Growing onions

I use to think growing onions was a waste of time but I’ve changed my mind. A home grown onion is better than a store bought one that is really old. There are a couple of ways to grow onions. Go to your nursery and get ‘sets’ which are little onion bulbs and just plant them according to instructions. But what if they don’t have a particular variety you want to grow this season? Then you need to start them from seeds.

What type of onions should we grow here in Santa Fe? There are three types of onions, each one does better in certain parts of the country. Both short day and day neutral onions (sometimes called intermediate onions) will work here in Santa Fe (and of those two, day neutral do best but you can grow short day as well). Long day will NOT have enough daylight hours to work here and the onions will be puny. So when shopping for onions, be sure to ask if these are short day or day neutral types and if you are shopping online, read the description-it should say what type it is. Short day need 10-12 hours of daylight and day neutral need 12-14 hours of daylight. All can be planted in fall or early spring but not in the middle of summer.

GROWING FROM SEEDS: Next if starting from seed, you should start now or even earlier (next year-but you can start now too). In the top pictures are some Cippolini Italian onions that I could not find in sets so I started them last month from seeds. Now I am not quite ready to plant them out, and their tops were getting tall so I read it’s perfectly fine to trim off the little skinny tops. They will continue to grow. I used the cuttings on my scrambled eggs in the morning. Later this month I will separate each one and plant them out in the garden. Those spindly little green tops will grow out to be beautiful onions. I had a bumper crop of onions this last season.

If you think growing onions from seeds instead of sets might turn out smallish, then look again. These red onions from Italy turned out fantastic and I harvested them last fall and they are still good.

GROWING FROM SETS: Now if you prefer to buy sets instead, plant each bulb 1 inch deep with the round part of the bulb facing down in a well composted bed, 4 inches apart in full sun. Water moderately. For spring planting, plant bulb sets now.

HARVESTING ONIONS: When the necks become soft and the tops fall down, stop watering and when 50% of the green tops die back, the full size onions will be ready to harvest. If the bulb is poking out of the soil, that’s ok. Harvest before it freezes. Do not clean off the dirt or cut off the tops until you cure the onions. Curing is the process of letting the outer skins harden off and is necessary for them to store unless you are using them right away. Let dry in a protected area like under a porch or in a shady area for about a week and then clean off the dirt and trim off the tops. Store inside in a dark area like where you store potatoes.

7 comments on “Growing onions

  1. judy cormier says:

    Hi Jeannine, Do you think onion sets do well in big pots?


  2. jacormier says:

    hi Jeannine,

    do you think day neutral onion sets will do well in big pots?


  3. Deanna says:

    This is great! I also used to think growing onions was a waste of space, but then I saw all the wonderful varieties available on and I needed to do crop rotation anyway. Sooo, I am growing Flat of Italy, Violet De Galmi, White Creole bulbing onions, plus He Shi Ko bunching onions this year. I started from seed a few weeks ago and just gave mine a big haircut. I have a pic to share. Is there a way to include pics? 😃


  4. tonytomeo says:

    I still think that growing onions from see is a waste of time. That is because I grow only the basic hardware store types from sets. I typically grow only yellow onions, but have grown red onions too. I grew white onions only once. If I ever get around to trying something more interesting, I would be compelled to grow it from seed. I am no good at trying new things, but only three types of onions is a bit too limiting, even by my simple standards. I know there is so much more that can be done with other varieties of onion.


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