The Best Garlic Varieties For Canada 9 Comments

Bulbs of different garlic varieties placed beside each other

One of the most common questions I get asked by friends and customers is  "what are the best garlic varieties for growing in Canada?". I used to always say that choosing a Porcelain variety such as Music was the best choice for garlic growers living in cold climates. The reason for this is that most of the large garlic farms and many of the market gardeners I knew were growing it as their main variety. In my mind, this meant that it must be the only smart choice out there!

Once I started growing Porcelain garlic varieties myself, I also found them to be a great choice in general. They have large vigorous plants that are extremely hardy and produce large bulbs that store well. Music is no exception and is definitely a top pick when it comes to quality and flavour.  

However, after a few years of growing this standard choice, I started to wonder if there were any other, more interesting types of garlic that would also grow well in colder climates? I soon realized that there was a whole world of amazing garlic varieties and started to learn about which ones were best suited for growing here in Canada.
    

Canada's Climate

In Canada, although the climate and weather vary greatly across much of the country, we do have some things in common. The most important similarity is that most areas have a warm summer with changing day lengths and a winter that is usually very cold.

Fortunately for Canadians, there are several families of garlic that thrive in these Northern conditions. In fact, they do so well in our climate that they grow much better here than in warmer regions such as the southern United States.

The most, cold-hardy garlic varieties are in the Hardneck group, of which there are several subgroups or families. Of these families, the Porcelain, Purple Stripe, Marbled Purple Stripe and Rocambole garlics tend to perform the best under normal Canadian growing conditions. There are also some hardy Artichoke (Softneck) varieties that have been adapted to cold climates and can do well even under the harsh winter conditions of Western Canada.

Best Varieties For Canada

Since we started growing garlic many years ago, we have planted and tested over 50 different varieties. As time went by, we slowly eliminated the ones that we felt did not perform the best. Every garlic variety had to follow simple criteria in order for us to continue planting it. They had to have vigorous plants, large bulbs with nice appearance, be able to handle wet conditions, not be prone to disease and have great flavour.

The following are the varieties that have met these criteria, including our top picks!

Porcelain 

Porcelain is popular due to its hardiness and ability to produce large-sized bulbs with a wonderful sweet flavour. Plants have vigorous growth that explodes out of the ground in spring. Large plants with thick wide-spreading leaves. Bulbs produce 4 to 6 very large, plump cloves that are easy to peel. 

Music - Very adaptable and tolerant of cold winters. Top choice.
Big Boy - Huge plants that produce huge bulbs. Similar to Music


Purple Stripe 

Purple stripes are cold hardy and require exposure to cold temperatures in order to thrive and develop large bulbs. This makes them well suited for growing in Canada. The tall crescent-shaped cloves have tight skins that help bulbs store longer. Bulbs generally produce 8 to 12 cloves each and can store for 4 to 8 months. They have a very good flavour which increases in intensity, complexity and heat as it ages. They are known for their roasting qualities, however, can be used in general cooking as well.

Chesnok Red - Good cooking garlic, with beautiful colouring.
Italian Purple - A Standard choice for use in cooking, especially sauces. 
Persian Star - Cloves have stunning colour and deep flavour. Top choice.

 
Rocambole

Rocambole garlic is one of the most widely known and grown garlic families in Canada. They are considered to be one of the best tasting varieties and are often the first choice of chefs and garlic lovers. They have a deep, complex flavour.

The plants are cold hardy and require exposure to cold temperatures in order to thrive and develop large bulbs, making them well suited for Canada. Bulbs store for 4 to 6 months and have 8 to 10 plump cloves that are easy to peel.

Spanish Roja - Produces large bulbs with amazing flavour. A Top Choice


Artichoke (Softneck)

Artichoke garlic is named for the way the cloves are arranged inside the bulb, which looks much like the layered structure of an artichoke. They have 10 to 14 cloves of various sizes.

The plants do not produce scapes, which makes them less work than hardneck varieties. They can also be easily braided and are one of the longest storing garlics with a storage ability of between 8 months and a year.

Artichokes can have good flavour, however, they are generally regarded as having a less complex taste than other family groups.     

Italian Softneck - Large symmetrical bulbs that form braids easily. 
Island Star - Can grow huge bulbs under optimal conditions. Stores well.

Although these are our favourite picks, we do grow a few other garlic varieties that also do very well here in Canada.

Growing Big Garlic

About the Author: John Côté owns and operates John Boy Farms with his family who have been farming the same land for over 140 years. As an agronomist and experienced farmer, he helps other growers learn how to grow garlic successfully. He has written many articles and is the author of The Master Guide to Growing Big Garlic.