7 Reasons Why Garlic Doesn’t Form Bulbs

If there were a feature that made garlic stand out from any other vegetable in the onion family, it would be its signature bulb shape. Its round form containing smaller cloves can be recognized easily, but what if the garlic is not forming into a bulb correctly? What are the reasons that a garlic plant might not grow into a bulb?

Garlic does not form bulbs if it doesn’t have strong roots, is grown during the wrong season, is exposed to extreme weather, or the garlic variety is unsuitable for your climate. Premature harvest, pests, and weeds can also lead to a lack of bulbs.

This article will delve deeper into each of these problems and offer possible solutions so that the next time garlic is grown, it can form bulbs easily without encountering any issues along the way. 

Understanding the Garlic Growth Process

Before diving into these seven reasons why a garlic plant may not be forming a bulb, it is crucial to know how garlic ideally should be grown and harvested.

Young garlic bulbs only take about 8 months from transplanting before they can be removed from the earth and utilized. These premature bulbs are going to be quite a bit smaller than a fully-matured bulb. They will also probably feel a bit damper than a developed garlic bulb since the skins between the cloves are not going to be as dry. 

Garlic bulbs that have finished growing will be able to be harvested after about 9 months. When this is the case, the garlic bulbs should be large, with many cloves inside.

7 Reasons for the Lack of Bulbs

If it does not look right and it does not have the correct, round bulb shape, it may be because of one of the following reasons:

1. Weak Roots Cannot Access Moisture or Nutrients

The most important part of growing any fruit or vegetable is ensuring that the plant has sturdy roots that reach deep into the soil. From the time the seeds are planted, to when they grow into seedlings, to when they sprout and are transplanted into a garden, the roots have to keep the entire plant together and functioning. 

If a garlic plant is not forming bulbs correctly, it could be that the roots are not giving the plant the proper energy that it needs to grow. The roots of the plant need to be well established for the garlic to develop into its custom bulb shape.

Weak roots are a problem that needs to be solved right from the beginning of the growing process. Before moving the garlic seedlings into their permanent place in the ground, ensure that the roots have enough strength to keep the plant fully energized and growing consistently. This should help with an accurate bulb formation.

Failure to notice weak roots early on will ultimately lead to an unhealthy garlic plant that doesn’t form bulbs. Even worse, the plant could die prematurely.

2. You Planted the Cloves During the Wrong Season

Unlike a lot of other fruit and vegetable varieties that grow the best during the spring and summer seasons, garlic thrives during the cooler months of early spring and autumn. 

In a milder climate, if the garlic is planted too late into the spring season, it will not grow properly and may not achieve the desired bulb shape. Next time, try transplanting the garlic in the early spring when the winter chill is still present. Doing this will help the plant to develop correctly.

In a hotter, more tropical climate, planting garlic outdoors will work best in the fall months. This period will be mainly from September through November. Garlic will require that cold period in the winter to grow into the correct shape; if it is planted when the temperatures are hot, it will not do as well.

3. The Variety Is Unsuitable for the Climate

There is a wide range of different types of garlic that can be purchased to plant, and not every kind is going to be suitable to grow in every single climate.  

One reason that a garlic plant is not forming into bulbs the way it is supposed to is that it is simply not of a variety that grows well in that specific climate. Some types of garlic will grow better in wetter, warmer areas, while others will thrive in drier, colder regions. 

When buying garlic seeds to plant, simply take a look at the packet to see what sort of climate that particular type of garlic grows best in. If it suits the environment, it should develop into a bulb the way it is meant to.

4. The Plant Was Exposed to Extreme Weather

Depending on the climate in which the garlic is planted, it may be exposed to some natural elements that have the power and force to stop it from growing correctly. 

If it is planted in a warmer climate that receives a lot of sunlight, the garlic may spend much of its days being dried out in the heat, which is the opposite of what is needed to grow a sturdy bulb. 

Likewise, if the garlic is planted in a wetter, more humid climate, it will experience an overabundance of moisture. This can also affect the garlic poorly—too much water will end up harming the plant.

No matter what type of natural elements or disaster the garlic is thrown into, a proper bulb will not be able to take shape if the weather overpowers the plant. 

5. Pests Have Taken Over the Plants

Just like any other plant that is growing out in a garden, garlic is subject to being attacked by pests of all sorts. This can have a significant effect on whether the garlic forms into a bulb shape or not. 

There are dozens of annoying bugs that can harm fruit and vegetables, but some of the most common pests that will attack a harvest of garlic are onion thrips and nematodes.

When onion thrips take over the plant, they will show up as white spots on the leaves at the top of the garlic stem. 

Nematodes, on the other hand, cause the tops of the plants to yellow prematurely. This makes the bulbs deform, and they often stop growing correctly. 

In both of these instances, getting a good, natural pesticide can help prevent them from ruining a high-quality crop of garlic bulbs. Be sure that it is a product that will not harm the vegetables!

6. Weeds Are Competing for Resources

Weeds will always compete with other plants for basic resources like water, space, and nutrients from the soil, and garlic is no exception. 

If an area is filling with weeds shooting up between the garlic sprouts, it may be time to do some serious weeding to pare down the number of living things taking away from the garlic plants. 

When there are no weeds in the ground, the garlic will be able to utilize as much of the available resources as it needs to. This should help it to form bulbs the way it is supposed to.

If you are wondering how to prepare the soil for growing garlic, this article is for you: How To Prepare the Soil for Growing Garlic (7 Steps)

7. The Garlic Is Not Finished Growing Yet

Looking at the garlic and knowing that none of these other factors are affecting it might mean that it just needs more time under the ground to develop into a proper bulb. 

For a good harvest of garlic with many cloves divided throughout the bulbs, the plant requires at least 30 uninterrupted nights in which temperatures have dropped below 50 °F (10 °C)

It is highly likely that the garlic bulbs will not have formed the right way until that cold period occurs. There may not even be thin, papery divisions between the cloves until the final few weeks of the garlic ripening. 

Waiting just a bit longer will allow the garlic to finish its last steps of growing. By the time the growth phase has ended, it should have formed into that ideal bulb shape.

Dr. Moritz Picot

Dr. Moritz Picot is a horticulture enthusiast and the founder of TheGrowingLeaf.com, where he serves as the lead content writer. He established the website in 2022 as a valuable resource for both gardening aficionados and beginners, compiling all the gardening tips he has accumulated over the past 25 years. Alex has a passion for nurturing plants, transforming backyards into inviting spaces, and sharing his knowledge with the world.

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