Why Are Your Garlic Bulbs Growing So Soft?

Growing garlic in a home garden is an excellent way to cut costs and keep garden-fresh garlic on hand. However, sometimes things go wrong in a garden, leaving your plants in less than perfect condition. One common phenomenon when growing garlic is that the cloves may become soft, and several factors may lead to your garlic becoming mushy. 

Your garlic bulbs may be growing so soft due to a pest infestation, excessive moisture in the soil, or overripening. Garlic bulbs may also become mushy after harvesting if you do not use them quickly enough

This article will go into more depth about each of these problems. I will discuss the conditions that cause mushy garlic, the outcome of the issues, and some general tips on how to resolve these problems moving forward into the next season. 

Soft Neck vs. Hard Neck Garlic

Before discussing the potential reasons for growing soft garlic, it is essential to differentiate between the soft neck and hard neck garlic plant varieties, since they each have unique characteristics. 

Soft neck garlic is the kind that you can usually find in a local grocery store. It is white, with flexible leaves coming out of the center of the bulb. The cloves inside have a paper-thin layer shielding them from each other and the outside. 

Hard neck garlic, on the other hand, has a strong stalk that comes out of the center of the bulb. Few people use this type of garlic to grow fresh food at home. 

This article will refer to soft neck garlic when uncovering why the plants might have gotten mushy. Soft neck garlic cloves are what you plant when growing garlic in a home garden, so it is much more likely that the squishy garlic is of the soft neck variety. 

Your Garlic Is Infested With Pests

Like any other fruit or vegetable, garlic plants can, unfortunately, become victims of some terrible pest outbreaks.

There are a couple of bugs and diseases that specifically target garlic and other plants in the allium family, such as onions:

Wireworms Eat the Cloves

Wireworms are the larvae of click beetles that live in the soil. They can often eat through an entire crop without being noticed because they are stealthy about it.

Wireworms will come up through the soil and eat each garlic clove’s center. This infestation causes the garlic to turn soft and appear rotten, even though the plants are not rotting. 

From a glance, it’s easy to mistake the cloves in these garlic bulbs for ones that have rotted naturally. Gardeners will not recognize the destruction the wireworms have caused, and the pests will continue to work their way through a row of garlic sneakily and speedily. 

Nematodes Make the Garlic Mushy

Nematodes, or roundworms, are another pest that can easily ruin an entire crop of garlic with a few feeding sessions.

They do not normally live in clean soil. Instead, they appear when you plant a pre-infected clove. They can then be easily spread around by human activity while working in the garden. 

Nematodes get to the root of the garlic and, while feeding, inject enzymes into the bulb. These enzymes spread and take over the cell walls, eventually causing them to die and the plant to rot. 

Bulb Mites Lay Their Eggs in the Garlic

Bulb mites, particularly those in the acaridae family, are a pest that will not only eat through a developing plot of garlic but can also lay over 100 eggs at any given time directly on the bulbs. 

These pests tend to gather around garlic that is already showing decay or other damage. The female mites will lay a large cluster of eggs in the crop as it is beginning to rot, and the larvae, nymphs, and fully grown mites all go after whatever plants are remaining of the garlic harvest.

The Solution

In addition to these three primary infecters, many other types of bacteria, fungi, and insect larvae can ruin a garlic harvest. 

The best way to prevent pests from invading a garden with garlic growing in it is to plant the cloves in fresh soil. If you plant the garlic in soil that recently contained other crops of garlic or other allium plants, there is a high chance that there are already pests in the garden. 

If getting new soil every year is impossible, you must rotate your soil every growing season. That means you should not plant fruits and vegetables in the same garden spot every time. Doing this will help decrease the number of invaders that feed on specific plants, like garlic bulbs. 

The Soil Is Too Moist

Another potential reason for soft garlic bulbs is too much water in the soil. Garlic bulbs are different from some other vegetables when it comes to moisture.

Garlic bulbs typically only need one ample weekly watering along with any rain instead of a light sprinkling daily. They tend to grow better in lightly damp soil that is not soaking wet.

If there is too much water in the soil, it can cause mold to grow on the plants. As the mold takes over, it will eventually soften the garlic cloves until they are squishy and unusable. 

The Solution

When watering garlic plants, it is essential to remember that one to two large weekly waterings will be much better for the bulbs than daily waterings.

Paying attention to how much rain occurs throughout the week can also help. If it has been a relatively dry week, that weekly watering will benefit the garlic. If it has been raining for several days, the garlic likely won’t need more water for about a week.

Your Bulbs Are Overgrown

Even after avoiding infestations or overwatering, you may notice that your garlic looks healthy but still feels too soft. 

Soft, pliable garlic bulbs may be overripe. When bulbs are at the perfect ripeness for harvesting, they will feel hard to the touch and will not be easy to break open. If the bulbs feel mushy and wet or are easy to squish, they most likely are overripe

The Solution

When harvesting a garlic crop, pay close attention to which bulbs are ready to be picked. A fully matured bulb will have three or four yellow leaves at the base of the neck.

You should harvest plants that look that way and have a decently large bulb. If the bulb still looks small and the neck is still green, it may need more time to grow. Check on it often, so it does not stay underground in moist soil for too long. 

Post-Harvest Garlic Softness

When healthy, fully-matured garlic has been picked from the ground and brought indoors, it will stay hearty and usable in storage for a while until it grows soft and mushy from old age.

How long the garlic bulbs will stay fresh, hard, and usable depends on whether it is soft or hard neck garlic. Hard neck garlic goes soft within three to four months of picking, while soft neck garlic has about six to eight months before it begins to soften.

At that point, if there is still fresh garlic left, you can do a few tasks to preserve the leftovers. You can freeze garlic, with or without the skin on it, which is an easy way to make your crops last longer. The cloves may be soft when you thaw them out, but they will still taste just as good.

Using a dehydrator or a conventional oven, you can also dry garlic cloves for preservation. Once you rehydrate them in some liquid, they will taste as good as new.  

Final Thoughts

Whether it comes from an infestation of pests, too much water, or just old age, soft garlic bulbs are something to look out for when gardening. 

As long as the garlic has no rot, mold, or other inedible material, you can still enjoy soft garlic. Its flavor may not be as sharp, but it is still a powerful ingredient that will make just about any dish excellent. 

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the founder of TheGrowingLeaf.com and its lead content writer. He created the website in 2022 as a resource for horticulture lovers and beginners alike, compiling all the gardening tips he discovered over the years. Alex has a passion for caring for plants, turning backyards into feel-good places, and sharing his knowledge with the rest of the world.

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