How to Grow Onion | Guide to Growing Onions

 
How to Grow Onion | Guide to Growing Onions  

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Whether harvested early for scallions (green onions), for summer meals, or winter storage, onions need rich, well-drained soil and good weed control. Tightly spaced green onions fit well in ornamental plantings.

 
   
 

Seeds or Seedlings

4 to 5 days, 45F to 95F

1 year

Well Drained, High Fertility

Full Sun

1/2" apart

4" apart

65 to 75

Growing Guide
GROWING NOTES
Well-drained, rich soil, high in organic matter, neutral pH. Optimum pH is 6.2 to 6.8. Requires plentiful, even moisture for good yields.

Biennial grown as annual.

Easy if you have rich well-drained soil and good weed control.

Usually does not flower unless grown from sets that are too large (more than ½ to ¾ inches in diameter), or young plants (direct seeded or transplanted) are stressed by abnormally cold weather.

MAINTAINING
Can be direct-seeded, grown from transplants started inside, or from sets -- small bulbs about ½-inch in diameter grown from seed the previous season.

Choose a weed-free, well-drained location. Raised beds are ideal. Onions are good for intercropping with other garden plants, especially early-maturing spring greens. Do not plant where other onion family crops have been grown in the past 3 years.

Direct-seeding in the garden may not allow enough time for long-season varieties to mature, but is fine for shorter-season varieties or for scallions - onions harvested before the bulb forms.

Direct-seed in spring when the soil reaches 50 F. Plant seed ¼ inch deep, ½ inch apart, in rows 12 to 18 inches apart. Thin to 4-inch spacings for large bulbs, 2-inch spacings for smaller bulbs but higher yields, or 1-inch spacings for scallions.

Start transplants inside about 8 to 10 weeks before last frost date. Plant 4 or 5 seeds in each cell, or seed in flats ¼ inch deep and ½ inch apart. If tops grow too tall and begin to droop, trim back to about 3 inches tall with scissors. After hardening off, transplant 2 to 4 weeks before last frost date. Space 4 inches apart for large bulbs, 2 inches apart for smaller bulbs, or 1 inch apart for scallions.

From sets:   Choose bulbs no larger than ¾ inch in diameter. Large bulbs are more prone to bolting. Plant sets about 1 inch deep 2 to 4 weeks before last frost date. Space 4 inches apart for large bulbs or 2 inches apart for smaller bulbs.

Onions have shallow root systems and need consistent moisture and good weed control. Water weekly if weather is dry, and mulch to retain moisture and suppress weeds.
 

 
   
 
 
   
 

Harvesting Guide
HARVESTING
You can always tell when onions have stopped growing. The leaves will lose their color, weaken at the top of the bulb and flop over. Each year a few new gardeners watch the leaves die and wonder, "What's wrong?" There's nothing wrong; it's Nature's plan. The leaves' job is done - they've put the last of their energy into the bulbs.

Let most of your onion tops fall over by themselves - maybe 80% or 90% of them - then bend over the rest of the tops. Once they're down, leave the bulbs in the ground for another 10 days to two weeks to mature fully. It's not good to leave the onions in the ground for longer than two weeks after the tops die because they become open to organisms that can cause rot in storage, or they might even start growing again.

Pull your onions up on a sunny day if you can, then let them sit in the sun for another day or so to dry (in hot climates this usually takes just a few hours). This drying kills the root system at the bottom of each bulb. The roots will be like little brittle wires when they're dry.

Picking the right day to pull the onions can determine how well the onions will keep. If you harvest them after some rainy weather they'll have a lot more moisture in them and won't dry out as well.



SAVING SEEDS

Seed-producing onions are biennial and it will take two growing seasons to get onion seed. This article explains the seed-to-bulb-to-seed method.

Purchase onion seed and plant as you normally would in the spring. When purchasing seed, only buy open-pollinated or heirloom seeds. Hybrids and other types of seeds are not true seed and your results may be mixed. Some great places to buy these types of seeds are Seed Savers Exchange and Pinetree Garden Seeds.

You should order and grow enough onions so you have some for eating and some dedicated for seed saving. Onions can cross, so it's best to start with one variety at a time.


Plant your onion seed and do not pick or eat the ones you intend to harvest for seed.

At the end of the growing season when the onion tops are brown, drying and bent over, harvest the onion bulbs. This should be done before the first frost. Do NOT wash the onions, however you can shake the dirt off. Leave the tops on for braiding later.


Choose only the best bulbs for seed saving. Discard or eat others that may not overwinter well.

Spread onions out in a dry location, not touching one another, on a board or screen. If it looks like rain, you will have to move them to a location where they will not get rained on. Try to use a platform that allows air to circulate around the onions well.

Avoid drying the bulbs in direct sunlight in temperatures that are above 75 degrees. This can cause the bulbs to spoil or sunburn. Dry and cure the onions for 10-12 days before braiding.

After curing, you can braid the tops so the onions hang one above the other (not in clumps) and then hang them in a dark, dry storage area until spring.

A barn, potting shed or greenhouse are usually good places to hang them. Protect from the frost and do not store at room temperature. They should keep about 3-6 months and just begin sprouting come planting time in the spring. Sprouting times vary among different varieties.

In spring, when it's time to plant onions again, remove each onion by untwisting the braid and removing the dead, dried up tops. You will probably notice small green sprouts starting at the tops of the bulbs.

Plant the bulbs in your garden. It is interesting to watch the large, tube-like seed stalks grow bigger every day. Then one day you will notice tiny white flowers have formed--the flower head. They are about the size of a softball and remind one of popcorn balls. They are quite dainty and beautiful.

When the seeds form, the onion plant begins to dry. The flower head will begin to darken, turning almost solid black the seeds are dry and ready to harvest.

Using a brown paper bag, bend the onion stalk over and snip the entire flower head into the bag. Store in a dry area out of direct sunlight to finish drying process. To completely remove the seeds from the flower head, you can shake the bag to allow the loose seeds to drop into bag.

Any remaining seeds can be removed by other techniques; including, threshing, using wire screens to rub them over or stepping on the seed heads to break open the pods.

Screen any debris from your onion seed using seed screens or other screens from home. Place onion seed in a sealed glass canning jar or freeze in freezer bags to lengthen the life of the seed. If using the jar method, store in a dry, cool dark area without extreme temperature fluctuations.
 

 
     
 
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