My Garlic Looks Like An Onion – Why Are My Garlic Cloves Not Forming

Pile Of Not Formed Garlic Cloves
garlic bulbs
(Image credit: f.ield_of_vision)

Growing your own garlic is pretty easy. Home-grown garlic has a much richer flavor than what you’ll find at the store. If you have no garlic cloves or your garlic isn’t forming bulbs, however, it’s hard to enjoy the harvest. Troubleshoot the issue to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Why Isn’t My Garlic Ready?

The simplest solution to a problem with bulb or clove formation is that your garlic plants simply aren’t ready. It takes at least 30 nights with temperatures lower than 50 degrees F. (10 C.) for good development of cloves.

If you pull up a garlic plant and see a small bulb or a bulb with no apparent cloves, it may just not be ready yet. Leave the rest of the plants alone and give them some more time. It isn’t until the last couple of weeks of ripening that you’ll actually be able to see the papery divisions between the cloves. That’s when you’ll know the garlic is ready. Before that the garlic looks like an onion.

Other Issues with Garlic Cloves Not Forming

In most cases, it is likely that your plants just aren’t ready to be harvested yet. There could be some other issues causing the problem though. For example, you may have chosen a variety of garlic that doesn’t work well in your climate. Some do better in warmer areas, while other types of garlic prefer a colder climate.

Extremes in weather can also cause garlic plants to be stunted, which may include a small, underdeveloped bulb.

Pests, including onion thrips and nematodes in the soil, may cause similar stunting. Nematodes cause tops to yellow prematurely and bulbs to deform, while thrips show up as white spots on the leaves.

Timing and patience are most important in getting a good harvest from your garlic. Make sure the plants will have enough cool nights to develop bulbs and cloves. Also look out for signs of pests that are stunting growth. Remember that you can still eat underdeveloped, so-called wet garlic. It is tender, flavorful, and especially tasty when grilled.

Mary Ellen Ellis

Mary Ellen Ellis has been gardening for over 20 years. With degrees in Chemistry and Biology, Mary Ellen's specialties are flowers, native plants, and herbs.