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How to Grow Onions - Spanish, Purple Onion, Vidalia Onion, and More

Onion Plants

Members of the onion family brings tears to your eyes, literally. Tears aside, onions are a popular vegetable, and a favorite of the home gardener. If they make you cry, why do so many home gardeners grow onions? There are lots of reasons. Maybe it's because they are easy to grow, take up little space in the home garden, and they have lots of culinary and medicinal uses. Is that enough reasons!?!

Onions have a place in a tremendous number of recipes from main courses to soups and salads, dips and hors d'oeuvres. It is used in Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, breads, and for snacks. We once thought the only thing onions were not used in was dessert. A reader led us to onion dessert recipes!

Tip: There are lots of ideas to help avoid the tears while cutting onions. Try chewing gum. Others have suggested chewing bread, taffy, etc. One way to assure you won't get all teary-eyed chopping onions, is to have someone else chop them for you!!!!

Onions are easy to grow, have a fairly short growing period, and importantly, they take up little space. With just one square foot of garden space, you can grow a few onion plants. As a result, even the most space limited gardener usually has room for a few onions in their garden.

Onions are also good for your health. They were once believed to ward off evil spirits. (We believe Garlic is more effective at warding off demons). Onions also have medicinal value. Recent medical studies suggest onions help to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Did you Know? If you don't have a vegetable garden, place a few in your flower garden. If you rent, put a few in a planter pot or box, and set it on the deck or in a sunny window. Yes, you can grow onions just about anywhere.

Onion Trivia: Onions help reduce cholesterol, if eaten after a fatty meal.

Types of Onions:

  • Common Slicing Varieties: White and Yellow, or Spanish onion

  •  Purple onion -our favorite with it's mild taste, is easier on the gastro-intestinal system

  • Scallions or Green Onions: Grown for it's long stem, and little or no bulb.

  • Pearl Onions or Pickling Onions: You guessed it, for pickling

  • Shallots: A mild tasting, small bulb

  • Leeks: Like a scallions, it is mild, yet distinctive tasting. The stalk is eaten.

  • Vidalia Onion - defined more by where they are grown, than the variety. Learn about Vidalia Onions

Long Day or Short Day Onion?

Most onion varieties begin to form a bulb, when the temperature and hours of daylight reach certain levels.

"Long Day Bulbs" begin to form a bulb, when there is 14-16 hours of daylight. Long day onions include Sweet Spanish onions and Walla Walla onions.

"Short Day Bulbs" will begin to bulb when there is 12 - 14 hours of daylight hours. Short day onions include Yellow Granex, Texas Grano, Red Burgundy, Yellow Stuttgarter type, and White onions (Ebenezer).

Growing Onions:

Home gardeners have three choices for starting onions. Onion seeds, seedlings, and sets (or bulbs). Seeds take the longest time, and should be started indoors. Seedling transplants give you a jump start on growing and are hardy. They can be bought at a garden store or bought mail order.

Onion seedling transplants will normally produce larger and denser bulbs.

Tip: To get a really early start, buy onions as early a possible. Place a few in some moist (not wet), loose starting mix or potting soil about two to three weeks before you can set them outdoors. They will sprout and develop a good roots system for an early start.

Plant onions 3 to 4 inches apart, in double rows six to ten inches apart. Leave enough room to get between the rows to weed.

Onions grow best in rich soft soil or loam. But they tolerate most soils, especially if you add sufficient fertilizer. Keep the soil moist, and allow good drainage.

The trick to big onions, is to get the plant to grow really big, prior to forming a bulb.

Nature sends a message to the onion plant to  form a bulb. that signal is warm up and longer daylight hours. Onions are biennials. They will go to seed in the second year, sending up a tall, hard stalk with a seed pod. Many growers do not know this, as we harvest our onions in the first year. Occasionally, the onions go to seed in the first year.

Harvest and Storage:

Onion bulbs can be harvested and eaten at any stage in their growth. Young onions, can be harvested as green onions. As the bulb grows, pick them as needed, for cooking and eating.

When the bulbs mature, the plant will turn brown and fall over. Keep the onions in the garden for another 7-10 days, to allow them to begin dry.

Harvest the bulbs on a sunny day. Loosen the soil around the bulb with a shovel or pitch fork. Pull onions out of the soil. Now, clean off the bulb. It is okay to rinse off dirt, although some sources suggest this is a "no-no." Allow the bulbs to dry in the sun.

Most onions store well. For long-term storage, the onion bulbs must be "Cured". This is a process of drying out the bulbs, in preparation for storage..

How to Cure onions for long term storage.


Most members of the onion family are resistant to insect problems. Root maggots can attack the bulbs. Tiny thrips are an occasional problem. Insecticidal soap sprays or sevin are very effective.

Did you know? Onion, garlic and even chives are an ingredient in a number of organic insect sprays.

Disease of Onions:

The onion family is resistant to most disease. While they are resistant, there are a number of potential ails. Wet, and humid weather can increase the likelihood of disease.

More on Plant Problems


Onion plants are as hardy as they come. Frosts, freezing temperatures, and even snow, will not kill them. It will only slow their growth, until warmer weather returns. Extended cold below 20-25 degrees, however, can kill them, if they are growing when exposed.

Tip: Chives are a quick growing member of the onion family. Plant chives amidst your flower or herb garden once and grows for decades. Plant it along the wall of a house and you extend the season. Chives can also be grown in a sunny window all winter long. More on chives.

Onion Recipes:

Recipes: May we suggest:

More Information:

About Vidalia Onion

Onion Related Holidays: Yes, onions have well deserved holidays.

National Onion Day

National Onion Ring Day


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