It’s easy to think of garlic as a Mediterranean plant and therefore a tender crop that needs lots of warmth to grow well. However, if you choose a good variety and give it the right conditions, you can produce a decent crop no matter where you live in the UK.
Garlic needs a long growing season to do well, so autumn through to midwinter is the perfect time to plant. In mild parts of the country, garlic cloves planted at this time will develop roots and shoots before the heavy frosts. In cold areas, you may need to cover plants with cloches over winter. This extra protection will encourage root growth, so plants are ready to grow next spring. Find out more about how to grow garlic.
There are two types of garlic:
The most common type in supermarkets. It produces the greatest number of cloves per bulb – up to 18. It has a white, papery skin, stores well and rarely produces a flower stalk. Softneck garlic is less tolerant of prolonged cold temperatures and is therefore best suited to growing in mild southern counties, though it can be grown elsewhere with protection in the winter.
Hardneck garlic has fewer cloves per bulb – usually 10 or less. They are generally hardier than softneck types and can be grown throughout the UK. Hardneck types will often produce a curling flower stalk or ‘scape’. This straightens out as it matures, to carry a head of tiny clove-like bulbils. It is best to remove the scape as soon as it appears (use it in stir fries) so that the plant will divert its energies into producing a larger bulb. If left to develop on the plants, you can harvest and plant the bulbils, but it may take 2-3 years to form a decent bulb.
Here are some of the best garlic varieties to grow.
A heavy cropping, softneck variety from south west France. It has large bulbs and is a heavy cropper.
Often sold as ‘Venetian White’, this softneck variety has a strong taste. It does well in cold conditions and stores well.
This hardneck variety hails from the Ukraine and has attractive purple stripes. It’s said to be the best variety for garlic bread.
‘Early Purple Wight’
A softneck variety with purple-tinged bulbs. As its name suggests, it crops very early, from mid May. It doesn’t store well, so use within three months.
This softneck variety from Spain has large bulbs with plump cloves. Good for plaiting, it stores well.
This French-bred, softneck variety that produces white-skinned bulbs. It has a good flavour and stores well.
This softneck variety was bred on the Isle of Wight, so is well suited to the UK climate. It has small bulbs with a strong flavour and keeps well.
This softneck variety is a variety that is reliable and easy to grow, and produces large bulbs. It stores well.