Open any garden publication this time of year and you'll find an article on planting and growing garlic.

If you're inclined to turn the page and wonder why anyone would ever want to grow garlic instead of buying it one bulb at a time, consider this: Homegrown garlic gives you deeper, fresher flavor than anything you can buy in the produce section.

Commercial growers rely on only a few varieties, but home gardeners have access to dozens, from mild to pungent, white to purple, all superior in one way or another to supermarket selections.

If you've never grown garlic or experienced different flavors, you may want to plant all three types and experiment with flavor and growth habits.

Soft-neck varieties, well adapted to our mild winters, store for many months, usually have both large and small cloves in each bulb, and can be used for braiding.

Hard-neck types tend to produce a stiff central stalk that cannot be braided, have fewer but larger cloves than soft-neck, are easy to peeland tend to be quite pungent, often considered superior in taste.

Elephant garlic, botanically a type of leek with a garlicky flavor, stores for several months, has huge cloves that are mild and easy to peel. If left in the ground throughout July, it develops a 4- to 5-foot ornamental flower stalk.

Make a selection

While it's possible to plant garlic from the supermarket, it makes more sense to grow types developed for home gardens. Local nurseries generally carry several selections for sowing but aren't able to offer the wide variety available by mail order.

Of the many descriptions of garlic varieties you can find online, two excellent sites are at WeGrowGarlic.com and GourmetGarlicGardens.com (click on "overview" at top of this page).

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