Growing Onions – Tips and Tricks


Since I’ve taken up this hobby, I’ve found that growing onions now comes as second nature. Each July, I end up with a great batch.

If you’re like me and you cook most of your own meals, you probably notice going through a fair number of onions throughout the year. This is why they’re one of my favorite garden vegetables.

Garlic and onions make up the base of my favorite recipes. Starting out a recipe with garlic and onions cooked in a little oil makes for a great flavor profile.

I plant a lot of onions, usually, a few hundred and they’re stable so we can use them throughout the winter months. I never want to buy onions in a store so I try to grow enough to avoid them!

Unfortunately, most people who garden tell me that they struggle to grow onions. If you’ve never tried before or are having problems in this area, then you probably haven’t learned all the tricks and tips involved with their growth.

I’ll share some of the most important things to know when you’re in the garden planting onions each spring.

Planted Onions

Time to Plant Your Onions

If you’re having problems with the onions growing large enough to be useful, then you might be planting them too late in the year. The sunlight that your garden gets during the growing season affects when the onions form a bulb.

If you live in the northern states, it’s best to plant long-day onions when you have 14-16 hours of sunlight. In southern gardens, plant short-day onions as they will start to the bulb when the days are 10-12 hours.

The size of the leaves on the plant at that time plays a role in the size of the bulb that I harvest in July.

If you plant too late in the spring, there won’t be enough time for the onions to grow leaves that will support a large bulb.

In general, you want to plant onions about four weeks after the last frost. In my zone, this means that I plant the end of May most years.

Plant Sets or Transplants, Skip the Onion Seeds

If you have onion seeds, don’t plant them directly in the ground. They won’t have time to turn into bulbs at that late stage. If you want to plant seeds, you can start your own indoors earlier but it may be best to purchase onion transplants or sets.

The transplants are seeds that were started a few months ago in a greenhouse. The sets are immature bulbs that were grown the previous year.

Although each has its own appeal, transplants are my favorite choice. The sets are more likely to put up flowers or bolt. I’ve also gotten great results by starting my own seeds so consider this if you have time.

Red Onions

Choose the Variety that Fits Your Garden

There are long, intermediate, and short-day varieties when it comes to onions so make sure that you know which one is the correct choice for your latitude. You should also consider your intended use for the onions.

Are you going to use them up right after harvest or do you plan to store them over the winter months so that you can use them in recipes? If you plan to store your onions throughout the winter, you’ll need to find a storage variety.

This may be more challenging if you don’t start your own seeds but be sure to check out the storage variety of plants from a local farmer’s market or an online seed company.

There are three different colors of onions: red, white, and yellow. The differences between these colors are related to the variety rather than the actual color of the onion. Some of them are better for storage while others may be milder and others have a stronger flavor. It’s a good idea to plant a mixture and then you find your favorites.

When it comes to my garden, I start with my own onion seeds and I always grow sweet onions with a mild flavor. This is a great variety for eating right away in addition to storage and canning. My favorite yellow onion when it comes to storage is the Copra and I also enjoy Wethersfield, a red storage onion for a variety.

Planted Onions

Get Your Garden Beds Ready

I don’t till my garden and this probably won’t help you out over time. The best way to manage your garden is to have your design of garden beds and paths permanent.

I don’t dig or disturb the soil much but I will use a hard rake to loosen up the top few inches and plant onions. I also use the rake to mix in a balanced organic fertilizer.

Correctly Space the Plants

Onions can be planted close to each other with six inches on all sides. This allows you to fit a large number of onions in a small space. I can usually put a few hundred onions in two or three garden beds. We use prongs or a bamboo stick to puncture the soil spaced six inches apart. This will save you time and get an exact hole but you can use your preferred method.

Give Your Onions Good Nutrients

The two most important practices for onions once they’ve been planted are weeding and watering. Onions don’t do well with weeds and are easily choked. Mulch the onions as soon as possible after planting.

It’s hard to mulch any small plantings so you may want to wait a few weeks and then mulch with marsh hay, straw, leaves, or grass clippings.

Onions are water-hungry plants so make sure that they get an inch of water each week. I also keep track of the rainfall with a rain gauge. If we don’t receive one inch during a week, I will make sure to water them myself.

Growing Onions

Now that you have an idea of what your onions need, you’ll probably have much better success at growing them. Use these tips to plant and grow onions so that you can enjoy fresh ones throughout the year!

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