While growing garlic in a garden, it can be challenging to know exactly when the plants have finished maturing. Besides checking the leaves on the shoot to see if they have turned the proper yellow color, there is not really a good way to recognize that garlic is ready to be harvested. Sometimes, when you pull out the shoots, you may be surprised to see that the bulbs look more like onions than garlic.
Your garlic looks like an onion because it has not finished growing yet. It needs more time and the proper resources to produce individual cloves, which will make it look more like a typical garlic bulb.
This article will take a look at the vegetable family that onions and garlic come from. It will also suggest some potential reasons why garlic can end up looking like an onion during its developmental stages. Lastly, it will present some ideal growing conditions for garlic to turn out the way it is supposed to.
The Allium Plant Family
Before diving into why a garlic plant can look like an onion during its later growing phase, it is important to recognize that garlic and onions are actually a part of the same vegetable family.
These two plants, along with leeks, scallions, chives, and shallots, are what make up the Allium plant group. The group gets its name from the Latin word “allium,” which literally means “garlic.”
This is why garlic bulbs very closely resemble an onion for most of their development process. Before it separates into cloves, the garlic essentially has grown the same way as an onion plant. The neck of the garlic may also look like a leek or spring onions coming out of the bulb. All the members of the Allium vegetable family are pretty similar in nature.
Clove Development in Garlic Bulbs
Since garlic and onion come from the same variety of vegetables, it does make sense as to why they would resemble each other while they are growing. This can happen at most points of the growing process, but especially during the first few months when the plants are not fully matured.
If the garlic bulbs have not yet split into individual cloves, it most likely means that they are not finished growing yet and need some more time to mature completely. Clove development does not happen until the last few weeks of the growing process under the right conditions.
Sometimes, garlic starts to grow out of the ground prematurely due to external factors like extreme weather, as opposed to being dug up purposefully. When this happens, the bulbs will not be fully formed, and the lack of cloves will again cause the garlic to resemble an onion.
In order to be able to form cloves, garlic plants need particular weather conditions to grow in. They thrive more when the temperatures have dropped and need about a month of nights that are below 50 °F (10 °C) to be able to develop those individual cloves.
At that point, the inside of the garlic should be full of cloves with thin, papery material wrapping each one. When that occurs, and the bulb is nice and big, the garlic is officially done growing and can be harvested. If that has not happened yet, the plant will probably look closer to a white or yellow onion as opposed to a garlic bulb.
Other Reasons Garlic May Not Have Produced Cloves
Suppose the garlic bulbs have been growing at a consistent rate and have received the chill temperatures needed to produce cloves. Yet the garlic bulbs may still fail to form cloves. There are a couple of other possibilities as to why this happens.
The Garlic Needs Weeding
Weeding is an essential task when planting any kind of fruit or vegetable. Weeds will compete for resources, including water, nutrients, and growing space.
If weeds have overtaken the plots where the garlic is developing, and the garlic comes out of the ground as a singular bulb resembling an onion, the weeds are likely to blame.
Preventing this is as simple as regularly cleaning and weeding the garden where the garlic is planted. Otherwise, competition from weeds growing in the same soil as garlic plants will happen, which can reduce the final harvest by close to half.
The Soil Contains Chemicals
Any time a new plot of land is designated for use as a garden, it is vital to make sure that the ground has never had chemicals used on it.
Any kind of herbicide that is meant to stay in the soil for long periods of time can easily stunt the growth of a fresh crop of garlic plants. If the garlic is stopped halfway through and is not able to finish completing its growth process, it will likely be comparable to an onion since there will be a lack of cloves.
If at all possible, check prior to planting that the soil has not been treated with herbicides in the last few years. If the plot of land has never had chemicals in it, or it has been over a decade since they were put in the ground, it should be a safe area to plant garlic where it can fully develop.
On the other hand, if it has been treated in the last few years, it is an intelligent decision to find a new area to grow the garlic just to be safe.
The Garlic Was Planted Too Early
Garlic has a very specific time frame in which it tends to grow best. It needs consistently cooler weather in order to grow to maturity successfully. This means that it should be planted during the season when the heat is starting to wind down.
Colder temperatures are what let the garlic plants know that they need to speed up their growth process and start developing their roots. If the garlic is planted too early in the season, it will jumpstart its maturing process, and the bulbs will come out small without cloves in them.
In order to prevent this phenomenon from occurring, planting garlic in the fall months, usually between September and November, is the best decision. That way, the temperatures have started to cool, but harsh frosts are not happening just yet.
The Ideal Growing Conditions for Good Garlic Bulbs
If the garlic is not entirely developed yet, it will always resemble an onion. They grow the same way at the beginning of their maturing process but then begin to differ as the garlic continues to make its cloves.
In addition to paying attention to the temperature, sunlight, and water, you also need to address some essential growing requirements to help your garlic bulbs grow optimally.
One of the most essential parts of growing garlic is ensuring that the soil it is planted in is precisely the right fit for the bulb.
The biggest difference from many other fruits and vegetables is that garlic needs very well-drained soil. It does not need to receive a lot of water, so getting loose soil that does not retain moisture and has a pH balance between 6.0 and 7.0 will be best.
You can read my other article on how to prepare the soil for growing garlic here: How To Prepare the Soil for Growing Garlic (7 Steps)
Garlic also thrives when surrounded by organic matter that can provide it the nutrients it needs to fully mature and create cloves. This matter can be found in the form of rotted manure, compost, or mulch that is integrated into the soil before the growing season begins.
Finally, when the garlic cloves are initially planted, be sure to put them into the ground with plenty of space around them. Giving each plant its own designated area to increase in size will also keep garlic bulbs from looking like onions, as they will have plenty of room to mature fully.
Garlic is going to look like an onion when it is in the midst of its growing process because they come from the same vegetable family. As long as the garlic is given time and space to grow completely, it will not end up looking like an onion. Instead, it will be a nice, big bulb with lots of cloves separated by thin material, just like it should be.