Garlic glossary

Garlic plant drawing


Bolt This term is generally applied to a plant that flowers and sets seed prematurely. When talking about garlic, it is used interchangeably with the term hardneck, so a bolting garlic is a hardneck garlic. Another alternative term is ‘top-setting’.


The tip of the spathe that covers the umbel. The beak can be long or short depending on the garlic cultivar.


A storage organ, made up of a short underground stem surrounded by swollen leaf bases (in garlic these are the cloves), usually with a dry outer, protective skin also consisting of leaf blades (the clove and bulb skins).


Small bulbs usually formed in the umbel (flowerhead). All hardneck garlics form bulbils in the umbel, and some softnecks will form them in the pseudostem.


Small bulbs produced beside the parent bulb. These are more commonly seen in leeks and Elephant garlic than in true garlic.


Horticultural clones are plants that originate by vegetative reproduction (asexually) as part of the same individual. New plants grown from cuttings, buds, bulbs or cloves are all clones of the parent plant.


A swollen leaf base with another modified leaf base that forms the protective skin. A garlic clove is quite complex as it contains all the elements necessary to grow into a new bulb with leaves and scapes.


A cultivated variety. Most types of garlic have arisen through cultivation by humans, so technically they are cultivars rather than varieties.


A process lasting a period of two weeks to two months when garlic is allowed to dry out. During this process nutrients are absorbed from the leaves and scapes and stored in the bulbs, and the bulb skins tightly encapsulate the cloves. This process is essential for long storage.

Day-length neutral cultivar

A cultivar of garlic that will initiate bulbing with day-lengths of 12-13 hours. Also known as short-day cultivars.


The term drying can be used for curing (see above) or for the process of dehydrating garlic cloves so that no moisture is left in them.


A cluster of flowers arising from a primary branch. In garlic this is called an umbel and usually consists of either bulbils on their own or a mixture of flowers and bulbils encapsulated in a sheath called a spathe.


Cultivars of garlic that produce scapes and umbels.

A term used, especially in cooking, to describe the garlic bulb.

Leaf blade

The thin, flattened main portion of the leaf

Leaf sheath

The modified base of a leaf that forms a sheath around the stem.

Long and intermediate day cultivar

More usually used to describe onions where bulbing occurs at day-lengths of between 13 and 16 hours. Most garlics are long and intermediate day plants and initiate bulbing in response to these day-lengths.


Garlic stems are called pseudostems because they are not true stems in the botanical sense. What looks like a stem is actually made up of elongated leaf bases that are tightly wrapped around and sheath each other.


Garlic bulbs that swell, but don’t form cloves. Rounds, instead of bulbs with cloves, form for a number of reasons, including when cloves are planted too late in the season and when temperatures are not low enough, or days long enough, to trigger clove formation.


A leafless flower stalk that originates from the ground or from basal leaves.


Confusingly, the term seed is used to describe both the cloves that are used for planting, and true seed that forms after the fertilisation of flowers. Work over recent years has shown that it is now possible to obtain true seed from some garlic cultivars.

Short day cultivar

More usually used to describe onions where bulbing will occur at relatively shorter day-lengths of 12-13 hours. Some garlic cultivars are more suited to growing in these regions and are known as short day cultivars, or day-length neutral cultivars.


Cultivars of garlic that do not usually produce a scape or umbel, but may sometimes do so in very cold conditions and may only produce bulbils in the pseudostem rather than a true scape and umbel.


The papery bract (modified leaf) that encloses the bulbils and flowers in the umbel.


Cultivars of garlic that produce scapes and umbels. It is used as an alternative to the term ‘hardneck’; another alternative term is ‘bolting garlic’.


The flowerhead that forms at the top of the scape and includes the bulbils, flowers and spathe.