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Onions: spring vs fall planting — The Grow Network Community
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Onions: spring vs fall planting

VermontCathyVermontCathy Posts: 676 ✭✭✭✭

I planted a few potato onions, a type of multiplier onion, last fall. The rest were planted a day or two ago.

I'm curious about whether any of you have experimented with spring-planting vs. fall-planting of onions, and what the results were. Spring-planting is the norm, but in short-season climates like Vermont, anything that gives the garden a head start is worth a try.

Fall planting will probaby not work with transplants or seeds. It is only an option when you are planting sets or, as in my case, multiplier onion bulbs.

The fall-planted potato onions appear to have had good germination and their growth is well ahead of the spring-planted onions. Clearly potato onions were able to survive a zone 4 winter under leaf mulch and snow. The amount of growth is about the same as that of the garlic that also wintered over.



  • Megan VenturellaMegan Venturella Posts: 422 ✭✭✭✭

    I haven’t planted fall onions, but I’ll try this year. It’s funny- I plant garlic every fall but never thought to put in onions. Why not? If they overwinter successfully it’s a great idea.

  • VermontCathyVermontCathy Posts: 676 ✭✭✭✭

    I think garlic is more cold-resistant than onions are. Garlic is fall-planted in very cold climates. I conjecture that in really cold places like zone 3, garlic would still overwinter fine but onions may not.

    But I don't know. I have no experience with gardening north of zone 4.

    I'm very happy with the growth of the small number of fall-planted multiplier onions. If all continues to go well, this fall I will plant about 2/3 of the 2022 potato onion crop, leaving only a third to spring plant.

  • SuperCSuperC Cook at Wahlburgers The Frozen Tundra in the Northern MidwestPosts: 369 ✭✭✭

    @VermontCathy our winter onions have come up already. Otherwise i usually plant onion bulbs under the birdfeeders yet the rabbits like the tops of the onions.

  • frogvalleyfrogvalley Posts: 635 ✭✭✭✭

    I grow ramps and harvest them in the spring so I don't have to grow bulb onions.

  • Monek MarieMonek Marie Moderator Posts: 2,225 admin


    I just dug up and transplanted some ramps last week. I hopwe they do well. Every placew I used to harvest them, the land is posted now

  • marjstrattonmarjstratton Posts: 390 ✭✭✭

    This is the first year I've planted onions and I planted them this spring. Not sure how it will turn out. I planted sets. Wonder how that would compare with starting from seeds in the fall.

  • frogvalleyfrogvalley Posts: 635 ✭✭✭✭

    @Denise Grant I bought my ramps last year from somewhere in Minnesota. They came all mushy and then I waited way to long to plant them and when I did, it was raining. I didn't think any of them would grow, but it seems that most of them did. There were only a few places where they didn't and I'm guessing that's because they were in too much sun. I didn't know then what I know now and will try again with more next year.

    I also want to get some of the white and some of the red stemmed ramps as I understand they have different propagation personalities.

  • VermontCathyVermontCathy Posts: 676 ✭✭✭✭

    @frogvalley I've given up on growing commercial bulbing onions. The results I've gotten are not worth the effort and the space they tak eup in my garden.

    But I highly recommend you try multplier onions such as potato onions, shallots, or walking onions. They are easy to grow, they grow fast, and you never need to buy seeds or starter bulbs again because it's so easy to save "seed" (actually bulbs or bulbils).

  • VermontCathyVermontCathy Posts: 676 ✭✭✭✭

    @frogvalley I had similar problems with some of the Jerusalem artichokes I bought a couple of years ago. They arrived mushy and moldy and clearly weren't going to work. I received a refund for them, but the supposedly perpetual refund expired when I tried to apply it a year later.

    It definitely seems to matter when you buy bulbs of any bulbing plant. If you want too long, you get the dregs left over at the supplier, and if they do not do inspections before shipping, you may be getting mush sludge instead of viable bulbs.

  • VermontCathyVermontCathy Posts: 676 ✭✭✭✭

    @marjstratton Onions sets can work, but they are only available in a few varieties.

    Unfortunately it isn't really practical to grow your own sets in most cases. You'd have to plant seeds very early in the season or the previous year, harvest them when they produce small bulbs (the actual "sets"), then replant those sets at the right time for your onions season.

    If you use sets, you'll be buying more every year. If you grow multiplier onions, you can create a perennial crop and be independent of suppliers.

  • karenjanickikarenjanicki Posts: 712 ✭✭✭✭

    I tried to plant mine in the early summer and the starts didn't get any larger. I heard fall is the preferred time.

  • frogvalleyfrogvalley Posts: 635 ✭✭✭✭
    edited April 19

    @VermontCathy Somewhere I found Three-Cornered Garlic and thought I might give it a go although my seed company doesn't carry them. I will definitely look into multiplier onions to see about using them. I'm all about easy. Thank you so much for the suggestion.

  • VermontCathyVermontCathy Posts: 676 ✭✭✭✭

    Multiplier onions are about as easy as it gets!

    Their only downside is that they are not likely to produce huge "lunker" onions like those produced commericially. But I have been unable to produce lunkers no matter what I do, so there's no benefit to the commercial onions for me.

  • frogvalleyfrogvalley Posts: 635 ✭✭✭✭

    You got me @VermontCathy , I've never heard of bunker onions. I can't find them on the net. What are they?

  • VermontCathyVermontCathy Posts: 676 ✭✭✭✭

    @frogvalley "Lunker", not "bunker." Lunker is just a generic term for large onions. It's not a specific type of onion.

    If you go to the grocery store, you will see plenty of onions for sale that are over 3" (8 cm) across. These are the big slicing onions that work so well on burgers.

    It's really difficult to grow onions that large at home. (At least, I haven't had any success.) Growing those huge lunkers requires onion varieties with the potential to get that large, excellent soil, zero competition from weeds (which usually means nasty herbicides), and wide spacing between plants.

    My home grown onions are typically about 1.5 - 2" (4 - 5 cm) across. They taste fine and have excellent texture, but it's more work to slice them and you have to slice or chop more onions per serving.

  • maimovermaimover Posts: 353 ✭✭✭

    I got some perennial onions planted as well; just a small square; will see how they do.

  • Monek MarieMonek Marie Moderator Posts: 2,225 admin

    I do ok with onions if I start them early enough.

    I do not have multipliers but I like plants that keep on producing year after year so I will have to look for some.

  • jowitt.europejowitt.europe Moderator Posts: 608 admin

    I always plant onions in spring and harvest them when leaves turn yellow in late summer. Then they last in cool place until spring. The onions, which I forgot to dig out survived and have already developed green leaves. I think, that both ways would work, but I prefer planting in spring.

    garlic survives very well under snow and starts growing now. I saw lots of baby garlic shoots where garlic dropped it’s seeds last autumn. I think I should replant these - give them more space....

  • frogvalleyfrogvalley Posts: 635 ✭✭✭✭

    @VermontCathy Opps! bunker was the computer making an unauthorized change to "lunker" that I didn't catch. It didn't know it either.

    I'm so glad and appreciate the time you took too enlighten me as I truly had never heard of it and am going to search the etiology. I love the word and now have a challenge to try and grow them.

  • VermontCathyVermontCathy Posts: 676 ✭✭✭✭

    I am hoping to get two crops of onions this year, an early one from the fall-planted onions and a later one from the spring-planted. Potato onions grow fast and don't need anywhere near the full growing season, even this far north.

    Most of the potato onions I grew last year were recycled back into the earth to produce a bigger crop this year, and a few were given away as starts to local friends,, but I had a few left over after planting, and ate them on a sandwich today. Delicious! Nice and pungent, very firm even after being stored about 9 months.

  • marjstrattonmarjstratton Posts: 390 ✭✭✭

    @VermontCathy Thank you for the information. I had gotten the sets when they were available in the store, and soon realized that they don't keep well. Next time it will be starting from seed for me. Still in the learning stage. However, I am getting some of the sets that are actually growing. We'll wait and see how they turn out at harvest time.

    Yes, the variety of set onions that were available was minimal. I think there was a red, a yellow and a sweet. No indication as to actual identity of the onions.

  • blevinandwombablevinandwomba Central PaPosts: 769 ✭✭✭✭

    @VermontCathy so, where did you get your potato onions? I'm looking into growing more perennial vegetables.

  • VermontCathyVermontCathy Posts: 676 ✭✭✭✭

    @blevinandwomba I think mine came from the Maine Potato Lady.

    They can be hard to find. Sometimes a supplier who offered them one year will not have them the next.

    Steve at SkillCult used to sell them, and he said that demand always exceeded supply.

    It's fortunate that once you find them, you can keep propagating them yourself without needing to find them again every year.

    Share potato onions with your local gardening friends, and put them back in every garden where they belong! (And where they used to be before the 20th century.)

  • Monek MarieMonek Marie Moderator Posts: 2,225 admin

    @VermontCathy This site, Miane Potato Lady, is amazing. Thanks for sharing.

  • VermontCathyVermontCathy Posts: 676 ✭✭✭✭

    @Denise Grant There are many good small suppliers of seeds out there, and some have unusual varieties. It's worth seeking them out. Maine Potato Lady is just one example.

    That's especially true when some larger suppliers are more focused on large farmers than home gardeners.

  • Monek MarieMonek Marie Moderator Posts: 2,225 admin

    @VermontCathy I prefer the smaller companies and helping to keep them in business

  • blevinandwombablevinandwomba Central PaPosts: 769 ✭✭✭✭
    edited April 26

    @VermontCathy Thanks! I may have to put in an order for fall. I've been wondering where to get these for a while.

  • burekcrew86burekcrew86 Posts: 222 ✭✭✭

    I planted onions last fall and put a nice layer of straw down for our cold Pennsylvania winters. They are doing amazing this spring. Might be my new way to plant them. See how they are at harvest time.

  • VermontCathyVermontCathy Posts: 676 ✭✭✭✭

    My fall-planted multiplier onions are shooting upward and have already divided into multiple bulbs, despite the fact that they had 4 inches of snow dumped on them a few days ago. This is amazing!

    Spring-planted onions are still just sitting there, presumably building a root system first.

    Egyptian walking onions look almost full-grown.

  • OwlOwl Posts: 244 ✭✭✭

    I watched a video somewhere about growing larger onions and it said that the type of onions must be correct for where you live. I’m in the south and he recommended short day varieties for here. It also explained that sets are a second year plant so they are going to put their effort into seeding out and planting from seed is the way to get a big onion. I have both going and it seems to be correct because the second year plants are all trying to seed out. My starts from seeds are doing well but I started with 3 different company’s seeds and David’s seeds were loads better at sprouting than a couple of other brands. Interesting comparison, I haven’t ever compared several of the same variety before.

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