If you’re thinking of growing garlic, or you have already started with softnecks and want to start growing hardneck garlic, it can be difficult to choose the right variety for your location. Fortunately, most hardneck garlic can be grown in most climates, although some do better in the frigid north and warmer south. Generally, garlic (especially hardneck garlic) is planted in the fall and harvested the following summer. Below are some of the more popular varieties you can find at the nursery or online.
Many gardeners prefer growing hardneck garlic because of its superb hardiness, stronger flavor, and because hardneck garlic produces scapes, which you can (and should) remove and eat as a tasty treat while you’re waiting to harvest your garlic.
Hardneck Garlic Varieties
An heirloom garlic variety from Georgia (the country, not the state), Chesnok Red has purple to red stripes on the skin that is preferred for cooking, due to its mild yet excellent taste and easy-to-peel cloves. The Chesnok Red also stores very well for a hardneck garlic.
One of the hardiest varieties of hardneck garlic, Russian Red is a purple-striped Russian heirloom that can grow in some of the coldest regions of North America while also thriving in warmer temperate climates. It also tolerates soggy soil more than other hardneck varieties. Like most hardnecks, Russian Red is very pungent and is packed with flavor.
Music (sometimes sold as Porcelain Music or Musica) is a hardy porcelain variety of garlic, meaning it has silky white exterior wrappers. The cloves themselves have a reddish brown or sometimes slightly purple skin. Music has large, flavorful bulbs and grows dependably in most climates. It has medium pungency, not as strong as Russian Red but stronger than Chesnok Red and can store for months without losing any flavor or aroma.
Italian hardneck varieties have excellent flavor and can thrive in both colder and warmer weather thanks to their adaptation to the climate in Italy. The Italian Red, for example, is widely grown in California, but can be easily grown in the Northeast US as well. Italian hardnecks are usually porcelain-type garlics with brilliant white exterior paper wrappers, but with reddish or purple skins on the cloves. Taste-wise, Italian varieties have bold flavor and aroma, and are essential in Mediterranean cooking.
One of the most popular in the US and often touted as the best-tasting variety, the Spanish Roja is a type of rocambole garlic preferred by chefs because it’s very pungent yet clean garlic flavor and easy-to-peel cloves. Some garlic lovers will even eat them raw because of their complex flavor. The bulbs themselves are quite ornamental, with shades of brown, red, and purple on the exterior paper wrapper. Some people have mixed results when growing Spanish Roja, but it does tolerate wetter soils more than other rocamboles.
Hardneck Garlic Varieties for the UK
It can be difficult to find international shipping for hardneck seed garlic in the UK, but I’ve found a reliable source at The Garlic Farm (I am not affiliated with them). All their offered hardneck varieties do well in the UK, but a lot of the French heirlooms like Lautrec and Carcassonne do extremely well. There is also a Ukrainian heirloom called Lubasha which also grows well in the wetter British climate.
When and How to Plant Hardneck Garlic
All hardneck varieties of garlic should be planted in the fall, 3 to 6 weeks before your first fall frost date. Planting too early can lead to garlic cloves wasting their energy to sprout before dying back in the winter, which they need to grow back in the spring. Planting too late can cause you to have smaller garlic bulbs.
Plant your hardneck garlic 3 to 5 inches apart and about 1 to 2 inches deep, with the pointy side pointing up. Mulch is not necessary, but if you have it, cover your garlic bed with an inch or two of mulch for extra protection from the cold.
The following spring, your garlic will start to sprout. Hardneck garlic is ready to harvest soon after your scapes appear.