Garlic 101

What is Garlic?  
Considered an herb, Garlic (Allium sativum) is a close relative to the onion, although technically part of the Liliaceae (Lily) family. 

Types of Garlic 
There are two sub-types of garlic, hardneck and softneck.  Softneck garlic 
(Alliusativum var. sativum) is the most common form of garlic because it has a longer shelf life.  All garlic sold in supermarkets is softneck.  Other qualities of this garlic are its good flavor, large number of cloves, and its ability to be braided.  Softneck garlic is also better suited to grow in the South.  Softneck varieties are Silverskin and Artichoke.

Hardneck garlic (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon) does produce a flower stalk, called a scape.  However hardneck varieties do not store as well as the softneck varieties.  Hardneck varieties are Purple Stripe, Marbled Purple Stripe, Asiatic, Glazed Purple Stripe, Creole, Middle Eastern, Turban, Rocambole, and Porcelain.  All but Creole are better suited for growing in the cooler Northern regions.

Elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum) is neither a garlic nor an onion.  It is closer to a leek but is not a leek, either.  Its above ground vegetation is much like that of the leek, but forms a bulb consisting of very large, garlic-like cloves.  The flavor is also much milder than garlic.  Elephant garlic can be grown like garlic and does well here in the South. 

Why plant in the fall?
Garlic should be planted in the fall so that there is time for root development before the first frost.  Once the weather drops below 40, garlic goes dormant until the weather warms again in the spring.  Garlic needs vernalization, or at least 6-8 weeks of cool weather, in order for proper bulb development the following spring.  In the spring, growth resumes.  Their growth pattern is similar to flowering spring bulbs like daffodils and tulips.

Garlic Plant Definitions
  • Scape - A long flower stalk garlic produced in spring
  • Neck - The part of the garlic plant connecting the bulb to the leaves
  • Bulb - Also called Head, a bulb is the underground edible part of the garlic plant.  
  • Cloves - A clove is one of the small bulblets that can be split off of the axis of a larger garlic bulb.  They are fleshy sections which are used for consumption.