Witches Broom Garlic: What Is It & What to do About It

by Corinne Mossati

Witches broom garlic, also called hairy tops and side sprouting, what is it and what can you do about it. Find out in this article.

Witches Broom Garlic

Witches Broom Garlic – Photo © The Gourmantic Garden

Garlic is supposedly one of the easiest vegetables to grow. In autumn, soak the bulbs overnight in seaweed solution, plant them with the pointy end up in rich soil 2cm deep and and 15cm apart. Wait  approximately two weeks and they will sprout. Wait nine months and you can harvest. Growing garlic takes as long to grow as a human being but much easier. Until things go wrong.

In the past, I’ve successfully grown garlic from organic cloves planted in March and harvested around November. Usually scape formation precedes the dying down of the foliage which is an indication that the garlic will soon be ready for harvest.

This time around, I planted organic garlic cloves and a few elephant garlic cloves that I had grown the year before. The elephant garlic grew fast and tall while the regular garlic remained short and slower to grow. By mid-winter, I noticed an unusual appearance on some of the elephant garlic plants. They had developed side sprouts, curly inner sprouts and the stems started to separate. The organic garlic hardly grew at all.

What is Witches Broom Garlic

Witches Broom Garlic

Curly Inner Sprouts – Photo © The Gourmantic Garden

Witches broom garlic, also called hairy tops and side sprouting, is a condition where secondary sprouting occurs during bulb formation which causes the bulbs to split and separate. The Australian Garlic Industry Association (source) attributes it to fluctuating weather conditions (cold-hot-cold) during bulb development coupled with high nitrogen. The garlic enters a confused state which I call “to be or not to be” and eventually splits.

What Can You Do About It

Garlic Bulbs

Witches Broom Garlic Bulbs – Photo © The Gourmantic Garden

What I can do to fix witches broom garlic? Is it still edible? Should I harvest it sooner? Will it store for long periods? These are some of the questions that you may ask yourself if you see this forking appearance. Unfortunately, once the condition presents itself, there is nothing you can do to fix it. The garlic is still edible though it may not cure properly or last very long.

If your garlic develops witches broom, it’s best to cut your losses and put it down to an act of nature beyond your control. I have harvested mine and as you can see in the above photo. If you have excess cloves, you could mince them and freeze them for later use. Next year, I will be starting fresh.

Nothing is certain in gardening. You win some, you lose some and there’s always next time.


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