growing onions in central Texas

Onions are among the easiest vegetables to grow in a home garden. As a matter of fact, they should be the first vegetable to grow by new gardeners. However, there are a few tricks you need to know to grow great looking and tasting onions in central Texas.

After two phenomenal failures attempting to grow nice onions, I came to realize that there must be some untold secrets. The following are the most important tips to get a great harvest.

1- When to grow onions?

In general, onions are cool-season crops. Their planting time in central Texas starts in early fall through winter. But the ideal time to put them in the ground is right after the winter solstice.

On the other hand, if you are a fan of green onions, you can grow them any time in the year.

2- Growing onions from sets, starts, or seeds.

a- Growing onions from sets

Onion sets are small onions sold, mostly in the big buck stores in bags. They are actually onions that failed to fully mature in the previous growing season and are given a second chance. Some gardeners like to pre-sprout them in flat early fall to plant them later.

Though this is a common and rather successful practice in Great Britain, it is not a reliable one in the US. Onions are biennials, meaning they produce seeds in their second year of growth. Growing them from sets will most likely result in bolting or flower.

b- Growing onions from starts

Starts are onions grown from seeds in nurseries early in the season to be ready for growers. They start showing up in local nurseries around November through January. This is the most reliable method to grow onions for home gardeners.

c- Growing onions from seeds

Growing onions from seeds gives you more choices to grow different varieties. However, it is a long process and requires a lot of patience. You need to start the seeds early in the summer. Take care of the seedlings until they reach pencil-size thickness before planting them in the ground.

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Onion starts

3- Growing the right onion variety

It is important to know that there are two categories of onions, based on the hours of daylight needed to form a bulb. Growing the wrong category of onions for your area will result in low yield and maybe a failed crop.

Short day onions: They require 10 to 12 hours of daylight. This is the category that grows best in central Texas. They are noticeably sweet and juicy, but they are not good for long-term storage. Some varieties are 1015, Texas Supersweet, Texas Legend, Yellow Granex. You can also get a short-day sampler, which contains white, yellow, and red onions.

Long day onions: This variety needs 12 hours or so of sun exposure, which makes them best suited for the northern growers. They tend to be less sweet than the short-day onions, but they do store well. Some known varieties are Blush, Copra, Highlander, Walla Walla, and many more.

4- Prepare the soil

Onions grow in various soil conditions, except hard clay. Amend your soil with well-rotted manure or compost to improve its drainage and texture.

5- Give it plenty of sunlight

Onions need full sun for optimum growth. Less than six hours of light will cause them to stall, therefore never reach their full size before the heat of summer.

grow great onions

6- Don’t plant onions too deep

Plant your onions sets or starts no more than an inch and a half deep. Planting them too deep may cause them to rot or form small bulbs. The top half of the onion sphere should appear on the surface of the ground while growing.

7- Spacing

In my small garden, I tend to follow the Square foot garden spacing chart, by Mel Bartholomew. In one square foot space, I put nine onions meaning three inches apart.

I would like to give credit to Mr. Hollis from Hollis and Nancy Homestead, from whom I learned how to make this nifty contraption. It makes hole spacing very easy and quick.


8- Fertilize

Onions need high nitrogen-based fertilizer, so amending the soil with compost will provide the initial boost. You can also add a dry slow-release fertilizer to the planting hole or drench them with liquid seaweed every three weeks.

More useful information for growing onions in Central Texas

How long does it take to harvest onions?

We plant onions at the beginning of winter for a spring/ summer harvest. Approximately, nine-months-worth of growing time.

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Onions and Garlic

How to know onions are ready for harvest?

When the green tops of the onions start turning yellow and toppling-over, it is time to harvest. Some gardeners like to leave them a week or two more in the ground to give them more time to size up.

Since Central Texas springs are known for their flooding rains, you must pull your onions up if torrential rain is in the forecast as they are at the risk of rotting.

How to harvest onions?

Always use a garden fork to pull the onion bulb. Lift the bulb from the bottom and shake off excess dirt but do not wash it.

How to store onions?

After harvesting, cure onions by laying them in a sunny area for a week or so until the outer layer dries out and turns into a peel is.

Once cured, you may braid your onions or just lay them loosely in a crate with good air circulation.

Can I cut back the green tops?

During the growing season, the green tops will get heavy, so cutting them back is recommended. It will prevent them from falling over during spring wind storms, hindering the growth of the bulb.

Storing the green onion tops

You may want to preserve the green tops by drying them after chopping or freezing them in air-tight bags. I do prefer freezing since they keep their flavor better that way.

Does re-growing onions works?

Re-growing is the process of replanting the base of a used onion in hopes to grow a new one. This trick works well with spring onions, but not with regular round onions. It might grow a green shoot, but it won’t turn into a bulb.

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