gardens by daisy moore

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All About Onions

 

Plants from the onion family are essential elements for the garden for both their culinary qualities and ornamental beauty. Onions, garlic, shallots, leeks and chives are easy to grow with few pest and disease problems.

Ornamental onions and garlic are some of my favourite perennial garden plants. They are excellent companions to early flowering plants with attractive foliage, such as Peony or Artemisia. The onions provide a late season flower while the companions shield the less attractive foliage of the onions and provide support.

The onion belongs to the Alliaceae family, which is intermediate between the Liliacea (Lily) and Amaryllidacea (Amaryllis) family. It is a biennial plant, storing food in the bulb during its first year and flowering in its second year.

Culinary onions and leeks are generally grown from seed, sown in the early spring, and harvested in the late summer so that flower production doesn't occur. "Bolting", or premature flower production, occurs when temperatures are too cool for extended periods of time in the early season. Onions which have bolted will not store as well and should be used first.

Seeds are planted indoors about 10 weeks before the first frost free date and then transplanted into the garden. The transplants require 4 inches in each direction and the tops should be clipped after being firmly set in the soil. Leeks need to be planted in trenches which are then gradually filled as the plants grow in order to produce a long, blanched bulb.

Shallots are usually planted as bulbs which were harvested the previous fall. Shallots differ from the regular onion since the bulbs produce multiple, lateral bulbs, rather than one large bulb. Each shallot will produce 5-7 more by the end of the season and each will have its own set of leaves.

Garlic produces a single bulb on one set of leaves but the bulb is broken into individual cloves. Garlic is planted in the fall and harvested in the late summer. Part of the harvest should be saved and re-planted for the following season. Break off the individual cloves of the garlic bulb and plant them with 4 inches in each direction in mid-October.

Chives do not produce a bulb of any significant size but their attributes are the production of mild flavoured leaves which can be clipped on a regular basis for use as a garnish. They are an excellent addition to the ornamental garden due to their production of attractive purple flowers in early summer.

All of the onions have shallow, fibrous root systems so they should be mulched and watered regularly. Weed invasion and drought will produce smaller onions with an unpleasantly hot flavour. Cultivation should be shallow and frequent to prevent competition from weeds and to avoid disturbing the onion roots.

Onions prefer a loose soil which is high in organic matter. Heavy clay or rocks will impede bulb development and reduce the size of the crop. Compost and/or manure should be incorporated into the soil prior to planting as well as added as a mulch through the growing season. The shallow root system will not be able to search the soil for nutrients so liberal amounts of fertilizer, such as 5-10-10 or 8-12-6, should be applied prior to planting.

Onions and shallots are ready to be harvested when the tops fall over naturally and turn brown. Leaf production occurs from the inside of the stems which keeps the stalks upright. When leaf production stops, the stalks become hollow and they can no longer support themselves. They naturally turn brown after one or two weeks. Pull the onions out of the soil and leave them to dry in the sun for a few days. Place on newspaper and rotate the bulbs to dry all sides. This curing process will seal the bulb and make it easy to remove any excess dirt. Store the bulbs in a cool, dry location, hanging in a mesh bag or tied together with their own stems.

Leek tops will not fall over and can remain in the soil well into the fall. These are generally harvested and processed into soups or stews and frozen for future use.

The ease of cultivation and value in both the kitchen and the ornamental garden, make plants from the onion family a must for every garden.

 

Daisy Moore, 1999.

 

 

Other summer garden tips:

(click on the tip you want to read)

 

Extreme Conditions
Growing Roses
Summer Lawn Care
Propogation by Cuttings
Sources of Native Plants
Making Sense of Fertilizer Labels
Annual/Perennial Combinations
Climbing Plants
The Dry Garden
Wildlife
Ornamental Grasses
Chooosing A Good Gardening Book
Companion Planting
Preparing the Compost for Fall Use
Getting the Most out of your Vegetable Garden
Repairing Lawns From Summer Stress
All About Grubs
All About Onions
Useful Herbs for the Home Garden
Screens and Hedges

 

 

 

Home  |  Garden designs  |  Naturalized gardening  |  Help with your garden  |  Garden Tips Spring  Summer  Fall  | Contact Daisy

 

Daisy Moore 2005