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4010 Mt Diablo Blvd.
Lafayette, CA, 94549

Located in the Bay Area, CA, we're a family-owned garden center offering unusual and hard-to-find plants & gifts. Established 1946.

Growing Onions, Garlic & Shallots

Life is Beautiful Blog

Growing Onions, Garlic & Shallots

Lauren Brookhart


For all your veggie plantings, we recommend mixing in a bag of Master Nursery's Paydirt. (Now on sale thru October 31st, buy 3 get 1 free, mix and match with Gold Rush!) A blend of 45% chicken manure, 55% mushroom compost and redwood sawdust, Paydirt is great for loosening our native clay soil and improving moisture retention.

To keep not only your onions, garlic, shallots but all other edibles healthy, fertilize with Master Nursery's Tomato & Vegetable Food 5-10-10 or E.B. Stone Organics Tomato & Vegetable Food 4-5-3 both available in our outside shop. 


Our onion bulbs are due to arrive in the next few weeks, stay tuned for what varieties we'll have in store! Remember when planting to choose a site with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight for a healthy crop. 


Sets are just tiny bulbs that were started from seed the year before. Onion sets should be about the size of a marble. Larger sets don’t always adjust well and could bolt or split. For similar reasons, don’t buy sets that have already sprouted. And as with all bulbs, onion sets should be firm and healthy looking.

Sets can be planted early in the season, before the last frost, but after the soil has dried and warmed up a bit. Plant onion sets pointed end up and cover with about 2" of soil. Depending on the mature size of your variety of onion, space about 3-4" apart.


Transplants generally result in larger onions than sets. You can buy transplants or start your own indoors from seed. Start onion seed about 8-12 weeks before your transplant date. Plant onion seed about ¼ - ½" deep. You can plant thickly and thin at transplant time. Keep the soil moist. As the tops grow, keep them trimmed to about 4".

Transplants or onion seedlings will need to be hardened off before planting outdoors. Wait until all danger of frost has passed before planting. Don’t bury transplants too deeply. Plant them close to the surface of the soil, spaced about 4” apart. Keep onions well watered throughout the season. The bulbs need regular water to swell in size. Transplant-grown onions are the type you see pushing up out of the ground. 

Water stressed onions are stronger in flavor and more pungent so water scarcely. 


You can harvest onions at any stage. The plants you thin from a row can be used as green onions. However, onion bulbs are ready when about ½ the tops have fallen over and the bulbs’ skins have a papery feel. Bulbs allowed to remain in the ground until 50% or more of the green tops have fallen over will store longer.

Once you see ½ the tops are down, very gently coax the remaining leaves down, without breaking them off the bulb. Then allow the bulbs to sit in the ground and cure for a couple of days before you lift them. You’ll have better luck digging the onion bulbs, rather than pulling. You don’t have to go deep, just enough to loosen the remaining roots.

Shake and brush off any loose soil and let the bulbs finish curing in a warm, dry place with good air circulation. Leave the leaves on. You can use fresh onions at any time now.

For storing onions, wait until the outside onion skins dry and the neck - where the leaves meet the bulbs, starts to shrivel. Then you can store them in a cool, dry location, like your basement. Onions keep longer in cool temperatures (35-40° F.) but should not be allowed to freeze. Store onions in mesh type bags or by braiding the tops together and hanging. Just make sure they are not piled on top of each other and not getting any air.


Garlic is one of the easiest plants to grow. You plant the individual cloves within the bulb. Plant the largest cloves you have, to get the largest bulbs. Plant each garlic clove two to three inches below the soil surface and about 6" apart.


A common novice dilemma is not knowing which end is up. It’s the pointed end. Your garlic will still grow, planted pointed side down, but the shoot will have to curve around and you will wind up with a malformed bulb.


Fall is garlic planting time. Depending where you are gardening, this could be September to November. Here in California, we can get away with a bit later. Once the soil temperature has cooled off to about 60° F, the roots of the garlic clove will start to germinate and begin to take hold and anchor the plant. Mulch around the plant with straw for moisture retention and weed compression. 



Your garlic should grow well if given the following conditions:

• Well-drained soil

• Soil pH of 6.0 to 7.0

• Minimal weed competition 

• Plenty of organic matter

• An inch of water while the bulb is forming – mid-May to July


Garlic is relatively pest free, if you use good seed cloves. It is, however, popular with some rodents, especially gophers. If you have gophers, we recommend planting in one of Digger’s Root Guard Heavy Duty Baskets. Available in one, three, five and 15-gallon sizes, the wire baskets are galvanized for increased durability and corrosion resistance. Easy to plant in, they allow generous room for root-growth and up-sizing. For more information, check out our Protecting Your Garden From Gophers


Dig, don’t pull garlic out of the ground. You may have planted a small clove, but the bulb is now several inches deep with a strong root system. When to harvest garlic is a judgment call, but basically it’s ready to go when the lower leaves start to brown. About the only way to be sure is to actually dig a few bulbs and slice them in half. If the cloves fill out the skins, it’s time. Harvesting too soon will result in smaller cloves that don’t store well. Leave the bulbs in the ground too long and the cloves may be bursting out of their skins, making them unstorable and open to disease.


Brush off any soil clinging to the bulbs. Allow the bulbs to cure or dry for three to four weeks in either a well-ventilated room or a dry, shady spot outside. Once the tops and roots have dried they can be cut off or braided. You can also further clean the bulbs by removing the outer skins. Just be careful not to expose any of the cloves. Garlic likes to be on the cool side, 32-40°F.

The softneck varieties may last 6-8 months. Hardnecks should be used soon after harvesting. Hardneck varieties may dry out, sprouting or go soft within 2-4 months. Keeping hardnecks at 32°F sometimes helps them survive for up to 7 months without deteriorating.


One of the easiest members of the onion family to grow, shallots not only mature faster but require less space than their counterparts. Growing shallots in your garden is very easy.

Many people wonder “what is a shallot?” Although they’re often confused with green onions (scallions) and the like, shallots are quite different. With their mild onion and garlic flavor, shallots are considered an essential ingredient for flavoring nearly any dish. The most distinguishing factor that sets shallots aside from other members of the onion family can be found by close examination of the bulbs. Unlike onions or leeks, shallots are made up of cloves—much like that of garlic. To get the most from these tasty plants in the garden, it may help to practice some important tips for growing shallots.


The best way to grow shallots is in loose, well-drained soil that’s been amended with organic matter. They also prefer areas receiving full sun. Shallots are often planted in early spring or as soon as the soil is manageable in warmer climates. Plant them about an inch or two deep with the tips slightly protruding from the soil’s surface. Space shallots about eight inches apart to prevent overcrowding.

Some tips for growing shallots are that they require thorough watering once planted but will require less as they mature, with exception to overly dry conditions. Once mid-spring arrives, you may want to expose shallot bulbs to aid in the ripening process, as they develop better on top of the ground. However, a light layer of mulch will help retain moisture while keeping weeds to a minimum. 


When to harvest shallots can be tricky for some, as this usually depends on when planting took place. Generally, fall plantings are ready to harvest in winter or spring while those planted in spring may be harvested in mid-summer to early fall. Harvest shallots when the bulbs are about ¼ inch around but wait for the leaves to yellow before lifting. For an extended harvest season, plant and harvest the largest shallots first, replanting smaller bulbs in their place for harvesting later.


Once shallots are harvested, any unused bulbs should be stored. Dispose of any bulbs that appear soft or bruised. Shake off soil once lifted from the soil and allow shallots to remain in a warm, dry area for about a week prior to storing. Then place them in a mesh bag and store them in a cool, dry place.

Growing shallots is easy and require little care, other than occasional watering. These hardy little bulbs are seldom affected by problems; however, you should practice crop rotation every other year or so, especially in areas where other onions have been previously grown. 

Questions? Stop in today and talk with one of our nursery professionals!