Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
January, 2001
Regional Report

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It's only a matter of time before these seeds resemble the onions in the basket.

It's Onion Time

It may be gloomy outside, but it's time to start gardening inside. Last year was my best year ever for growing onions, so I have a record to break. My usual date for starting onions and leeks is around the end of February, but the seedlings were so spindly when I set them out last year that I'm going to start three weeks early this year.

Starting Onion Plants

I have much better luck growing sizable onion bulbs by planting onion plants instead of sets (miniature onion bulbs). However, I do use some sets to produce early scallions and as companion plantings around potatoes and cabbages to repel pests.

By starting my own onion seed, I can choose the varieties I want. I also start leeks from seed so I can get them into the garden in April.

Plant Them Close

I've found that one of the keys to growing good onion plants is to crowd them. This goes against my gardening logic, but onion seedlings are so floppy that packing the seeds close together in a 4-inch pot gives me plenty of plants, and they tend to hold each other up as they get started.

Keep Them Sheared

I've also learned that onions actually thrive best with regular haircuts to keep them from getting tangled and floppy. Keeping their height at 3-4 inches makes them thick and substantial enough to withstand the vagaries of the spring garden.

Planting Out

I set pots into the cold frame as soon as possible and then, when the snow is gone, around the beginning of April in most years, I plant them out in the garden. I like to plant sets at the same time for very early succulent scallions that I can harvest without depleting my bulbing onions.

Planning Ahead

This year I'm going to try something different. I'm going to grow my own onion starts to dry and keep indoors for setting out the following year. I've read that I can start seeds in the garden, dig them when they are the right size to plant next year, and then store them over the winter. Evidently, direct-seeded plants will be ready for digging in late July. After they are fairly dry (in a week or two), you trim the tops, bundle them, and store them in a cool, dry place until the following spring. By combining the two methods, I should get a great jump on onions for 2002.

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