Updated: Dec 21, 2022
If you are relatively new to growing garlic you may be asking the question: "What is Acclimating Garlic?"
If you recently acquired seed garlic (garlic cloves for planting, also known as seed garlic) you may be wondering if the garlic plants will grow to their full potential in the growing year. Or, will it take multiple years of replanting the new generation of cloves - for the garlic to "get accustomed to" and acclimate to the conditions in your location?
While they have different spellings, acclimate, and acclimatize mean the same thing. These words are most commonly used as meaning “to become accustomed to a new climate or to new conditions.” Acclimation is the capacity of a plant to adapt to a new location - a new environment - environmental changes within the lifetime of the plant. This ability to adapt, allows plants, such as garlic, to cope with the variation in conditions to which they are exposed. In other words, acclimation involves physiological, or morphological adjustments within the garlic plant that improve performance or survival in response to environmental change. For example, garlic plants have the ability to adjust their form and function to acclimate to some extent, for example, warmer versus cooler temperatures, lower or higher elevations, or higher versus lower light levels.
GROeat Garlic Farm on Bozeman Montana. 13" of Snow on October 23.
"The real question here is, if you acquire seed garlic from another location, will the garlic grow to its full potential in the first year? Will this garlic, from a different location grow well at my new location, and will the plant reach full potential to produce quality large bulbs at harvest time? Is the concept of plant acclimatization scientifically factual rather than the garden version of an urban legend?"
Research on Acclimating Garlic.
Based on research conducted at the "Garlic Seed Foundation", they reiterated that when growing garlic, it really comes down to geographical areas and USDA hardiness zones. The "Garlic Seed Foundation" did trials of the same seed that were sent to ten unique parts of the country. The feedback received revealed that the first year was most challenging as garlic began to adapt to temperatures, new soil types, and unique weather conditions. Soil, elevation, weather, and other conditions often varied from where the garlic was "used to growing". In simple terms, if new garlic underperforms the first year and is small in the new location, don't worry and replant the larger cloves and by the second or third year, your garlic should be in a position if it works for you. Garlic typically takes 2 to 3 seasons to acclimate to a new climate, resulting in more vigorous growth and better yields in this time period. Saving some bulbs for replanting is very worthwhile. Not all garlic varieties grow well in all climates, so you’ll want to make sure the varieties you choose to plant are suited to your growing zone. Hardneck, Softneck garlic and/or both? Do your research to determine what grows best in your environment.
What are the Differences Between Hardneck and Softneck Garlic.
Hardneck garlic varieties are cold-hardy and do well in Zone 3, 4, and Zone 5. Choose these if your winters have multiple killing touches of frost, snow coverage, and freezing conditions. Softneck garlic is grown in warmer USDA Zones and is likely the right choice if you live in a warm climate. Softneck varieties produce a plant without a garlic scape. Their garlic stem structure is rather soft (as compared to hardneck garlic) making them easy to braid. Hardneck garlic requires vernalization (exposed to a period of cold temperatures) before or after planting. Cold temperatures stimulate garlic to sprout and develop a bulb. Even if you live in a warmer climate, there is a possibility you can still grow hardneck garlic, by storing your garlic in a cool environment for 4+ weeks prior to planting.
Softneck and hardneck varieties of garlic are so named because of their stalks. Softneck garlic is better suited to warmer climates such as California. Most softneck varieties may be rated for USDA hardiness zones 7-10. Softneck garlic (Allium sativum sativum) usually has all-white bulbs. Hardneck garlic bulbs develop underground, develop in response to their exposure to cold winter conditions, seasonal temperatures, and day length. Hardneck garlic begins to develop when days are 12+ hours long and the soil temperature is above 55ºF. If these conditions are not in place, growth may be slow or non-existent. If daily temperatures rise too quickly and temperatures stay too warm in the spring, the bulb likely will grow faster and may be very small.
If you live in the northern half of the United States, you can likely plant and grow hardneck. If you live in the southern tier of the United States, you’ll have better luck with a softneck variety. Before purchasing your garlic, learn about its specific environmental requirements, which can prevent problems caused by improper planting conditions. Hardneck garlic (Allium sativum ophioscorodon) is more likely to have hues of pink and purple. Hardneck garlic is also known to have a more intense flavor than softneck varieties.
Your Garlic-Growing Journey (Don't Forget About the Scape and Weeds)
The term "biological elasticity" describes a plant's natural ability to "get accustomed to" or acclimate to many environmental factors over time. If possible, talk to other garlic growers who have experience growing garlic. Learn from their experiences. Then, begin your garlic-growing journey and experiment with different cultural practices and varieties to discover the best combination for your operation. On this journey, keep in mind that If the scape is allowed to develop it will compete with the bulb for nutrients, resulting in a reduction in bulb size and quality. Once removed, scapes should be disposed of off-site to limit them as a source of disease inoculum. Just as important, keep in mind that Garlic is a weak competitor with other plants and does not grow well if it has to compete with weeds. Ideally, begin your garlic-growing journey with a weed-free planting bed. Use weed-free mulch and manure.
Jere Folgert is the owner of GroEat Garlic Farm in Bozeman, Montana. GroEat Farm is a small, sustainable family farm located in the beautiful Hyalite Foothills, in the shadows of the Gallatin Mountain Range. The hardneck varieties that they grow on their farm flourish, due to the combination of the cold winters, temperate summers, moist spring, and the dynamic alluvial soils, washed down from the Gallatin Range.