What Type of Garlic Will Grow Best in Zone 4 or Zone 5?
Updated: Jan 28
Question: What Type of Garlic Grows Best in USDA Hardiness Zone 4 or Zone 5?
Answer: Hardneck Garlic. (Hardneck varieties of garlic are divided into eight groups: Porcelain, Rocambole, Purple Stripe, Glazed Purple Stripe, Marble Purple Stripe, Asiatic, Turban, and Creole (aka Mexican Purple). Hardneck cultivars (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon) produce cloves that surround the base of a hard flower stalk. They grow well in environments that have cold winters.
What about Softneck Garlic? Will it Grow in Zone 4 or 5? Softneck garlic cultivars (Allium sativum var. sativum) look more like the garlic bulbs we see in grocery stores. Softnecks are less cold-hardy than hardnecks. Most softneck varieties grow best in Hardiness Zones 6-7 with very few varieties able to form bulbs in Hardiness Zones 8-9. While many perform better in warmer climates, there are some softneck cultivars that are suitable for Zone 4 or Zone 5, with colder temperatures. They usually do not grow a flower stalk (garlic scape). Check with other local garlic growers to see if they are growing softneck garlic. If you live in a mild climate that doesn't get hard freezes in winter, go for softneck garlic. This type of garlic does well in USDA zone 5 and above, making it fairly versatile. If your winters are very cold, choose a hardneck garlic, which flourishes in zone 4 and below.
USDA Hardiness Zone 4 and 5 comprises some of the coldest and northernmost areas of the continental United States. It reaches in a half-moon shape from northern New York and New England to northern Idaho and from the Canadian border south into parts of the Colorado Rockies. The following states include some or all of Zone 4 and Zone 5: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming and a few parts of California.
Question: "My sister lives in zone 4 and wants to know if she can grow garlic. I'm in Zone 7 and grow softneck garlic. Do you know if it's possible to grow garlic in zone 4, I would really appreciate you letting us know? "
Answer: "Our GROeat Garlic Farm is in Zone 4. Hardneck Garlic grows really well here. We grow Music, Rosewood, Bogatyr, German Porcelain, Montana Zemo, and a few other hardneck cultivars. We plant cloves in October and harvest in late July the following year. As long as your sister selects the hardy Hardneck garlic, the garlic will do just fine in Zone 4. She will definitely need to start with good soil conditions and disease-free seed garlic. A little help from the weather is important, including cold winter conditions and adequate moisture in the spring. Keep the garlic patch weed-free! Garlic is one tough plant. Harvest when the bottom three leaves turn yellow or brown and droop to the ground. Handle each garlic bulb with gentleness and care as they bruise easily, resulting in short storage life."
Hardneck Garlic Overview: The good news is garlic is resilient and adaptable. Hardneck Garlic also referred to as “Ophio” Garlic, apparently evolved directly from wild Garlic, and appreciates winter cold. The cold conditions in the northern tier of the United States stimulate and invigorates the plant and bring out exceptional quality in the plants and bulbs. These cold conditions also help the plant produce hotter, spicier garlic. It is a smart strategy to plant hardneck garlic in the soil five or six weeks before the first frost so that the cloves (seed garlic) can acclimate and establish roots before winter freezing. However, if the soil freezes very quickly and permeates the soil deeply, this can result in damage to the planted cloves. And if significant above-ground growth occurs before winter, cold temperatures can damage the plant.
PRO Tip. Vernalization! If your winters are cold, choose a hardneck garlic, which flourishes in zone 3, 4 and 5, and even 6. You will have more success and larger bulbs and you'll also benefit from the long storage life and better flavor of hardneck garlic. Vernalization = Exposure to Cold for 8 + Weeks.
Suitable cultivars for zone 4 or zone 5 gardens include, ‘Music', 'German Extra Hardy', ‘German Porcelain’, 'German Red', ‘Spanish Roja', 'Bogatyr', 'Romanian Red', and 'Montana Zemo'. There are hundreds of "named" hardneck garlic varieties, including ‘Metechi‘, ‘Purple Glazer‘, ‘Siberian‘, ‘Chesnok Red‘, and ‘Spanish Roja’. Plant the cloves (separated from the bulb), pointy side upwards, deep enough to just cover with soil. Hardneck garlic develops a "pigtail" stem called a scape, which eventually develops tiny bulbils at its top end. Hardneck garlic develops a bulb (or head) underground with cloves wrapped together in a papery sheath to form the “head” or bulb of garlic. Hardneck garlic tends to do well in colder climates.
When to Plant Garlic: A common mistake some garlic growers make is to plant garlic too soon in the fall. Instead, Garlic is frost-hardy, but ideally should be planted 4 to 6 weeks before the ground freezes to give the cloves time to establish roots. Plant individual cloves from mid-September to mid-November. In mild climates, garlic can be planted even in January or February (assuming the soil is not frozen). Assuming hardneck garlic has been exposed to cold conditions for 8+ weeks (vernalization), garlic can also be planted in early spring as soon as the ground is workable. Planting garlic at the proper time will result in bigger bulbs. Here is chart providing very general guidelines on when to plant hardneck garlic.
Fall and Winter Planting Schedule. Note: Garlic can also be planted in very early spring.
Frost Dates Zone 4: Hardneck garlic can be grown in Zone 4. This zone is considered a medium-growing season but is shorter than higher-numbered zones. The last frost date is typically between April 24 and May 12. It can be as late as June, depending on the elevation. The first frost date is typically between September 20 and October 7. It's important that Zone 4 growers keep up with temperature changes, especially early and late frost warnings. Every year is a little different.
Frost Dates Zone 5: Hardneck garlic can be grown in Zone 5. This zone is considered a medium-growing season but is shorter than higher-numbered zones. The last frost date is typically between April 7 and April 30. It can be as late as mid-May. The first frost date is October 15. It's important that Zone 5 growers keep up with temperature changes, especially frost warnings. A frost date app is an excellent gardening tool for short growing seasons, so you receive information for your zip code about frost warnings.
PRO TIP: Hardneck Garlic is very cold tolerant, and as long as you get the garlic planted before the ground freezes, your garlic should be just fine.
Quick facts: Garlic grows best in well-drained, moisture-retentive soil with pH between 6.0 and 7.0. The soil should be comprised of rich, well-decomposed, fluffy organic material. Plant cloves in the fall, usually one or two weeks after the first killing frost. Unless you control weeds early, they can easily overtake young garlic plants. Insects are not a major problem with garlic, although onion maggot is a potential pest. Depending on variety and climate zone, harvest garlic between late June and late July.
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13 Inches of Snow on October 23, 2022. -45 F Temperatures followed thereafter.
Mr. 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 very cold winters, heavy snowpack, moist spring, temperate summers, and the nutrient-rich and dynamic alluvial soils, washed down from the Gallatin Mountain Range.