Tried to Grow Onions and Failed – Here’s the Secret to Success
Fall Planting – Onions
As gardeners we have come to think of autumn as the end of the gardening season. It is anything but the end. Autumn, for each of you, represents the beginning of next year’s gardening season, and there is no better way to begin next year’s season than by planting onions, shallots and elephant garlic.
Today, we are going to discuss onions, a vegetable that can or should be planted in the fall. Onions can be planted in the fall for a mid-summer crop. They can also be planted in the spring for a late autumn or early winter crop.
Onions are one of the most important home garden crops available for cultivation today. If planted at the proper time of year, they are easy to grow. Onions are classified as long day, short day and midday varieties. These classifications refer to the extent of daily sunlight required to make the onion grow into a sizable bulb.
Short day onions require a short winter day. Midday onions are flexible andcan tolerate a range of day length. Long day onions need the long days of summer to produce bulbs.
Most home gardeners should choose midday onion varieties, but those gardeners in the South who are planting onion sets in the fall can select short day or midday onion varieties.
Onions are sold as seed or sets. Sets are baby onions and give you a head start on the season. For most gardeners, we recommend planting sets. If you are going to plant seed, we recommend that you plant seed as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring for a late fall crop or early in midsummer for a spring crop the following year.
Today’s home gardeners need to amend the soil where they are planting onions with potash and phosphate. There are organic sources for both of these nutrients. Some lime will also make the onions sweeter. Besides forgetting to amend their soil with potash and phosphate, the other mistake that gardeners make when it comes to planting onions is that they plant the sets too deep. Onion sets should be planted no more than 2 inches deep. In areas where there are frequent freeze-thaw cycles, we recommend that you mulch with 4 inches of straw (not hay) in the winter.
Onions should be planted twice a year – once in the fall and once in the spring. The fall-planted onions can be harvested throughout the summer and early fall. The spring-planted onions can be harvested throughout the fall and early winter.
Red onions are arguably one of the most beautiful vegetables. The burgundy wine color of the outer skins can be breathtaking, and as you peel away the layers, the changes in color from true purple to fuchsia to lavender are an inspiration for any cook. They are among the sweetest of all onion varieties, and this attribute alone makes them desirable as a home garden crop. BUT, red onions are also the most problematic members of the onion family. Maybe eons ago their beauty and sweetness went to their heads – who knows.
What we do know is that red onions do not store well. They rot quickly and completely. If you want to grow red onions, you should pair them with yellow onions which are notoriously great storers.
Try some red onions in your garden, but consume them quickly after harvest. These sweet beauties don’t last long.
White onions are the “Middle-of-the-Roaders” in the onion family. They are not as sweet as the reds, but they store for much longer than the reds. White onions are excellent for cooking and for pickling, and in their own way, as you can see from the photo, they have their own special beauty.
Remember, if you want to maximize the sweetness of your onions, add lime to your soil before you plant the sets.
Yellow Onions are the “Workhorses” of the onion family. They are rarely as sweet as the reds or whites, but they are sweet and they store for a long, long time. Often, they can last six months (sometimes longer) if stored in a cool, dry area with some air circulation.
Yellows are great for cooking, used fresh or for pickling, and they are the most vigorous of the onion varieties.
Whether you decide to plant the yellows, the whites or the reds, there are several things you need to remember.
First, today’s home gardeners need to amend the soil where they are planting onions with potash and phosphate. There are organic sources for both ofthese nutrients.
Second, onion sets should be planted no more than 2 inches deep with 4-6 inches between sets and 6-8 inches between rows. In areas where there are frequent freeze-thaw cycles, we recommend that you mulch with 4 inches of straw (not hay) in the winter.
Third, if you want to maximize the sweetness of your onions, add lime to your soil before you plant the sets.
AND, Fourth, onions should be planted twice a year – once in the fall and once in the spring. The fall-planted onions can be harvested throughout the summer and early fall. The spring-planted onions can be harvested throughout the fall and early winter.
One of (for me) the most interesting discussions that I have with my gardening customers relates to the topic of when to plant onions. I have been told literally thousands of times by customers that it is too cold to plant onions in the fall where they live. In Hardiness Zones 1 and 2 and sometimes in Hardiness Zone 3, this is true, but in Hardiness Zones 4-10 onions can and should be planted in the fall. It is not an overstatement to profess that onions do best when planted in the fall. For 28 years I have been planting onions in the fall in a true Hardiness Zone 4 environment where the wind blows relentlessly throughout the winter. I have never had an onion crop fail.
If you are growing onions for the first time, I would recommend you start with the yellows, but regardless of the onion variety you start with, I believe you will be absolutely delighted with your results next spring.
All of the onion varieties discussed in this newsletter are available on ourwebsite. Please visit our website to purchase onion sets for your garden.
This Saturday, August 31, 2019, the Labor Day Weekend begins and so does our series on heirloom flower bulbs for fall planting. Some of the most enchanting stories about gardening originated with the flower bulbs that we plant in autumn. Don’t miss a single installment of our series on heirloom flower bulbs for fall planting.