With spring coming very soon, there is no better time than now to start thinking about planting onions. Onions are a seasonal crop and spring is a great time to plant them. They can be planted at the same time that you plant your potatoes, giving you an early crop. There are a few methods as to how you can start them in your garden; sets, plants or seeds. Which method is right for you?
The most common way of planting onions is by sets, which are onion bulbs or half grown onions. Sets are a very dependable, easy and convenient way to plant/sell onions. You will be able to harvest your first crop from sets sooner than if you started onions from plants or seed. When planting sets, make sure to plant when the temperature is cool. If it frosts during the growing time that is acceptable, it will not kill the onions. Sets will first put on a lot of green top growth. This is done because the onion has to store energy in the top green leaves. While the top part of the onion is growing, it is waiting for a signal. When the day length and the temperature are just right, the signal tells the plant to stop making leaves and storing energy, and start putting all of the energy into the onion itself. The size of the onion depends on how much energy was stored before the plant stopped making leaves and started producing the onion. That is why the earlier you get your sets in the ground the bigger your onions will be.
The second option when growing onions is by plants. Plants are thin, young onion seedlings. The optimal time to plant is when they are the size of a pencil. This option is planted later in the spring, due to the more developed onion. When you buy onion plants, they will usually be in bundles that will need to be split apart to allow for air to circulate around the plants. If this is not done, it can cause heat and moisture to build up around the plants causing them to rot. After you break the bundle, you will want to soak the plants. When soaking, simply place the tip of the roots in water, you don’t have to submerge all of the roots. This helps to revive the plant because they will be on the dry side. If you are not able to plant them right away, the soaking is unnecessary, just put the unwrapped plants in a cool dry place like the refrigerator until you are ready to plant. If there are any that have slime or a foul odor, discard them because they are rotting already. The biggest reason people choose plants is for the ability to choose from many varieties unlike the sets. We carry eight different varieties; Bermuda white, candy apple red, candy yellow, red sweet, super sweet, Texas supersweet, walla walla, and yellow granex.
Starting onion plants from seed, is the last option, which can be challenging but rewarding at the same time. Seeds need to be started 8 to 12 weeks before the last hard frost in your area. Start the seeds in a 4 to 5 inch deep flat filled with a seedling mix. Sprinkle the seeds about a quarter of an inch apart, push them into the soil very lightly and then cover with a small amount of soil and tamp down. Next moisten the soil, cover the flat with a plastic dome and wrap the entire thing in newspaper. Onions don’t require light to germinate and the newspaper helps to keep the temperature even. There is no need to water until you take the newspaper and plastic off. Next, place the flat in a warm location between 65° and 70°F is suggested, however onions will germinate from 40° to 80°F so fluctuation is okay. The window sill maybe the first place you think of that will be warm but that is not the best option due to the lack of consistency. On a sunny day it can be over 90°F and on a cold winters night it is probably the coolest place in your house. After the seedlings sprout, remove the plastic and newspaper. Place the seedlings where light can reach the flat; around a window but not a window sill or under grow lights. At this point the onion seedlings will not require much attention besides making sure they get plenty of water and fertilize every two weeks. The seedlings might start looking a bit spindly, which means you will want to trim the top of the plant back to about one inch when they get to be three inches or more. This can be done multiple times during the growing process while they are indoors. It increases the root growth which gives the plants a better chance of surviving once they are outdoors. A few weeks prior to planting, stop trimming the top of the plants because the top growth will be important once you plant the seedlings outside. The trimmings that you cut off are edible so enjoy them in dips, salads or on sandwiches! Starting onions from seed is a great way to try out your gardening skill before it is warm enough to go outside.
There is an onion level for everyone whether you are an expert gardener or a beginner. Onions might be the best way to kick start your garden in the spring. You might find that they are very easy to start and grow if you go with the set option or for a bigger challenge and reward start from seed, with plants falling in the middle. With all of the options you have to start onions, why not give them a try!