Difference between Hardneck & Softneck Garlic March 10, 2015 00:46

Garlic Scape
Above: Garlic Scape

How to Identify Hardneck vs. Softneck Garlic:

For the most part, being able to tell the difference between hardneck and softneck garlic is easy. Hardneck garlics generally send up a flowering stock called the scape (similar to when an onion bolts). This scape starts at the base of the garlic bulb and goes up through the neck. This stock causes the neck of the bulb to have a "hard neck" and hence the name. With softneck garlic, this scape structure is lacking and therefore the garlic keeps it's "soft neck" at harvest time.

Hardneck Garlic
Above: Hardneck garlic with their distinctive hard stocks

Braiding & Bunching

Due to the softer neck, softneck garlic can be braided after harvest whereas hardneck garlic can be put into bunches or trimmed. Softneck garlic tends to also store much longer than hardneck garlic. This is because bulbs skins on softnecks are much tighter around the neck which prevents moisture on the inside of the bulbs from leaving and prevents diseases on the outside from getting in.

Climates:

In general, hardneck varieties tend to be more suited to cold climates, whereas softneck tend to thrive in warmer environments (although with a bit of care, both can be grown successfully in most places). Hardnecks have also been around for much longer than softnecks as they more closely resemble the wild garlics that humans first harvested thousands of years ago.  

Within the softneck and hardneck groupings, there are specific garlic families. These families all have different characteristics, however all share the same habit of either forming a scape structure or not. To complicate things a little bit, some families within the two garlic groupings will only form a scape under certain environmental conditions (such as cold winters). Most garlic growers call these weakly bolting, although they are technically considered to be hardnecks. 

HARDNECK GARLIC FAMILIES:

Purple Stripe
Marbled Purple Stripe
Glazed Purple Strip
Porcelain
Rocambole
→ Asiatic (weakly bolting)
Turban (weakly bolting) 

SOFTNECK GARLIC FAMILIES:

Artichoke
→ Silverskin