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Top Problems Growing Garlic and How to Fix It

Garlic is a relatively easy vegetable to grow. It thrives best in a sunny place as it needs plenty of warmth for healthy growth and for the bulbs to ripen properly. However, growing your own garlic at home can seem like a daunting task if you don’t know how to deal with the many different problems that can arise. 

Some of the top problems growing garlic include pests and critters like bloat nematodes and bulb mites, soil deficiencies, and garlic diseases like white rot. These can result in small bulbs, droopy plants, and rotting garlic. It can also cause garlic leaves to dry up and turn yellow or brown. 

In this article, we take a look at the top problems most people face when growing garlic, and how you can deal with each of them so you can produce garlic with large, tasty, full-flavored cloves. 

So, without further ado, let’s jump right to it. 

What Types of Problems Could You Encounter Growing Garlic?

As it turns out, there are plenty of problems that you might come across growing garlic. Although garlic is among the easiest vegetables to grow, sometimes the deceptively large green tops can yield heads that are extremely small. 

The last thing anyone wants is to spend an entire year patiently watering, fertilizing, and weeding their garlic plants, only to get a disappointing harvest at the end of it. 

We have created a list of several diseases, fungi, insects, and other garlic stressors that could affect your crop. By listing the top problems most growers face, we hope to spare you from this type of disappointment. Use the tips in this article to help ensure a harvest of large, flavorful cloves for use in your favorite recipes. 

Wilting or Droopy Plants

Sometimes, to the surprise of gardeners, entire beds of garlic will turn yellow or brown and fall over, virtually overnight. If you find that your plants are drooping, wilting, or flopping over onto the ground, follow the troubleshooting steps below. 

The Problem

  • Garlic drooping
  • Garlic wilting
  • Garlic falling over

How to Fix It 

Could it be harvest time? At the risk of stating something that is obvious to most garlic growers, the first thing you should consider if you have droopy garlic is whether or not it’s time to harvest. 

When garlic plants reach maturity, the leaves turn brown and begin to sag. This leads to droopy plants. If you can’t remember when you planted the garlic, simply pull up a couple of plants to check if they are ready. 

If the bulbs are large and matured, there’s no need to wait for complete dieback. But you should leave the foliage intact to dry naturally. This will help extend the storage time of your garlic. 

So, if the bulbs are ready, then your floppy garlic troubleshooting ends here. However, if that isn’t the case, another possible cause could be that you’re either overwatering or underwatering your plants. 

Could you be under or over-watering your plants? If you notice wilted leaves during mid-season, it could simply mean that your garlic plants are thirsty and need a bit more moisture. To solve this problem, water them with two inches of water at least twice a week. You must also note that under-watered plants tend to mature early. 

If overwatering is the issue, simply cut back on the number of times you water the plants. Sometimes garlic droops after getting beaten down by a particularly heavy rainstorm. In such situations, the plants tend to bounce back as they dry after the rain. 

Could your garlic simply be hungry? Droopy plants could also be a signal that your garlic is tired and hungry. Lack of potassium, nitrogen, magnesium, and calcium will dramatically affect the growth of your plants. If that’s the case, a bit of root-zone or foliar feeding might help take care of the nutrient deficiency and bring the plant back around. 

If you’ve eliminated the problems outlined above, and your garlic is still droopy, it could be a sign of something more diabolical lurking under the surface. You will need to conduct further investigations. 

Could insect pests be the cause of droopy garlic? This dire possibility is one that you need to consider. Your garlic might be afflicted by wireworms or onion root maggot. If your plants have become host to these pesky insects, one way to deal with them is by planting brown mustard as part of your crop rotation practice. Brown mustard roots produce a bio-fumigant that discourages wireworms and onion root maggots.

Stunted Growth

Yet another issue faced by growers is stunted growth. This can be in the form of stunted roots or malformed bulbs. It can also present as multiple shoots growing from the stalk, which could be the result of cold damage during early spring. If you want to avoid being disappointed at harvesting time, then it’s important to deal with any growth issues as soon as possible. 

The Problem

  • Garlic not growing
  • Garlic not producing
  • Garlic not sprouting

How to Fix It

Is the problem caused by extreme weather? After a rough winter, some growers notice that their garlic plants have crumpled bulbs or are severely stunted. One way to prevent this from happening is to water the garlic well after planting. Next, add a thin layer of mulch to help discourage weeds until the ground freezes. 

Note that throughout the growing period, you need to keep weeds under control as they can adversely affect the growth of your crop. However, adding too much mulch prior to the ground freezing will insulate the ground, delaying the garlic plants from becoming dormant naturally. This will ultimately cause root damage once the real cold sets in. 

Are nematodes or onion thrips responsible? While stunted garlic growth is likely due to early spring freezes, it could also signal the indication of thrips in your garden. If you have tiny, underdeveloped bulbs and you’ve eliminated extremes in weather as the cause, the problem could be caused by nematodes or onion thrips. 

Nematodes cause the garlic bulbs to deform and turn the tops yellow prematurely. Onion thrips in the soil cause the garlic leaves to develop white spots, and they cause similar stunting. This article goes into detail as to how you can get rid of these pests. 

White Rot 

White Rot in Garlic one disease you definitely do not want. It is a stubborn soil-borne disease that many garlic growers have to contend with at some time in their lives. Once it infects plants, they may turn yellow, then wither and die, or it could affect their bulbs and cause them to rot and turn into a mushy mess. 

White rot affects all members of the Allium species, although garlic and onions have the most susceptibility. This plant disease, which is spread by small black sclerotia, is highly contagious and destructive. The pathogen thrives in cool, moist conditions and can quickly spread to non-infested areas. 

It moves below the ground at an extremely fast pace. Visual plant symptoms generally don’t appear until the plant’s base is infected. The plant dies soon after that. White rot will make the soil unusable for growing Allium plants for up to two decades. 

This is a major concern for garlic growers everywhere. There are currently no effective chemical or cultural controls for garlic growers. And since no resistant garlic varieties are available, it’s vital to take the proper precautions in order to avoid the long-term consequences of white rot.

The Problem

  • Garlic rot
  • Garlic white rot

How to Fix It

Soil solarisation is emerging as a promising tool for controlling garlic white rot. The process involves mixing in organic matter like clippings and then dampening the amended soil. Afterward, the plot is covered with clear plastic with the edges tucked under. 

It’s then left this way for six weeks or more during the warmest summer months. The plastic causes the soil temperature to rise high enough to kill the fungi or cause it to become dormant. 

Having said that, the only way to effectively deal with white rot is to simply move to an area that has not been contaminated by the pathogen. Once white rot has infected a patch of land, there is very little that can be done to remedy the situation, except to stop planting garlic and other Allium crops. 

Important Note: Never use garlic from an infested field as seed. If you have any infected plants, they should not be composted or tilled under. Rather, dispose of them away from your garden. 

Also, make sure you properly sanitize all the tools and equipment that you used on the infested patch with an approved quaternary ammonia product. Sanitation is extremely important because sclerotia can spread to a clean patch of land by human movement, equipment movement, soil movement, water movement, and plant material.

Fusarium Basal Rot

You may harvest a great-looking crop of garlic that you proudly hang to cure. A few weeks later, you may be saddened to find that your wonderful crop has become soft and shows signs of decay. 

Fusarium basal rot is a dreaded disease that causes the basal plate to rot. This prevents nutrients and water from being transported up to the plant’s foliage. As the fungi destroy the garlic roots, the plant cannot make new growth, and the bulbs, which remain small and immature, quickly rot. 

The initial symptoms of basal rot are often confused with white rot, but the presence of small black sclerotia is an indication of white rot.

The Problem

  • Garlic rot
  • Basal rot in garlic

How to Fix It

Garlic is typically a low-maintenance plant to grow. It only needs watering when there is a consistently dry spell. Water the plants at least once every two weeks and stop watering the garlic when the foliage begins to turn yellow, indicating that the bulbs are maturing. 

If you water the bulbs at this stage of their development, it can encourage rot and reduce your garlic’s storage ability. 

However, for the first few weeks after planting, you need to check the cloves on a regular basis to ensure that birds have not disturbed them. If birds are an issue, simply cover the cloves with netting.

Dying Plants

Although easy to grow, garlic does require a lot of patience. It matures after around 240 days, and while it’s certainly worth every second, a crisis can occur when plants start dying during that time. Whether it’s diseases, pests, or weather conditions affecting your garlic, it’s important to get to the root of the cause quickly in order to avoid losing your entire crop. 

If your garlic plants are dying, it could be the result of either garlic black bugs or bloat nematodes. These are among the nastiest and sneakiest garlic problems you might have the displeasure of dealing with. 

Garlic Nematodes

Nematodes are microscopic worms that live in the garlic stem and bulb. These endoparasitic bugs reproduce inside the garlic plants, and they eat parts of the bulbs, stems, and leaves. 

Since these critters are able to live in the surrounding soil for years without water, they are notoriously hard to get rid of. Often, the growth of the plant isn’t affected much, but the quality of the bulb is greatly reduced because of tissue breakdown, discoloration, and deformation.

Garlic nematodes are particularly scary for growers because their populations typically build up over several seasons without any visible damage to garlic crops. Healthy plants tend to tolerate the nematode densities without a drop in production. But, when the numbers get high enough, these worms can destroy an entire crop all at once. That’s why, for the most part, by the time the bugs are detected, it’s usually too late. 

Garlic Black Bugs

Garlic black bugs are tiny pests that simply love to feast on garlic. They can be seen as black spots on garlic plants. They don’t produce eggs but lead their young straight to your garlic plants so they can have a party at your garlic’s expense. They lay new young every couple of days, which means that a black bug infestation could get out of hand pretty quickly if left unchecked. 

The Problem

  • Garlic plants dying
  • Garlic plants stopped growing
  • Garlic leaves drying 

How to Fix It

Bloat Nematodes – To get rid of nematodes, you need to get clean planting material. This is the most important part of dealing with bloat nematodes since garlic seldom produces seeds. This means that bulbils or cloves must be used for propagating the crop, and there is always the possibility of transmitting nematodes. 

Commercial garlic growers generally screen their seed fields for these worms, but for small-scale growers, it’s harder to find a clean stock that is guaranteed to be nematode-free.

Black Bugs – To get rid of black bugs on garlic plants, spray the insects with insect spray from your local garden center. This will get rid of the bugs – for a time. Black bugs are notoriously hard to control since the eggs overwinter inside the plants or soil. If you want to be rid of them once and for all, you will have to move your garlic to another space in your garden and plant a different vegetable in that space. 

Just make sure that you choose one that is outside of the allium family. Do this for one or two seasons, and the black bugs should go away once they realize their natural food source is gone. 

Important Note: Do your best to ensure that your plants are well-fed, watered, and actively growing. Garlic pests almost appear overnight whenever they sense plants that are stressed. 

Leaf Discoloration

Sometimes, your garlic plants look like they are holding their own even against the harshest rain, heat, and wind. But then, you notice that there’s a bit of discoloration with the leaves turning yellow or brown. 

The Problem 

  • Garlic leaves turning brown
  • Garlic leaves turning yellow
  • Garlic plant turning brown
  • Garlic plant turning yellow

How to Fix It

In such an instance, you may need to develop your skill for ‘reading’ the leaves in order to determine what is causing your plants’ malaise. For instance, you look at the garlic leaves to find out if it’s harvest time. When the leaves at the bottom start turning brown while the top leaves are still green, you know the time is right. 

If you have determined that it’s not yet harvesting time, the yellow tips in garlic plants could be the result of a variety of stressors, including: 

  • A hard winter
  • Mild nutritional imbalances
  • Too little or too much water
  • A warm spell that precedes a freezing spell

The phenomenon of yellow tips is such a common occurrence these days that many garlic growers now consider it to be normal. For the most part, they are nothing to worry about, and shouldn’t affect your yield, unless they are extreme.

On the other hand, yellow stripes, speckles, splotches, leaf curl, purple veins, thickened leaves, and any other abnormalities in your plants are a strong indication that something is seriously wrong. It could signal soil deficiencies, fungal growth, or insect infestations. 

Soil Deficiencies and Other Issues

Nutrient imbalances in the soil, such as lack of potassium, nitrogen, magnesium, and calcium, can greatly affect your garlic plants. It can cause stunted growth, discoloration, or spots on the leaves. It can also cause the plants to wither and die. 

Some conditions caused by soil deficiencies include:

Punky Bulb – Manganese toxicity caused by a low soil pH can result in a serious condition known as Punky Bulb (yes, that’s a real thing). This disease causes garlic cloves to become loose and discolored. This article details the different ways to diagnose to deal with this condition. 

Waxy Breakdown – Another condition that can arise due to soil issues is waxy breakdown. This is a disease where the garlic cloves become translucent and rot. It is more prevalent in garlic that has been exposed to extremely high temperatures during growth, particularly close to harvest. 

The garlic becomes sticky or waxy to the touch. Poor ventilation and low oxygen in storage also contribute to this condition’s development. 

Excessive Side Shoots – It’s important for growers to note that nutrition overload is just as devastating for garlic plants as under-nourished soil. For instance, having too much nitrogen in the soil might result in excessive side shoots. 

It’s important to test your soil to ensure that the nutrients are balanced. A great preventative method is to create balance in your soil through compost since adding this, and that could really throw things out of whack. 

Copyright protected content owner: and was initially posted on June 18, 2020.

If you want an in-depth look into how to prepare your garden soil for planting garlic, take a look at this article from Grey Duck Garlic on how to grow organic garlic. It explains how to prepare your soil before planting garlic so that your bulbs can grow large, healthy, and flavorful. 

Did You Know? 

You can add garlic flower stalks to stir frys. 

Preventative Care

When it comes to growing garlic, a little preventative care can go a long way in helping you avoid some of the most common challenges down the line. Right from the very first clove you plant, you need to take measures to prevent the onset of garlic diseases and pests. 

There are a few ways you can go about this, but one of the most effective preventative practices is to only buy your seed from reputable sources. 

Copyright article owner is for this article. This post was first published on June 18, 2020.

Buying From Reputable Sources

When buying seed garlic, make sure you’re getting it from reliable sources who will supply you with high-quality seeds. Garlic from your local grocery store might look healthy or show no symptoms, but it may be a disease carrier. 

Some seed vendors annually submit samples of their seed garlic to plant health labs in order to ensure that the garlic they sell is free from dreaded diseases like bloat nematodes and white rot. 

Other General Prevention Practices

  • Planting only healthy and robust garlic cloves
  • Annual rotation of crops and plots
  • Culling all stunted-looking or diseased plants as soon as you notice symptoms
  • Removing all garlic debris from the garden/field
  • Collecting all refuse and burning it (never use garlic debris for compost)
  • Cover cropping: wisely choose cover crops to plant between garlic crops. Brown mustard is a particularly good option since it’s a superb natural bio-fumigant that is proven to increase soil organic matter and effectively protect against nematodes. 

Tips for Caring for Garlic

  • Keep planting beds free of weeds.
  • Use aged compost to mulch around the plants. This will help to feed the plants and keep weeds down. 
  • If you are growing hard-neck garlic, pinch away the blossom in order to focus the plant’s efforts on forming the bulb rather than the foliage. 
  • If you intend to keep the garlic in the ground through winter, use hay or straw to heavily mulch planting beds prior to the first hard freeze.
  • When the garlic stems start to turn yellow, bend them toward the ground without actually breaking them. This process, called “lodging,” helps to promote bulb formation. 
  • If you can, avoid planting your garlic where you recently grew onions or garlic. 
  • Unlike onions, garlic doesn’t grow well in containers. If you must grow it in a container, make sure you choose one that is 15 inches wide and just as deep. 


Will Frost Kill Garlic? 

Once the garlic’s root systems have been established in the soil, the cloves will not be damaged by frost resulting from subfreezing temperatures. 

Do I Need to Fertilize My Garlic?

Garlic plants like to get a dose of nitrogen after planting. So give it a bit in fall, and give another dose in early spring. Avoid fertilizing the plants too late in summer as this delays bulbing. 

If your garlic bed has poor quality soil, you may need to apply all-purpose fertilizer with a good balance of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Adding organic matter is another great way of improving the soil. 

Should I Remove Scapes From Garlic?

Removing scapes, or false seedheads, from garlic plants when they first emerge can help to increase the bulb size. Garlic plants use some of their much-needed energy for developing scapes. If growing conditions are adverse (such as where there is poor soil, a shortage of water, weed pressure, etc.), there might not be enough energy left over to make a big bulb. 

Final Thoughts

Although growing garlic is quite an easy process, the truth is that there is still a lot that you – or nature – can do to mess it all up along the way. Anyone who grows garlic will likely come across some of these issues at some time or another. 

Now you know the top challenges you might face when growing garlic, and the different ways to fix each problem. Use the information in this article to help you deal with the problems so that your plants can grow up to their full potential. 

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