Onions are Easy!

Onions are easy to grow in the Southwest, are tasty to eat in a vast variety of dishes, and are healthy for you too!

Part of a Big Family

Onions are just a start!    You can add garlic, elephant garlic, garlic chives, society garlic, I’itoi onions, scallions, multiplier onions, walking onions, and shallots to the list.    All of these oniony plants grow great in the nice un-humid Southwest air.    Most of these can be planted right now in Low and Middle Desert. You folks in Upper Elevations need to wait a bit -but could maybe start some indoors. See the planting lists below. Also keep checking my monthly calendars (like this one) – and my newsletter too.

Clump of I’itoi onions growing in the nice garden bed with rose bushes.

Part of the onion family that are a bit more tricky are the chives. In Low and Middle Desert they do not like the summer heat. Upper Elevations – you can grow them, refer to the list below.

New to Growing?

Shallots growing a large container on the patio.

If you have never done “vegetable” gardening before, these oniony plants are a great way to start.    They are, of all the garden vegetables, some of the most tolerant of abuse and most forgiving of mistakes.    Plus – all of these can be grown in pots filled with potting soil.    Just add water, and you have an instant vegetable garden. You can even put onions in with pretty flowers for your enjoyment on your patio.

When to Start Onion Family Plants

Little plants are also called “sets.” They are basically little bulbs with green leaves. Sets of onion, garlic, elephant garlic, I’itoi onions, garlic chives, society garlic, scallions, and shallots can be planted in:

Low and Middle Desert = January into February.  (I have planted as late as Rodeo Weekend, the last weekend in February, and still had a lovely harvest.)
Upper Desert = February into March, also chives.
Cool Plateaus = March into April, also chives.
Cold Mountains = May into June, also chives.

You can plant a supermarket onion that has sprouted – for the greens. You will not get a bulb to eat.

When to Start Onion Seeds and Bulbs

A friend onions growing in the Vermont winter. Yes they survive a nice snow pack. Freezing rain and ice is not so good.

Bulbs are planted when dormant (no green showing) in the autumn months.

Growing all these oniony plants from seeds are a also generally done in the autumn months.  Yes, even in snowy regions.  Myself – I have never had success with seeds of onion family members.  My best advice is to look at what the seed packages say.

Remember that not all gardeners can grow everything. If you are a gardener, you may fail often until you “figure out” what works for you, your soils, your yard, your degree of devoted care – or maybe just “Darwinistic” care!

Plant bulbs and seeds of onion, garlic, chives, elephant garlic, scallions and shallots:

Desert Gardens = October
Upper Elevations = September.

Growing Onions


Soil is not as critical for onions as for most vegetables.    For best overall health, flavor, and final size of your crop, an improved garden soil is recommended, but you can add them around your landscape, like around your rose bushes.    Or plant in pots of potting soil on the patio.

Garden soil means mixing your desert soil half and half with compost to a depth of two feet, and, where necessary, improving drainage by adding sand.   Since we live in an imperfect world, try for at least a foot deep and one third compost.

Antelope ground squirrel. Onion bulbs are a juicy snack.


Javelina, ground squirrels, mice, rats, and bunnies all think onion members are a tasty treat – especially as the bulbs swell and fatten.   Deer and elk will also munch on your onion family members. The leaves are occasionally eaten by quail and other birds – but usually regrow. In a hard year (like this one after a hot dry summer) all the hungry animals will eat anything – even onions and garlic.


Water should be applied on a regular basis for nice fat bulbs and succulent leaves.    In general, for plants in the ground, this means daily until the sets are established, tapering down to two or three times per week.    In a hot, dry, or windy times, you may need to water more often.

Onion from seed in a garden. These will need to be thinned.

How often you water also depends on your soil.    A soil that holds the water well, one with ample compost in it, will need less water than a sandy soil.      If you are growing your crop in containers, you may need to water daily.


Not much fertilizer is needed by these oniony crops.    If you do fertilize, 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 growing yummy bulbs and leaves.

As onions are getting ready to harvest, you push the soil back from around the bulb so it grows a layer of protective leaves and stores better.


Harvesting onion bulbs is a good test of patience.    You need to wait until the tops have turned brown and are entirely dead, having sent all their flavor and moisture down into the bulb.    Then dig up and use your onions and shallots within a month for the absolute best flavor.    Garlic and elephant garlic can be stored longer, but only if you harvest fully dried bulbs, with the pointed tips of the cloves quite hard.


Growing plants you can use for food can be fun.    Relax and enjoy the experience. Know that there may be some bumps in the road, but the journey is fun too – it is not all about the destination.  It is about the process, not necessarily the product.

Need Southwest Vegetable Garden Help?

May I recommend my book?  The Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Guide offers not just growing guides but some of the latest varieties – including ones specifically for raised bed and container growing. Price is what you would pay on Amazon – only when you buy from me you get a signed copy!soule-books-buy

From the review:

In this updated 2nd edition of Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening, you’ll find much-needed advice and practical tips on growing an edible garden, no matter which part of the southwestern US you call home.

Growing in the Southwest isn’t easy. It’s either too hot or too cold and often very dry. The region hosts a range of soils and climate conditions that can be difficult for a gardener to navigate. That’s why this region-specific garden guide is a must-have for every Southwestern gardener!

Botanist Dr. Jacqueline Soule simplifies the ins and outs of gardening in the Southwest and serves as your guide to success. Regardless of whether you’re tending an in-ground plot, a small container garden, or a series of raised beds, Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening is an invaluable resource.”

Profits from the sale of this book go to the Arizona-based Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute.

© Article copyright Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. Okay to use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit. You must include a link to the original post on our site. No stealing photos.


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