Jacqueline Soule with you here to share some timely planting tips. Speaking as a gardener – one of the best things about living here in the Southwest is that every month is the month to plant something! Right now, in these cool months with short days and long nights, it is time to plant onions.
If you have never before had a vegetable garden, onions are a great way to start. Of all the garden vegetables, they are tolerant of abuse and forgiving of mistakes. In the ground, in large or small pots, under the shrubs in the front yard of your HOA home (the weed-police are mollified by “bulbs”), wherever you have a little space you can plant some onions. As long as we get rain every ten days, you may not even need to water them. Onions fresh out of the ground have so much more flavor you owe it to yourself to try them.
Which ones? There are more varieties of onions than you can shake a stick at, a number of different types with conflicting names (bunching, bulbing, multiplier) and technically a few different species, but rather than start a discourse on all of that, lets just key into the fact that the days are short, thus you need to plant “short day” varieties.
Now? In the coldest time of year? Yes! But you will plant “sets” not seeds. Sets are already started from seed onions, or, in the case of multiplier onions and garlics, they are divisions off a larger bulb.
How to plant sets? Just set them into the soil. (Sometimes gardening terminology makes sense.) Plant with the green side up, the bulb entirely below the soil.
Most of our local nurseries know that now is the time for onions and have a selection of sets to choose from. Big box stores don’t – just another reason to shop local. In past years some of the Farmer’s Market vendors also offered onion sets.
A general planting guide follows.
Light. Remember the whole “short day” thing? The short days of winter will mean that the onions will need as much as you can give them.
Soil is not as critical as with most vegetables. But for best overall health, plus full flavor and good final size of your crop, an improved garden soil is recommended. Or plain potting soil if you grow them in containers.
Water is needed on a regular basis for nice fat bulbs and succulent leaves. In general this means two or three times per week, but maybe more if the onions are in pots.
Fertilizer is not much needed by onions. If you want to, use one for root crops, high in nitrogen and potassium. Avoid fertilizer for flowers, like a rose or tomato food. Flowering takes energy away from creating succulent bulbs.
Harvest – once the tops die down and start to turn brown (usually in late May into June). For long term storage the garden books from “back east” tell you to dry your onions in the sun – but don’t do that here!! – they will get sun scald and taste yucky. Dry onions in a cool dark place that does have good air flow. I put mine on screens in the laundry room and leave the ceiling fan on low for about three days. Once they have dried onions will store without rotting.
Storage & Use. Some varieties of onions store better than others. Plan on about four months maximum for best flavor and texture. (Ours are eaten so fast this is not an issue.) Don’t forget to save your onion skins to make a great natural dye for Easter eggs and textiles.
For more about onions and other vegetables and fruits that will thrive in your Southwestern garden, please consider my book Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening (Cool Springs Press 2014), available at Antigone, Arizona Experience Store, local botanical gardens, state parks, and nurseries.
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