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Plantland Home & Garden

Prince George, BC, Canada

Gardening Tips

What you Need to Know When You Don't Have a Green Thumb

Growing Onions

Growing Orchids

Most gardens will have at least one type of onion growing in it. It could be a mild green bunching onion, sweet tasting Spanish onion, or a stronger flavoured cooking onion. Onions grow well in Prince George, whether you choose to start them from seed, transplants, or sets.

Growing onions from seed has its advantages, one of them being the large assortment of varieties to choose from. There are early, main-season and late varieties, that come in colours of red, white and yellow. Onions are frost tolerant and can be sowed into the garden soil around the beginning of May, as soon as the soil is workable. This is good as they require a long growing season. Another option is to start seeds indoors 6-10 weeks before they are ready to be planted in the garden outdoors in early May. March is a good time to start onion seeds indoors, especially if you are growing Spanish onions which take the longest to grow. If you don’t have the space or time to start your own seeds indoors, transplants are available at the garden centre in May. The advantage to using transplants is that onions will be ready 6-8 weeks earlier than direct seeding and the onions will be larger. The third method of planting onions is using onion sets, which are immature bulbs which when planted will grow into onions. These come as ‘Dutch onion sets’, which are the cooking onions, ‘multipliers’ which will produce 6-7 green onions per bulb and then the shallots, and white and red onions. Sets are planted directly planted into the garden in early May. Press the set into the the soil so that the tip of the bulb remains just above ground level. When picking out Dutch onion sets, choose small, firm bulbs as these will be less prone to bolding. The advantage to using onion sets is that they are faster to mature into an onion and tend to be less susceptible to disease and pests. The disadvantage is that they cost more and the onions do not get as large as those grown from seed or transplant.

Onions can be grown in the garden as a single row or in raised beds. The raised beds hold 4 rows, spaced 15 cm., apart, with the onions 8-10 cm apart (depending on type of onion). If onions are planted closely they can be thinned out and the young plants that have been pulled out can be used as green onions. Onions also make good container plants as they take up very little space. Plant onions in a well-drained, fertile soil that has a pH of 6.0-6.8, and in a sunny location. Onions are shallow rooted so it is important to keep them watered which is an important factor in an onions growth. Keeping onions well weeded also helps in moisture retention as the onion does not have to compete with weeds for moisture and nutrition.

A common pest when growing onions is onion root maggot. The infected plants will wilt, turn yellow then die. When the onion is pulled out of the soil you will notice little holes in the bulb with tiny, legless, creamy white larvae inside the bulb. To help prevent maggots, crops should be rotated yearly, the soil should be tilled in the fall, weeds should be kept down so the adult flies are exposed, and plants should be spaced further apart making it harder for maggots to move from one onion to the next. As soon as you find one affected onion, remove it and destroy it, to prevent it from spreading. We have this problem in our home garden and have been using a floating row cover which works very well. The floating row cover is placed on top of the plants as soon as they are planted, and prevents the adult fly from laying its eggs on the soil.

Onions require anywhere from 60 days for green onions, to 125 days for Spanish varieties, till harvest. They can be harvested earlier and be used fresh. In order to store cooking and spanish onions, they need to mature. When the green top bends and falls over, the onion is ready to be pulled and left to dry in the sun for a few days. After they have been cured the dried top is removed 5 cm from the bulb and then the dried onion is ready to be stored in a cool, dry space with good air circulation. If properly cured and cared for, onions can be stored for months.