Garlic (Allium sativum) is divided into two sub species, softneck (sativum) and hardneck (ophioscorodon). The hardnecks usually produce scapes and the softnecks usually don’t.
Hardnecks are divided into weakly bolting and strong bolting cultivars while softnecks are known as non-bolting.
There are many different cultivars of garlic that vary greatly in plant and bulb size, colour, storage time and harvest time.
There are 11 main groups that garlic fall into: Artichoke, Asiatic, Creole, Middle Eastern, Porcelain, Purple Stripe, Glazed Purple Stripe, Marbled Purple Stripe, Rocambole, Silverskin and Turban.
Four of the most common of these groups are examined below.
All garlics in this group are non-bolting (softneck) with multiple clove layers and a general flattened shape. Bulb skins are off-white to pale mauve, coarse and thick, sometimes with purple patches. Some bulbs are round and symmetrical (e.g., ‘Italian Late’), others lumpy and asymmetrical (e.g., ‘Kisswani’). Plants are short and wide with broad nearly horizontal yellow-green leaves. Good for plaiting.
Cloves: Clove numbers vary from 12–20, in three layers with the inner cloves smaller and narrower than the plump, clasping outer cloves. Clove skins are off-white to light tan and difficult to peel.
Climate: Garlics in the Artichoke group are mid-season to plant and harvest, and are widely adapted to a variety of climates, growing best from NSW to TAS, plus SA and southern WA (inc. Perth).
Flavour: Simple, direct flavours and are mild to hot when raw. The best tasting cultivars though can be more complex with long-lasting sweet true garlic flavours.
Storage: 6–8 months
Planting: March - May
Harvest: Nov – Jan (one month earlier in NSW and SA)
Queensland Harvest: In southern areas of QLD and northern NSW, we recommend growing Subtropical garlic, as well as Artichoke or Turban varieties, as these are the most tolerant of climatic conditions in this area.
Hard neck – Weakly Bolting
These weakly-bolting hardback garlics have bulbs that are usually flattened globe shapes, with purple blotched or heavily striped skins, which split easily. Scapes generally grow as an upside-down U with umbels resembling a turban. Numerous small to medium bulbils are found in the umbel (generally 40–50). Plants are smaller and floppier with medium well-spaced leaves. Early to plant and harvest. High temperatures early in spring can cause the whole plant to fall over
Cloves: Plump cloves are usually in one layer with one or two smaller in the middle, 7–15 cloves to a bulb with some being enclosed in a second skin. Cloves have glossy bronze to pink-red to purple skins that are easy to peel.
Climate: Grows best in NSW, VIC, SA, TAS and mid/ south WA. In warmer regions it may not grow a scape
Flavour: Raw cloves have simple, crisp savoury flavours that can be initially mild to hot, but the heat quickly fades. Some have very sweet rich fruity flavours. Lovely roasted.
Storage: 4–5 months
Harvest: Oct - Dec
Hardneck – Weakly Bolting
Smaller bulbs with strong (usually white) skins, which can be hard to remove. Scapes grow as drooping, upside down U-shapes, with long slender umbels and small bulbils (usually more than 30). Medium sized plants with blue-green upright leaves. Mid to late season plant and harvest.
Cloves: Bulbs have 8–12 vibrant purple, red or bronze cloves, in one or two layers, with tight skins.
Climate: Grow bests in hot drier regions in southern NSW, VIC, SA, southern WA and northern TAS.
Flavour: Raw flavours range from simple and very hot to strong, rich, complex and long-lasting with more or less heat. Some of these cultivars are the hottest of all garlics. Lovely roasted
Storage: 12+ months
Planting: Mar - May
Harvest: Nov - Jan
Standard Purple Stripe
Hardneck- Strongly Bolting
These garlics have large symmetrical bulbs with vivid to muted purple colouring and striping. Tall plants with tall strongly bolting scapes that curve to 270 degrees. Tiny purple bulbils (100–200 in umbel), and also some flowers. Late planting and late harvest.
Cloves: Very strong skins that can be hard to peel. Needs cold for big bulbs. 8–12 large purple-bronze tall slender cloves in a single layer.
Climate: Grows best in colder regions in southern NSW, VIC, SA, TAS and southern WA.
Flavour: Raw flavours are sweet and complex with hot and peppery overtones. Great cooked; both sautéed and roasted.
Planting: Mar - May
Harvest: Dec – Jan
Try different cultivars and experiment to see which grow best in your situation. There are so many different varieties, and you will see which grow best for you and which are your personal favourites in the way of taste.
How to grow garlic
- Improve soil prior to planting by incorporating well-rotted compost, manure, and organic fertilisers such as rock dust and blood and bone prior to planting. Garlic is a bulb, so good drainage is essential. If your soil becomes damp or waterlogged throughout winter. Mound soil up to improve drainage.
- Split garlic bulbs into their individual cloves. To ensure the best result, select the plumpest cloves for planting out, leaving smaller cloves for the kitchen.
- Plant individual cloves, pointy end upward, in holes 5cm deep and 10-12 cm apart. Space rows 15-20cm apart. Gently backfill and water to settle soil in around each clove.
- Mulch with sugarcane or straw to a depth of 7-10cm. Shoots will push through the mulch so cover the entire area to prevent weed growth during winter.
- Water as required once shoots are around 10cm tall. Garlic prefers a moist, not wet soil. Apply a liquid fertiliser of seaweed (Granular Seaweed Solution) or fish emulsion (Ocean Brew) fortnightly during the growing season to keep garlic healthy and productive.
How to harvest garlic
Garlic is ready to harvest when the leaves begin to dry and there are only 4-5 green leaves remaining. These remaining leaves become the protective skins as cloves dry and harden. Dig up garlic using a fork or trowel to minimise damage to the bulb. Shake to remove loose soil and hang in clumps in a dry, airy place away from direct sunlight for 1-2 months to allow the bulbs to harden.