All About Growing Onions

Here's a primer on growing onions, leeks, scallions, and shallots, plus information on harvesting, storage, and seed saving techniques.

| December 2009/January 2010

growing onions

For gardeners interested in growing onions, shown here from left to right are ‘Bianca di Maggio,’ ‘Red Torpedo,’ scallions, and a yellow onion with its stalk buds. The robust, exceptional flavor they add to meals is worth the few teardrops that may end up on your cutting board.


(For details on growing many other vegetables and fruits, visit our Crop at a Glance collection page.)

Packed with vibrant flavor, onions are a staple food throughout the world. Familiar bulb onions are easy to cultivate as long as you plant varieties adapted to your climate, and you can expand your onion season by growing leeks, scallions, and other non-bulbing varieties. Fertile, well-drained soil that’s slightly acidic (a pH between 6.0 and 6.8) is best for growing onions of all types.

Bulb Onion Types to Try

Bulb onions mature in response to changing amount of daylight. The longer the plants grow before they begin forming bulbs, the bigger and better those bulbs will be. In North America, days become shorter after the summer solstice, about June 21. Summer days are longer in the North than in the South.

Short-day varieties grow best in the South. They begin forming bulbs in late spring, so they need to be planted in fall in the far South and in late winter in colder climates in order to produce large bulbs.

Intermediate-day varieties are the best main-crop onions for the country’s midsection (Washington, D.C., to northern Arizona), and they can be grown as early onions in the North. 

Long-day varieties are best grown in the North. These onions have spicy, well-rounded flavors and store well.

8/5/2017 2:40:31 PM

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jacqueline haller
12/23/2010 12:14:15 PM


1/4/2010 2:35:53 PM

I have never had much luck growing onions! I'm wondering how many people actually grow onions from seed (starting the seed in late winter)? I would SO MUCH love to grow those big beautiful onions I see at the farmers markets, but I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong. I usually plant onion sets. But they just sit there and don't do anything. We had an awful lot of rain this past summer so maybe that was the problem this past summer. So, mostly I'm curious what success most folks have at starting onions from seed? Do you start them in newspaper pots or something so that they can be transplanted without much abuse to the roots happening? What are some of the easiest kinds to grow? Thanks for any help!

the herbangardener
11/12/2009 1:35:14 PM

I love growing my own onions (and garlic too!). They’re such easy crops, and they store really well in the fridge. In August and September, I’m always overwhelmed with produce that must be eaten NOW, so when I harvest these crops, I’m always grateful for their long storage capabilities! Here's my own "Onion & Garlic Harvesting 101": When the leaves (”tops”) have mostly died back (turned brown…no longer green and growing…though there may still be some green in a few of the leaves), pull (or dig) the onions or garlic out of the garden. Wash off the soil. Put them into baskets in one layer — so that air can circulate around them — and leave them in a shed, garage, or on a covered porch for 2-3 weeks. Make sure neither water nor animals can get to them. After 2-3 weeks, cut off the dead leaves and inspect each onion for softness or mold. Expect to lose about 10-20% of your harvest to softness or mold. Transfer the rest into a bag in the fridge (or wherever you store your onions & garlic). ~The Herbangardener~ Kitchen/Garden/Sanctuary - Urban Homesteading to Nourish Body + Spirit

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