Tips for Growing Onions and Garlic

What Are They?

The common onion is scientifically known as Allium cepa. It is classified under either the Lily, lilaceae, or the amaryllis family (scientists differ). Edible alliums include shallots and potato onions, Egyptian or tree onions, Welsh bunching onions, chives, garlic chives, rakkyo, leeks, kurrats, and rocambole and garlic (A. sativum). (Rupp: 147)

Onions generally are the third most popular vegetable in the American diet after lettuce and tomatoes. (Harrowsmith: 143). Multiplying onions are hardy and very productive perennials. They produce a cluster of bulbs at ground level from a single planted bulb.  The larger bulbs can be eaten and the medium and small bulbs are stored and replanted.  (Southern Exposure)

Multiplying onions include: potato onions, bunching onions, scallions, Welsh or Japanese bunching onions, egyptian or tree onions (whose bulbs form on top of their stems, fall to the ground, plant themselves, and form new onion bunches) and shallots. Chives is the only onion that is native to both old and new world. Grown in clumps, it is the smallest species of the onion family.

When to Grow Them?

  • ŸMultiplying onions: easy to grow in all but the hottest parts of the year (June, July and August).  If left in the garden, planting summer crops such as okra will shade them or mulching them will help them survive. NOTE: Home gardeners (good source for sets) dig them out and allow them to dry (not fry). Onion sets are separated and replanted in September.
  • Bulbing onions: plant onion bulbs (minature onions) in the carrot bed in October or by end of November. They take six months to mature so this means a March/April harvest. Bulbs expand based on short length of day. Heat & long days cause them to stop growing.
  • Garlic: plant garlic cloves from a Texas variety same as bulbing onions. (Purchase in August from a local organic grocer, feed store or online then refrigerate two months to break dormancy.) (Randall: 180)
  • Chives: can be planted in the fall from sets; they also grow easily from seeds planted when temperatures are between 60-70° (spring or fall).

How to Grow Them?

Carol Burton, Director of Garden Education

Growing onions from seed is not recommended.  (Seeds take 120 days to reach maturity and are challenging.)

Multiplying onions: separate sets and plant 4-6 inches apart leaving white part slightly exposed (no more than 1 inch) above the ground. 

Onion sets/bulbs: buy from feed stores or catalogs (choose Southern varieties). Plant in 1” holes with tops below soil. Add rock phosphate to hole to improve growth.

Garlic cloves: buy from Texas source; use larger outer cloves & plant same as bulbing onions.

ŸChives: transplant in the fall from potted plant purchased at local nursery or feed store. Plant seeds at ¼”depth when soil temperatures are between 60-70° in the fall. Divide clumps every year to increase yield; blooms in late spring and summer; self-seeds if not removed.