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Witches Broom Garlic: What’s Wrong with My Garlic? 

Garlic is usually one of the easiest crops to grow, but sometimes, small shoots sprout from the middle of your garlic. Individual cloves sprout and put out new growth instead of maturing. This phenomenon is commonly known as “witches brooming” and, unfortunately, may signal lousy news for garlic growers. 


Garlic Witch Brooming:  What is it and Why Does This Happen?

Witches brooming describes the condition where secondary sprouting occurs during bulb development. Tiny stalks form as they sprout from the inside out. It’s challenging to find research-based information about why witch brooming happens. The two culprits often blamed are fluctuating weather conditions and high nitrogen levels, or a combination of the two. 

I asked a local supplier, John, at Forever Yong Farm about witch brooming in garlic. He noted that he had seen it, but only at the end of the maturing of Creole garlic, which takes longer to mature. Some years, he notices few, if any. Other years, he stated there can be up to 20-25%.

Witches Broom Garlic: What's Wrong with My Garlic?

About 10% of my garlic witch-broomed this season. This winter, my garden experienced extended lower-than-normal temperatures. We had many days of below-freezing nighttime temperatures and lows of 25°F (-3.8°C). I planted my garlic in new garden beds and did not test the soil, but it is unlikely that the nitrogen levels were high.


Signs of Witch Brooming

Garlic leaves provide energy for the developing bulb, and after harvesting, they dry and form the papery skin that wraps around the bulb. When garlic witch brooms, there are extra leaves because each clove sends up a thin sprout. The garlic sprouts underground, and you won’t know anything is amiss until you see the excessive leaves growing through the soil. Learn more about how to grow garlic in this blog post.

Witches Broom Garlic: What's Wrong with My Garlic?

Can you stop it once it happens? 

Unfortunately, the garlic sprouting is already triggered and usually continues. But here’s the good news: these irregularities don’t render your harvest inedible. The bulbs may be smaller, but flavor-wise, your garlic will probably still have that delicious taste you love. 

Witches Broom Garlic: What's Wrong with My Garlic?

Harvesting & Using Affected Garlic

When you decide to pick your garlic, be gentle. These garlic bulbs might be more fragile and come apart. Use a trowel to dig them up rather than pulling them up by the leaves. 

Most sources say it’s best to use witch-broomed garlic quickly after harvesting. Choose methods that can extend the storage life, like pickling, fermenting, or drying. This year, I made roasted garlic with some of the broomed garlic from my garden. 

How to Make and Freeze Roasted Garlic
Roasted Garlic

You can also allow the garlic to cure, which will tighten the skin around the cloves and may prolong storage life. The difference between regular and broomed garlic is that each clove is encased, but there is no protective layer around the entire garlic bulb. Monitor the garlic closely and use or discard any that show signs of softening or decay.

I’m curing and storing both my regular and broomed garlic this season. I will monitor the storage time to see if there is a difference. I will also plant the affected garlic this fall in a separate location to see if witch brooming happens again. I’ll update this post when I have more information. 


Ideas for Preventing Witches Brooming in Garlic

Excessive nitrogen, while beneficial for leafy growth, can exacerbate garlic’s witch-broom effect, leading to overgrowth and splitting. Consider getting your soil tested and adjusting fertilizer application accordingly. For instance, if your soil test reveals high nitrogen levels, you may need to switch to a fertilizer with a lower nitrogen content or reduce the frequency of application. 

Witches Broom Garlic: What's Wrong with My Garlic?

Diversifying your garlic varieties can also be a proactive step. Some types may be more resilient to environmental stresses, including those contributing to witches broom. Research and plant a mix of varieties to see which grows best in your garden’s unique conditions. 

A thick layer of mulch may also help regulate soil temperature, decrease water fluctuations, and protect garlic from extreme weather. 


Learn and Share

Have you encountered strange garlic growth? Your experience could help us all understand more about this issue. I’d love to hear about it. Share your story and location in the comments to contribute to our collective knowledge. 

Here is a video from another gardener who shares her experience:


If This Post About Garlic Witch Brooming was Helpful, Please Share It:

Guy

Monday 20th of May 2024

This has happened to me in UK this year I think, planted in january, in the bed that had tomatos last year, we have had a lot of rain and fluctuating temperatures, but, its only 2 plants, in the middle of around 20, won't know for certain until I lift them, and I'm loathe to do that too early

Angela Judd

Wednesday 22nd of May 2024

Interesting. Thanks for sharing!

Dawn Kinney

Friday 17th of May 2024

Mine didn't "witch broom" but instead of getting a head of garlic, I simply got what seems like a large clove of garlic. It was paper encased, but very small. I followed all your instructions, planted Mexican Pearl. I live in midtown Phoenix. Planted in raised beds with lettuce and in ground bed by flowers. I planted over 20 garlic and was only able to locate a few. Maybe I should have fertilized more? SO disappointed! Any ideas?

Angela Judd

Saturday 18th of May 2024

Could need more time. Possibly more soil or sunlight too. That's frustrating, I'm sorry.

Elizabeth McKay

Thursday 16th of May 2024

This was only my second year of growing garlic. Most of my garlic ended up having the witches brooming result. I thought that I may have harvested it too soon. Only 10% looks normal. I’m happy to hear that the taste will not be effected. Should of any of the witches broom bulbs be used as seed next year?

Angela Judd

Saturday 18th of May 2024

That's up to you. I'm going to try planting some as an experiment to see if they are more likely to broom. Let me know how it goes if you plant yours.

Old School

Wednesday 15th of May 2024

Hi Angela, my name is Martha and I'm @OldSchoolPrepper (you showcased my video) I apprecaite that! I agree with most of your points. I planted again and now have Witches Broom on only a very few garlic heads most of which were rounds I planted for 2nd year growth. My garlic beds are pH neutral, I don't fertilize all winter long (I live out of the country from Dec-April so i'm not here to fertilize). I would think if it effects one garlic is should effect a whole lot of them. Have you ever planted a biannual and found that it set seed the first year? like carrot or cabbage? while rare it's happened to me...I think this scenario is some how related but it's just a guess. I'm going to do another video on this topic very soon. My local extention service (U of Oregon) still doesn't understand what's going on...up to us! Thanks again, Martha

Angela Judd

Wednesday 15th of May 2024

Hi Martha. Good points. Please let me know if you do more videos, interesting topic. It's fun to learn more!

Pam

Tuesday 14th of May 2024

I live in Tucson and about 75% of my garlic "witch broomed" I have them in raised beds. We did have colder /longer and rainy conditions this winter. Thanks so much for all your info.

Angela Judd

Wednesday 15th of May 2024

Thanks for sharing.