Growing Garlic in Southern California: Varieties and Subspecies

Growing Garlic in Southern California: Varieties and Subspecies? Whaaat?!

When it comes to growing garlic, not all varieties are equal. There are multiple varieties of garlic that include arrays of subspecies. Unless you plan on becoming a garlic guru, I suggest knowing which varieties will grow well in Southern California, or other southern climates. It’s also important to know which garlics are tailored to your taste buds and cooking styles and purposes. Read on for some garlic education, which also features the garlics we grew this year. At the end of your lesson, click on the link to our review of each garlic based on quantity, size, quality, and taste.


Softneck Varieties

Silverskin and Artichoke are two popular softneck subspecies grown in warmer climates. They grow extremely well in Southern California’s Zone 10 and are often sold in grocery stores. Their light mild flavors make them a tasty choice for eating raw in salad dressings or lightly sautéed as a side or snack.

Blanco Piacenza

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Named after a town in northern Italy, this Artichoke subspecies is easy to grow in warm southern climates. It has a smooth, mild flavor, great for using raw or eating slightly cooked. Being a rather large Italian softneck, it averages 13 cloves per bulb, and is excellent for braiding. Harvest about 90 days for same season planting in spring or 240 days after fall planting.

California Early

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Just like the name implies, this is an early maturing Artichoke subspecies. As it is bred to grow well in California, it thrives in warm, sunny weather. Its SoCal popularity not only comes from its easy and adaptable growing, but its mild, subtle taste, and long storage ability- up to 6 months. Its bulbs average 10-16 cloves. Harvest about 90 days for same season planting in spring or 240 days after fall planting.

Nootka Rose

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Unlike the California Early, this Silverskin subspecies is the last of the softnecks to be harvested- mid to late season. Although the stems are weak, it tolerates heat well. The Nootka Rose originates from San Juan Island, Washington, whish is not exactly like our SoCal Mediterranean climate, but it is easily adaptable, even though it takes a little longer to get ready (as you can see in the picture above, we picked this bulb a little too early). Also, unlike many softnecks, the flavor is bold, bordering hot, which can increase with storage- up to 8 months. Bulbs average 12-20 pink streaked cloves encased in white wrappers.


Creole Varieties

Creole varieties are often referred to as a hardneck category because of their structure. However, they behave like softnecks in that they grow well in warm southern climates. They are also fairly rare and produce attractive bulbs with pink and purple hues.

Cuban Purple

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This beautiful garlic with deeply colored purple clove wrappers, has a rich garlicky flavor great for eating raw or slightly cooked. It averages 4-10 cloves and grows well in warm southern climates with intense sunlight. Harvest fall planted garlic in late spring or early summer, about 210 days from planting. Harvest spring planted garlic the same season, about 90 days from planting.

Labrea Purple

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Not much information could be found on this garlic, so I’m very eager to try it and write my own blurb. The Labrea Purple is a full flavored Creole garlic that grows well in southern states with mild winters and warmer climates. We’ll see!

Rose de Lautrec

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Popular in the Caribbean, this southern French Creole variety thrives in warm climates with intense sun. Its moderate flavor with a musky tone and a mildly spicy finish make it suitable for all types of cooking. Bulbs are enclosed in white wrappers and have pink rose-colored cloves (4-10). It is one of the earliest creoles to be harvested, early to mid season.

Spanish Benitee

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This Creole variety needs plenty of sunlight and grows well in warmer climates. Its hot, spicy flavor makes it a great choice for cooking, especially in sauces. Bulbs are wrapped in white and average 10 attractive pink cloves. Harvest in late spring or early summer. It stores well into spring- almost a year from harvest!


Hardneck Varieties

Hardneck garlics generally tend to grow best in cold winter climates since they require a longer vernalization time. They need a long, cold winter to be dormant in order to flower in the spring. This variety is also known to have a pungent, hot, spicy flavor that can sometimes be long lasting. Turban and Rocambole are two popular hardneck subspecies we tried growing this year. Turbans get their name from their scapes, which wind around in turban fashion. Turbans will fair better than most hardnecks in a warm southern California climate and harvest earlier. However, they only store until mid- November.


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The name of this Turban subspecies comes from the Russian word for “May”, which is the month it’s usually harvest. Its robust flavor with rich pungency and medium heat makes it one of the best garlics for baking. This garlic also produces a deliciously tender and mild scape for early season snacking. The rather small (smaller than the Shilla) pretty purplish bulbs average 6-11 tan cloves with purple stripes. Harvest fall planted garlic in late spring or early summer, about 240 days from planting. Harvest spring planted garlic the same season, about 90 days from planting.


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The Shilla is a richly flavored Asiatic Turban garlic from Korea. Their flavor is said to be similar to the Rose du Lautrec. Although tasty for baking, it doesn’t store long- just a couple of months. Shilla bulbs average 6-8 fat brownish purple wrapped cloves in a circular fashion around a central fore with no interior cloves. Harvest fall planted garlic in late spring or early summer, about 240 days from planting. Harvest spring planted garlic the same season, about 90 days from planting.

Italian Purple

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The Rocambole subspecies is a gamble in our southern California climate. It grows better in colder and wetter winter gardens. This garlic is an Italian chef’s choice for its strong, yet smooth flavor. Its white bulb wrappers are beautifully striped in purple and brown, averaging 8-9 bulbs. Italian Purples are harvested midseason and don’t store long.


Lesson Wrap Up:

You might have inferred that Hardnecks are the most difficult to grow in Zone 10, and you’re right. They need that vernalization period, which involves some extra work.- not to say I won’t try the Italian Purple again, given its superb flavor. Overall, we found that Softnecks and Creoles work best in our climate.   Click here to read our reviews.

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