Saving Onion and Shallot Seeds

Learn how to save seeds from onions and shallots.

  • Many onions break dormancy and sprout during winter storage, but as long as they do not show signs of rot, these sprouted bulbs can still be planted out in early spring for seed production.
    Photo courtesy Seed Savers Exchange
  • After vernalization, each onion plant produces one to several flower stalks called scapes.
    Photo courtesy Seed Savers Exchange
  • The spherical umbels of onions consist of hundreds of individual flowers that open successively. Onion flowers are protandrous—the anthers of an individual flower mature and shed pollen before the stigma is receptive.
    Photo courtesy Seed Savers Exchange
  • Onion capsules have three chambers. The fruits are green during development, but as their seeds mature, the capsules fade in color, dry, and eventually split open.
    Photo courtesy Seed Savers Exchange
  • Onions seeds are typically harvested by cutting the scapes several inches below the base of the umbel. The fruits will continue to dehisce and release their seeds as they dry.
    Photo courtesy Seed Savers Exchange
  • Filled with advice for the home gardener and the seasoned horticulturist alike, “The Seed Garden: The Art and Practice of Seed Saving” provides straightforward instruction on collecting seed that is true-to-type.
    Cover courtesy Seed Savers Exchange

The Seed Garden (Seed Savers Exchange, 2015) by Micaela Colley & Jared Zystro and edited by Lee Buttala & Shanyn Siegel brings together decades of research and hands-on experience to teach both novice gardeners and seasoned horticulturists how to save the seeds of their favorite vegetable varieties.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The Seed Garden.

Although common onions are biennial, they may still be an appropriate seed crop for beginner seed savers, provided a gardener takes care in choosing which varieties to grow. The vernalization requirement of common onions is easily fulfilled, and although sweet onions may present some storage challenges, overwintering storage onions is relatively straightforward. Saving onion seeds requires only slightly more time and work than cultivating seeds of many annual crops, which is fortunate given that onion seeds are notoriously short-lived, often remaining viable for just one or two years. Perennial members of the species, such as shallots and multiplier onions, are typically propagated vegetatively.

Crop Types

Allium cepa consists of three garden crops: common onions, shallots, and multiplier onions.

Common onions are categorized by color, pungency, shape, day-length requirements, and maturity. Bulb skins may be white, yellow, brown, red, or purple, and the bulbs themselves can be white or reddish purple. Onions are often categorized as sweet or mild (such as Vidalia or Bermuda types), or pungent (such as white and Spanish types). Bulbs vary from simple globes to more flattened shapes; they can even have the form of a spindle or toy top. Some onion cultivars are suitable only for short-term storage, while others were developed to store through the winter.

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