Garlic Rust Fungus

Garlic rust fungus, close up

In further pest and pestilence news from the community garden, my garlic has developed a nasty rust fungus problem.  And mine is by  no means the only affected plot, thanks to a miserably cold and wet April and May. And June.

Thank heavens for our garden Education Committee of One who knew what it was and tenaciously spent time researching how to deal with it.

Notes-to-self if you are encountering this issue:

  • The fungus can spread to leeks and onions also, but not other types of plants
  • Caused by excess rain and lack of light and/or soil inadequacies
  • Possible solutions: Create sprays with either baking soda, milk, neem oil (huh?) or chamomile tea (see recipes below)
  • Cut off the leaves then dispose of them (NOT in your compost bin, people!) to ensure the fungus does not spread. Word on the street is, the stalk continues to photosynthesis even if you remove the leaves
  • Disinfect your clippers, etc. also to ensure the fungus does not spread from plant to plant (this is serious, folks!)
  • The good news is garlic rust does not appear to affect the garlic bulb — I pulled one to test and it looks just fine

Infected garlic, sans leaves

Organic, Rust Fungus Spray Recipes

  1. 1 gallon water, 1Tbsp baking soda, 2.5 Tbsp vegetable oil
  2. 1Tbsp milk per gallon water
  3. 1 tsp neem oil, 1Litre water or chamomile tea

These teas may be more preventative than cures; spray on infected leaves in morning for several days in a row (especially if rain is washing off leaves – the oil helps spray stick to leaf).

I have cut off all the leaves and am trying the baking soda recipe. I have no great hope of eradicating the rust, but I do hope to minimize any further infestation on both mine and my neighbours’ plants.

More on Garlic

If you want additional general info about garlic such as how and when to harvest and cure it, check out the Garlic Farm website, which I found in my garlic research travels.

They are located in British Columbia (middle of the province at the US border in a town appropriately named Midway), and sell organic garlic seed in Canada and the US. They start taking orders July 2nd on a first come, first serve basis for delivery in September. Get your order in now!

7 thoughts on “Garlic Rust Fungus

  1. Mark

    How did your remedies work out? I had a similar infestation in my garlic this past year. I ended up just pulling all of it, but I was thinking of trying again this season. Maybe if I treat with the spray you mention, before I see any infestation, maybe I can prevent it?

  2. liz gaige Post author

    I hope you didn’t toss the garlic bulbs when you pulled them! From what I’ve read and the few stalks I’ve pulled so far, garlic rust does not harm the bulbs. Other people in my community garden have also harvested their bulbs unharmed.

    I’m no expert, but I certainly think it would be wise and can’t hurt to be preemptive with the spray. For starters, it’s all 100% organic, so I can’t see it doing much if any harm. Second, the stuff I read said to burn the infected stalks so it’s clear the garlic rust fungus is hardy and will potentially lurk undetected. Definitely do not dispose of infected plant material in the compost or it will spread. Based on that, I’d plant in a different area the next year in case there are bits lurking in the soil.

    As for my success rate with the organic spray, we had such a damp spring and early summer and the garlic rust fungus had such a foothold in the entire community garden, by the time I did anything about it my inconsistent spraying didn’t kill it. (It was hard to get out there after every rainfall to reapply since it was raining all the time!)

    I’m not even certain spray slowed it’s spread by that point. I finally just cut all the leaves off as it was infecting my going-to-seed onions and seemed to be powdering my broccoli, too. I left the forlorn, denuded stalks in the ground as they weren’t ready to be harvested. Now that we have some hot, dry weather and the stalks are drying out, I’ll be yanking them soon.

  3. Mark


    I did pull the whole plants out, but I was also making room for some other plants, and I did not realize the commitment I was getting myself into. And then the rust fungus came up, and that was the last straw anyways. But I am looking to plant another batch this season and let them go all the way to harvest. I’ll let you know how it goes with the pre-emptive efforts.


  4. Kim

    I had a severe problem with garlic rust and all 800 heads (15 varieties) were affected. This is the first time in 20 years this has happened. The bulbs were tiny (virtually unusable), and my garlic bulbs are usually huge. It started early in the cycle( first showed up in January-I planted in late October)and affected by earliest varietals first. I tried numerous things-diluted skim milk, neem, etc but to no avail. I do have a CSA farm adjoining my property (this was their second year in production) and they use organic practices as do I. They ended up plowing all their garlic under due to rust. Since rust is a wind-born fungus (at least that’s what I’ve read)I was considering trying covering it this year with floating row cover. Anyone have any thoughts on this? Also, would spraying neem on the garlic before seeing any rust help to prevent it in the first place?

  5. Jason

    I tried some potassium bicarbonate on my garlic rust this year (first time I’ve had it). It seemed to knock it down a bit after two applications. I also dipped all the foliage in a 10% bleach solution with a little soap after harvest, rinsed the soil off the bulbs, then dipped again before air drying. The open bed is now solarizing under plastic, and will be subjected to fire from my propane weed torch after the hardneck bed is harvested. Once the bulbs are cured, all foliage will be disposed of off site. Bleach all tools used during harvest and cultivation.

  6. liz gaige Post author

    Thank you for your ideas and comments, Jason. I was in Steveston, a community in Richmond, BC, the other day and witnessed a serious infestation at the community garden there. It takes a collaborative effort and careful attention to get rid of the problem. Good luck!

  7. LindaS

    Horsetail Tea – a Bio-Dynamic treatment for rust and other fungus
    (sometimes referred to as Preparation 508)
    The plant in question is the common Horsetail, Equisetum arvense. It is widespread and common on rough, bare ground, but also on cultivated places. It prefers dry locations to moist ones. The plant has pale brown, unbranched fertile stems, which however have disappeared when the taller, green barren ones appear. One uses the barren ones for tea. These one can tell from the stems of marsh and shady horsetail by the places in which the plants grow. Marsh horsetail (E. palustre) forms fertile stems. Shady Horsetail (E. pratense) has distinct fertile and barren stems, but in this case the latter end abruptly with the top whorl of the branches. The stems of the common horsetail continue beyond the last whorl of branches, also the last jointed section on the branches is longer than the stem sheath. The plant grows from spores. It has no flowers. The barren stems appear in early summer after the fertile ones. As can be seen, there are enough criteria with which to distinguish the right horsetail. Most people know the shape of this plant with its finely marked longitudinal ribs on the stem, the marvelous regularity of the nodes and whorls, its clear, almost crystalline form. This form is in harmony with the high silica content of the plants. Silica is the substance which especially in the family of the grasses – which have a similar linear formation – forms a considerable part of the ash. It is deposited in the outer periphery of the plant and strengthens the skin and also the cell walls. Tea made of equisetum plants is used as a prophylactic, mild anti-fungal agent. One can hardly use too much of it.

    One collects the barren shoots and dries them as quickly as possible by spreading them out in a thin layer in a shady place. The tea is prepared by slowly boiling in a covered vessel of rainwater, about 4 ounces of the dried herb per gallon. One can use less water and dilute the tea. If one dilutes the tea, then one stirs the solution for about 10 minutes.

    Horsetail is used against such fungal diseases as mildew, rust, monilia, scab, soil born pathogenic fungi. It is a milk agent. One sprays this tea frequently, especially on garden crops. Cold frames, hot beds and greenhouses are treated before and after having been filled with soil. The tea can also be added to the water in the watering can. Root dips and tree sprays are made with horsetail tea.

    During the season when green plants are available one can also prepare an extract by covering freshly picked plants with water and allowing them to ferment for about 10 days. The liquid is then diluted and used in the same way as the tea.

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