I do not grow onions so most all my information comes from reading and talking to those who do. When I began looking I found that the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Service does not have a NebGuide on growing onions, so decided to pull together information from a number of local sources and a catalog I got in the mail. I found that when growing onions the first question you must answer is “How am I going to use these onions?”

          Onions can be used as (1) green table onions, as (2) sweet onions on a hamburger or other sandwich, or in a salad, and as (3) dry or storage onions which are usually used in cooking or a salad but may be sliced for a sandwich.  However, they are stronger than the sweet onions. The first two kinds of onions do not store very well. The table onions are usually pulled, washed, and put on the table the same day or the next. Sweet onions such as the White Bermuda and Yellow Bermuda, Walla Walla, Candy Hybrid, Red Hybrid, Red Hamburger, Texas 1015Y Supersweet (favorite onion in the Plains States), Miss Society, or Mr. Society will not store more than one to 3 months. The dry or storage onions such as White Sweet Spanish, Yellow Sweet Spanish, and Big Daddy can be kept over the winter after proper curing. They should be stored in a cool, moderately dry area, tied together and hung, or in ventilated containers, or in mesh bags. Many want to plant Vidalia sweet onions but this variety is restricted and can be grown only in Vidalia County, Georgia.

          The next question then is “Should I plant seeds, sets, or plants?”


          “All onion types can be started from seed.  Onion seed can be grown indoors about 4-8 weeks before transplanting or seed can also be sown directly into the garden as soon as the soil can be worked. Follow the packet directions for planting onion seed.” (1)


          “Onion sets are purchased as a red, white, or yellow onion. (Most of these are Ebenezer cultivars and good keepers.)  They are small, dormant onion bulbs that are ready to be planted in your garden. Plant these in early spring, giving them ample time to grow.

          Onion sets are grown for young green table onions or harvesting later for a dry ‘keeping’ onion.  When planting onion sets, divide them into two sizes. Plant the largest sets together in order to have early green onions leaving smaller sets for dry cooking onions. Plant the sets 1 to 2 inches apart and 2 to 3 inches deep.  When you harvest your table onions, pull every other plant allowing more space for the development of the remaining onions for cooking and storing.”  (1)


          “Onion plants may be purchased by name variety.  Sweeter and milder onions do not have a long storage life. The stronger the taste of your large onion, the better it will keep and it will not bruise so easily.

          After purchasing onion plants, plant them as soon as possible, since they are live plants.  The onion will live approximately three weeks off the bulb and will shoot new roots after planting.  Onion plants should be planted approximately 1 inch deep with 4 inch spacing if you wish to harvest the onions during the growing season. Pull every other one as a table onion, leaving space for growth of the larger remaining onions. Plants may be set out 4-6 weeks prior to the average spring freeze. Onion plants are hardy and can withstand temperatures of 20 degrees F.” (1)


          “The nature of the onion is to grow tops in cool weather and form bulbs in warm weather. Those varieties grown in the north require 14 to 16 hours of daylight. The reason we plant some our varieties from plants rather than from sets is because the bulb will not get large enough unless it is already half grown and will mature into a big onion by the time we get to late summer and cooler weather of fall.  Good sized transplants planted early will make a larger bulb than the normal onion set. Onions should be planted as soon as the soil can be worked. Onions are heavy feeders. One should work manure and fertilizer into the soil before planting. A pound of manure to each square foot of ground and 4 to 5 pounds of 5-10-5 fertilizer per 100 square feet will do the job.  A constant supply of moisture is essential.  It is especially important during the bulb enlargement.  Both plants and sets make excellent green onions fresh from the garden.”  (2)


          In the literature and on signs in the Garden Center by the onions for sale, you will see mentioned these three groups of onions:

          Short Day varieties require fewer daylight hours to start bulb formation and to reach maturity. Therefore they are best suited for southern areas of our country.

          INTERMEDIATE DAY and LONG DAY varieties require more daylight hours to start bulb formation and to mature. They will grow best in the mid and northern areas of our country because of the longer daylight during spring and summer.”(4)

          In a future article this fall I will deal with the harvesting and storing of onions.


1. “Onions, Potatoes” and Sweet Potatoes: Planting, Growing, and Harvesting”.  Free brochure from Earl May Seed and Nursery, Shenandoah, Iowa 51503.

2. “Onions” Free handout from Campbells Nursery and Garden Center, Lincoln, NE.

3. “Onions” pm1889 Revised June 2009 Prepared by Cindy Hanes, Elsdon Everhart, and Richard Jauron, Extension horticulturists: Diane Nelson, extension communication specialist, and Jane Lenahan, extension graphic designer. Iowa State University: University Extension, Ames, Iowa

4. Brown’s Omaha Plant Farms, Inc. Omaha, TX 75571, 2012 catalog,

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