How to grow onions
The basis of so many delicious dishes, onions (Allium cepa) are an essential ingredient in every cook’s store cupboard. With so many tasty types of onions available, why not grow your own and try some of them out? Follow our simple guide to growing onions.
Planting and harvesting onions in Australia
Plant onions in early to mid spring in most climates. In warm climates, plant onions in autumn.
Harvest onions between summer and autumn in most climates. In warm climates, harvest onions in late spring.
The best onion varieties to plant
With so many types of onions available, it can be difficult to choose which one to grow! Here are a few of our favourites:
- Onion ’Gladalan Brown’: a large early cropping, brown-skinned heirloom variety; very reliable.
- Onion ’Gladaland White’: an heirloom medium to large white onion.
- Onion ’Ailsa Craig’: mild tasting, straw-yellow coloured, large Spanish type.
- Onion ’Long Tropea Red’: purple or red heritage variety with mild, sweet flavour
- Onion ’Odourless’: pale brown skin and mild flavour; has no smell.
Onion growing equipment list
To grow onions at home, you will need:
- Onion ‘sets’ (young onion bulbs) or seedlings
- Supply of compost and soil improver
- Vegetable fertiliser
When to plant onions
Some onion varieties can be planted in autumn for an early summer harvest, but there is a chance the bulbs may rot in heavy soils that remain wet over the colder months. The best time to plant onion sets is in early to mid-spring.
Onions need a rich, fertile pH neutral or mildly alkaline (6.5 to 7.5) soil in full sun. To prepare the soil for spring planting, dig in lots of compost, soil improver or well weathered animal manurein autumn and leave it to settle over winter.
How to plant onions
Although you can grow onions from seed, it’s simpler to grow them from ‘sets’. Sets are young onion bulbs, grown especially for planting.
- Before planting in spring, dig over the plot to break up the soil and clearing it of all weeds. Tread down the soil to lightly compact it and rake over to produce a level surface with a light, crumbly texture.
- A couple of weeks before planting, rake in a controlled or slow release vegetable fertiliser at the rate recommended on the bag or container.
- Plant onion sets 20cm apart, with the tips of the young bulbs just showing above the soil. Follow label instructions for planting seedlings. Allow 30cm between rows.
- Water in after planting – this helps to settle the soil around the new plants.
- Cover the area with netting to stop birds pulling up the young plants.
Caring for onions
Follow these tips for a good onion harvest:
- Keep the plot weed-free. Hoeing between rows risks damaging foliage and bulb tips, so weed by hand where possible.
- Water regularly in dry periods.
- Remove any flower spikes as soon as they appear.
- Stop watering once the leaves start yellowing – this means that the bulbs are starting to swell.
Spring-planted onions should be ready to harvest in late summer and early autumn. In warmer areas, autumn-planted onions will be ready to harvest from early to mid-summer. Once the foliage starts to yellow and bend over, the bulbs are ready to harvest. Use a fork to carefully lift them, taking care not to penetrate or bruise the bulbs.
- Place the bulbs in a single layer on a drying rack or on a slatted shelf that allows air to circulate around them.
- Leave them outside in the sun or under a patio or veranda roof for a couple of weeks to dry.
- Once the skins are dry and papery, store the bulbs in net bags or plait the foliage to form bundles.
- 4. Store in a light, cool and well-ventilated spot. Bulbs stored in the dark are more likely to sprout.
Common pests and diseases of onions
Bolting occurs when onions stop developing their bulbs and instead produce flowers. It can be triggered by stress, such as sudden dry period or cold snaps. Onions that have bolted can’t be stored but are still edible.
|Onion white rot||
Onion white rot is a soil-born fungus that causes leaves to yellow and wilt, and bulbs to rot.
Leek rust is a fungal disease which can affect all alliums. It appears as orange spots on leaves. and is more likely in wet conditions. Heavy infections can affect yield.