t, so planting by clove is your only option. Of course, if you live in an in-between zone, you may be able to grow some of each, but that leads us to our next consideration …
2. Your Location
Especially when growing a crop you have little to no experience with, it’s best to plant tried-and-true varieties. Search out garlic varieties from a local farmer, garden center or seed store that have a proven track record in your area. Chances are if many others in your region have great success with a certain variety, then you will, too.
If you live in an area where both hardneck and softneck garlic varieties are an option, then think about whether you want scapes or not. Scapes are the flower stalk of the garlic plant that are produced in spring and can be harvested and used as milder substitute in any recipe that calls for garlic. Scapes are also necessary if you want to save seeds, as the flower is what produces seeds. Hardneck varieties are the only ones to produce scapes; softnecks will not.
4. Clove Size
When selecting cloves for planting, keep in mind that the larger the clove the larger the the bulb that it will produce.
This might be an obvious point, but choose garlic varieties that have a flavor you desire. You may be surprised to know that garlic flavors can range from mellow to pungent. If you’re making a lot of dishes where raw garlic might be used, such as salsa, a more mellow variety may be appropriate, while you may opt for something a bit stronger if using it to dry and grind for powder. Different garlics may also have varying notes of earthiness, sweetness and spiciness, so try a few to find out what you like—or plant multiple varieties so you have options.