Hardneck vs Softneck Garlic: What’s the Difference?

Written by August Croft
Published: August 26, 2022
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Did you know that there are at least two different varieties of garlic plants, known as hardneck vs softneck garlic? Both of these varieties are fantastic to grow in your own backyard garden, for a number of reasons. But what is the difference between these two crops, and which one suits your lifestyle best? 

In this article, we will compare and contrast hardneck garlic with softneck garlic so that you can have a full understanding of both of these plants. We will go over their physical descriptions as well as what they are typically used for in a culinary capacity. Finally, we will go over how and where they grow best in case you are interested in planting them. Let’s get started now! 

Comparing Hardneck vs Softneck Garlic

Hardneck vs Softneck Garlic
Hardneck garlic produces a central stalk from its bulb, while softneck garlic grows leaves
Hardneck GarlicSoftneck Garlic
Scientific ClassificationAllium sativum var. ophioscorodonAllium sativum var. sativum
DescriptionGrows a central stalk from its underground garlic bulb that turns hard when it is time to harvest. The bulbs typically have fewer but larger cloves compared to softneck varieties, and there are few leaves present. Produces garlic scapes, a prized culinary itemGrows multiple delicate leaves, similarly to green onions, from its underground garlic bulb. The bulbs typically have more but smaller cloves compared to hardneck garlic. Does not produce edible scapes, but its paper wrapping keeps it more shelf-stable by comparison
UsesPopular in some culinary circles for its scapes and its more intricate flavorThe most commonly produced garlic variety for culinary purposes, often found in stores
Origin and Growing PreferencesOriginated in Asia; prefers full sun and a cool initial planting season, thriving in cold climatesOriginated in Asia; prefers full sun and planting in later seasons, as it enjoys more heat
Hardiness Zones4-94-9

Key Differences Between Hardneck vs Softneck Garlic

Hardneck vs Softneck Garlic

Hardneck garlic produces fewer but larger cloves compared to softneck garlic

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There are a few key differences between hardneck and softneck garlic. For example, hardneck garlic produces a central stalk from its bulb, while softneck garlic grows leaves instead. The garlic cloves found in hardneck garlic production are larger and fewer compared to the smaller and more frequent cloves found in softneck garlic. Finally, hardneck garlic is more cold-hardy compared to softneck garlic.

Let’s go over all of these differences in detail now.

Hardneck vs Softneck Garlic: Classification

It’s no secret that hardneck garlic and softneck garlic are related to one another, given that they are both garlic varieties. They both belong to the same genus and species, known as Allium sativum. However, they are technically different varieties from each other, with hardneck garlic classified as ophioscorodon, and softneck garlic classified as sativum.

Hardneck vs Softneck Garlic: Description

Hardneck vs Softneck Garlic

Hardneck garlic has taller stalks compared to softneck garlic.

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You may not be able to tell these two garlic varieties apart right away, especially if you are looking at them during certain seasons. However, there are some differences between them that are clear upon first glance. For example, hardneck garlic produces a centralized stalk that is rigid and tall, while softneck garlic produces leaves and doesn’t produce a stalk. 

Softneck garlic varieties look extremely similar to green onions as they’re growing in the ground, while hardneck varieties produce scapes, something that is prized in many culinary fields. If you harvest the bulbs of either of these garlic varieties, you may notice that hardneck garlic produces fewer but larger cloves compared to softneck garlic, which produces smaller and more cloves by comparison. 

Hardneck vs Softneck Garlic: Uses

Hardneck vs Softneck Garlic

Hardneck garlic is more cold tolerant overall, particularly when compared with softneck garlic. 

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Not surprisingly, hardneck garlic and softneck garlic are used interchangeably in the kitchen, though softneck garlic is typically found in grocery stores, while hardneck garlic is not. Many culinary experts believe that hardneck garlic has a stronger and more distinct flavor compared to softneck garlic, depending on where both of these crops are grown. 

The primary difference in the use of these two garlic varieties has to do with the prized garlic scapes found in hardneck garlic, something that softneck garlic does not produce. Besides the scapes, softneck garlic is typically more difficult to unwrap or peel compared to hardneck garlic, though both varieties are used in similar fashions. 

Hardneck vs Softneck Garlic: Origin and How to Grow

Hardneck vs Softneck Garlic

Softneck garlic tends to cultivate faster than hardneck garlic.

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Both hardneck garlic and softneck garlic originated in Asia, given their similar plant classification and relation to one another. However, these two garlic varieties have slightly different ways in which they prefer to grow. For example, softneck garlic can be planted later in the winter season compared to hardneck garlic. This is because hardneck garlic is more cold tolerant overall, particularly when compared with softneck garlic. 

Hardneck vs Softneck Garlic: Hardiness Zones

Hardneck garlic and softneck garlic grow in similar hardiness zones to one another, which include zones 4-9. Many experts advise planting both varieties at different times, however, as hardneck garlic enjoys overwintering, while softneck garlic does not. If you know that you have harsher winters where you live, you may want to stick with hardneck garlic rather than softneck garlic. However, softneck garlic tends to cultivate faster than hardneck garlic, so it all depends on your preferences!

The photo featured at the top of this post is © amandalala123/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

August Croft is a writer at A-Z Animals where their primary focus is on astrology, symbolism, and gardening. August has been writing a variety of content for over 4 years and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Theater from Southern Oregon University, which they earned in 2014. They are currently working toward a professional certification in astrology and chart reading. A resident of Oregon, August enjoys playwriting, craft beer, and cooking seasonal recipes for their friends and high school sweetheart.

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