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  • Writer's pictureJere Folgert

Large Garlic Bulbs and Phosphorus

Updated: Jan 16


Imagine you're building a LEGO spaceship, but you only have half the bricks you need! That's kind of like a plant without enough phosphorus, a crucial nutrient that's like the building blocks of plant life.


Phosphorus is a superstar in the plant world. It's like the tiny worker bees buzzing around, building everything from strong roots and stems to juicy fruits and vibrant flowers. It's in DNA, the instruction manual for plant growth, and in ATP, the tiny energy packets that fuel all sorts of planty processes, like photosynthesis (turning sunlight into food) and respiration (breathing).


Think of it this way: without enough phosphorus, plants are like wobbly LEGO towers missing key pieces. They might sprout, but they'll be weak and stunted, their leaves pale and sickly. They might even struggle to flower or produce fruits, like a chef trying to bake a cake without eggs!


The good news is, helping plants get their phosphorus fix is easy! We can add it to the soil through fertilizers, just like sprinkling some extra LEGO bricks onto your building table. But remember, just like too much candy can make you sick, too much phosphorus can be bad for plants and the environment. So, it's important to use fertilizers responsibly and test the soil to see if your plants actually need a phosphorus boost.




What is Phosphorus?

Phosphorus is a nutrient that is essential for the growth of garlic bulbs. It is a component of the cell walls and helps to store energy in the bulbs. Phosphorus is also involved in the production of Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which is the source of energy for use and storage at the cellular level. The structure of ATP is a nucleoside triphosphate, consisting of a nitrogenous base (adenine), a ribose sugar, and three serially bonded phosphate groups.


Phosphorus is important for growing big garlic bulbs. Phosphorus is a macronutrient that is essential for plant growth. It is involved in a number of important processes, including cell division, energy production, and root development. Garlic plants need phosphorus in order to form large bulbs. If the soil is low in phosphorus, the garlic plants will not be able to grow large bulbs. Here are some tips for ensuring that your garlic plants have enough phosphorus:

  • Have your soil tested to determine the phosphorus levels.

  • Add phosphorus-rich fertilizer to the soil before planting.

  • Water the plants regularly to help the phosphorus move through the soil.

  • Mulch around the plants to help retain moisture and keep the soil cool.


Phosphorus is found in soil, but it is not always available to plants. Some soils have more than enough phosphorus, some do not. The phosphorus in soil needs to be in a form that plants can absorb. This form is called soluble phosphorus. Soluble phosphorus is found in the soil water.


A generalized map of the United States showing the distribution of phosphorus in the soil C horizon, conterminous U.S. can be viewed from this link:





When garlic plants are growing, they need phosphorus. This is because phosphorus is involved in many important processes in the plant. Without phosphorus, the garlic plant would not be able to grow properly. Phosphorus can be found in a variety of sources, including bone meal, manure, and phosphate rock. It can also be found in some fertilizers. There are a few things that you can do to make sure that your garlic plants have enough phosphorus: First, you can avoid over-fertilizing the garlic by performing a soil test first, to determine if you need to add this element. Second, you can add phosphorus to the soil when you plant the garlic. You can use a fertilizer that contains phosphorus, or you can add phosphorus-rich compost to the soil. Third, you can keep the soil moist. Phosphorus is more available to plants when the soil is moist.


Large bulb development requires a variety of other nutrients too, in addition to Phosphorus, including:

  • Potassium: Potassium helps to regulate water balance and nutrient uptake.

  • Nitrogen: Nitrogen is essential for the production of proteins and nucleic acids.

  • Calcium: Calcium helps to strengthen the cell walls and support the bulbs.

  • Magnesium: Magnesium helps to convert food into energy and regulate water balance.

  • Sulfur: Sulfur helps to produce proteins and amino acids.

  • Zinc: Zinc helps to regulate the immune system and promote growth.

  • Iron: Iron helps to transport oxygen throughout the plant.

  • Manganese: Manganese helps to regulate photosynthesis and promote growth.

  • Copper: Copper helps to produce enzymes and protect the plant from damage.

  • Boron: Borom helps to transport sugars and regulate growth.

  • Molybdenum: Molybdenum helps to convert nitrogen into a form that plants can use.


In addition to these essential nutrients, garlic bulbs also require a number of trace nutrients, including chromium, cobalt, iodine, selenium, and vanadium. These trace nutrients are involved in a variety of important processes in the plant, and their deficiency can lead to a number of problems, including stunted growth, yellowing leaves, and decreased bulb size.

To ensure that your garlic bulbs have the nutrients they need, you can provide them with a balanced fertilizer. You can also add compost to the soil, as compost is a good source of nutrients.


What Causes Small Garlic Bulbs?

There are a few common causes of small garlic bulbs at harvest:

  • Not enough water. Garlic needs plenty of water to grow large bulbs. If the soil is too dry, the garlic will not be able to get the water it needs and will produce small bulbs.

  • Not enough nutrients. Garlic also needs plenty of nutrients, especially nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, to grow large bulbs. If the soil is not fertile, the garlic will not be able to get the nutrients it needs and will produce small bulbs.

  • Too much shade. Garlic needs full sun to grow large bulbs. If the garlic is planted in too much shade, it will not get the sunlight it needs and will produce small bulbs.

  • Harvesting too early. Garlic bulbs need time to mature before they are harvested. If the garlic is harvested too early, it will not have had time to develop large bulbs.


If you are experiencing small garlic bulbs at harvest, you can try the following to improve your results:

  • Water the garlic more often. Make sure the soil is moist but not soggy.

  • Apply a balanced fertilizer. Apply a balanced fertilizer to the garlic in the spring.

  • Plant the garlic in full sun. Plant the garlic in a sunny spot in the garden.

  • Harvest the garlic at the right time. Harvest the garlic when the leaves start to turn yellow and die back.


Here are some tips on how to grow large garlic bulbs:

  • Choose the right variety. Some varieties of garlic are better suited for growing large bulbs than others. Choose a variety that is known for its large bulbs.

  • Plant in the fall. Garlic bulbs should be planted in the fall, about 6 weeks before the first frost.

  • Plant in well-drained soil. Garlic bulbs need well-drained soil to grow properly. If the soil is too wet, the bulbs will rot.

  • Water regularly. Garlic bulbs need to be watered regularly, especially during the first few weeks after planting.

  • Fertilize regularly. Garlic bulbs need to be fertilized regularly, especially during the first few months of growth. Use a balanced fertilizer that is high in nitrogen.

  • Thin the plants or plant 6" apart in the fall. Garlic plants should be thinned to about 6 inches apart. This will give the bulbs more space to grow and develop. Ideally, plant garlic cloves 6" apart in the fall.

  • Harvest when the bulbs are mature. Garlic bulbs are ready to harvest when the lower three leaves the plants start to yellow and fall over. Carefully dig the bulbs out of the ground (use a garden fork) and cure them in a cool, dry place for a few weeks before storing them.


Why is a Soil Test Important?

Soil tests are important because they can help you determine the nutrient levels in your soil. This information can help you choose the right fertilizers and amendments to improve your soil's health and fertility. Soil tests can also help you identify problems with your soil, such as acidity, salinity, or compaction. This information can help you take steps to correct these problems and improve your soil's health. Overall, soil tests are a valuable tool that can help you improve the health and productivity of your garden.


Soil test results can show a variety of information, including the pH level, the amount of organic matter, the level of nutrients, and the presence of contaminants. The pH level is a measure of how acidic or alkaline the soil is. A pH level of 7 is neutral, while a pH level below 7 is acidic and a pH level above 7 is alkaline. The pH level is important because it affects the availability of nutrients to plants. The amount of organic matter in the soil is a measure of how much decayed plant and animal material is present. Organic matter helps to improve soil fertility and drainage.


The level of nutrients in the soil is a measure of how much nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and magnesium are present. These nutrients are essential for plant growth.


The presence of contaminants in the soil can be a problem for plants and for people. Contaminants can include heavy metals, pesticides, and herbicides.


Soil test results can be used to make decisions about how to improve the health of the soil. For example, if the pH level is too low, lime can be added to the soil to raise the pH level. If the amount of organic matter is too low, compost can be added to the soil to increase the amount of organic matter. If the level of nutrients is too low, fertilizer can be added to the soil. If contaminants are present, steps can be taken to remove the contaminants.


Soil test results can be obtained from a variety of sources, including the local cooperative extension office, the state department of agriculture, or a commercial soil testing laboratory.


The cost of a soil test varies depending on the type of test and the laboratory. Soil tests can cost anywhere from $10 to $100. The results of a soil test are typically available within a few weeks.


The results of a soil test should be interpreted by a qualified professional. A qualified professional can help you understand the results of the test and make recommendations for improving the health of your soil.


A Fun Little Story.


"It was a beautiful late summer day in the garden. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and the air was crisp and cool. It hadn't rained for weeks. The perfect day to harvest garlic. I had been growing garlic for the past few years, and I was excited to see how this year's harvest would turn out. I carefully dug up each bulb, being careful not to damage the bulbs. As I held each bulb in my hand, I couldn't help but smile. They were nice! The bulbs were plump and juicy, and the garlic's outside skin was a beautiful shade of purple. I carefully placed the garlic bulbs in a basket, and then I took a moment to enjoy the beauty of the garden. The plants were still green and lush, and the flowers were still in bloom.


I took the garlic bulbs inside a shed away from the direct sun so they could cure for about three weeks.


About a month later, after the garlic was fully cured, I peeled off the outer skin and separated the cloves. I chopped the cloves up and put them in a pot with fresh carrots, and a few potatoes. I added some olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then I cooked them over low heat for about 20 minutes. The garlic veggie soup with garlic cloves was delicious! They were soft and flavorful, and they went perfectly with the other vegetables I was cooking. I was so proud of myself for growing my own garlic, and I couldn't wait to share it with my family and friends.


The next day, I took the garlic bulbs to the farmers' market. I set them up on a table and waited for customers to come.

Soon, people started to come by and ask about the garlic. I told them about how I had grown it myself, and they were impressed. They bought all of the garlic bulbs, and I was so happy! I was so proud of myself for growing my own garlic. It was a lot of work, but it was worth it. I can't wait to do it again next year!"


I had a neighbor named John who had a small farm. John was a hard worker and loved to grow things. He asked me to show him how to grow garlic. I offered to help. I mentioned to him that he should begin by having a soil test done.


One day, John decided to get a soil test to see how his soil was doing. He took a sample of soil from his garden and sent it to the lab. A few days later, John got the results of his soil test. The results showed that his soil was low in nitrogen and phosphorus. John was surprised. John talked to a soil scientist about his results. The soil scientist told John that the fertilizer he was using was not enough to replenish the nutrients that were being lost from the soil. The soil scientist also told John that he needed to add more organic matter to his soil. John decided to follow the soil scientist's advice. He started using a different fertilizer and he added compost to his soil. A few months later, John took another soil test. This time, the results showed that his soil was healthy and had the nutrients that the plants needed. He knew that he was doing the right thing to improve his soil and his future garlic crops."






Mr. Jere Folgert is the owner of GroEat Garlic Farm in Bozeman, Montana. GroEat Farm is a small, sustainable family farm located in the beautiful Hyalite Foothills, in the shadows of the Gallatin Mountain Range. The hardneck varieties that they grow on their farm flourish, due to the combination of the very cold winters, heavy snowpack, moist spring, temperate summers, and the nutrient-rich and dynamic alluvial soils, washed down from the Gallatin Mountain Range.

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