Growing Shallots, Onions and Spring Onions

This post contains:

  • The difference between Shallots, Onions & Spring Onions
  • Growing Onions
  • Growing Shallots
  • Growing Spring Onions
  • Making Crispy Fried Shallots


This (May) is the perfect time of the year to be planting shallots and onions in Melbourne.   Spring Onions can be planted all year round.   Along with leeks, chives,  and garlic they are all members of the Allium Genus of plants, and frankly where would most cuisines be without them?   It is thought that onions were first cultivated in ancient Egypt where they were eaten, used in burials and also worshipped as symbolising eternal life (or so says Wikipedia).  In the middle ages they were held in such high esteem that people used them to pay their rent.  More recently they have been linked with a range of health benefits, although how well substantiated these are is debatable, what cannot be debated however is their role in pretty much all of the worlds great cuisines.

I have to admit I don’t even attempt anything like self sufficiency in onions; to do so would probably involve my devoting most of my garden to their production.  I use onions in one form or another most days.   Shallots I get much closer to self sufficiency with (but then I use considerably less of them).   I am self sufficient in spring onions.

This year I am growing a red onion variety called Red Shine and two types of shallots – a golden variety and a pink skinned variety but as I was given the bulbs I’m not too sure of their names.   I also grow a plethora of Spring Onions succession planted throughout the year.

What are the differences between Onions, Shallots and Spring Onions or Scallions?

From Left to Right: Shallots, Spring Onions (also known as Scallions) and a Brown Onion.  There are a number of varieties of shallot favoured in both Europe and Asia some are golden and others are pink skinned (with a purpleish flesh), some varieties are round as pictured here and there are more elongated forms.  Size can also vary a fair bit.  Spring Onions are immature onions (they will often grow a very small bulb if left in for long enough – although this does depend on the variety) which are eaten green as pictured.  Onions come in brown, white and red varieties and like shallots they come in both round and elongated forms.  Brown varieties tend to have the best keeping qualities.

How to Grow Onions:

Onions are generally grown from seed, although you can of course buy seedlings from nurseries.   Onion seed is generally sown in Melbourne in late autumn, early winter with a view to harvesting in late spring – late summer depending on the variety.

Onion varieties are categorised by day-length; ie the hours of daylight in a day needed for the onion to form bulbs.   As a result this is a crop you really need to plan for as they need: full sun (or as close to as you have), as well as, daylight for an appropriate number of hours for the variety you are planting, and they are generally going to be in the ground for a very long time.  This year I have sown seed of a variety called ‘Red Shine’- we will see how they perform.  If you buy seed or seedlings locally you should be sold an appropriate variety but if you are gardening in the sub-tropics/tropics (ie you have less daylight hours in spring/summer than we do in the south)  it is a good idea to double check the day length of the variety you are growing.

Onions like alkaline soil so I give my beds a bit of lime before sowing.  In general I don’t provide my onions with any additional fertiliser once the seed is sown; this is to ensure they form bulbs rather than lots of leaf growth.

How to grow Shallots:

Shallots are grown from bulbs which are planted so that the top of the bulb is barely covered with soil.  These bulbs multiply to create a clump of bulbs.  Shallots are harvested when their foliage turns yellow and begins to die.  Like Onions they like alkaline soil and I don’t fertilise my shallots once they are in the ground.   The bulbs can be planted either direct, or in pots and then grown on and planted out later.  If you have the space direct is the best option – less disruption for the plant – but if you are waiting for something else to finish starting them in pots works really well.  The above picture shows shallots which were started in pots and are now ready for planting.  I plan to plant about 12 bulbs which should produce enough shallots to eat for few weeks/months and to make a decent supply of crispy fried shallot from.

My mum made crispy fried shallots with last years crop.  Here they are pictured below, I love eating them just as they are (as do the kids) or use them on top of soups, stir fries, curries etc.  To make them you simply slowly fry sliced shallots in a neutral flavoured oil until they are golden brown and then drain on kitchen paper and leave to cool before storing them in an air tight jar.

How to grow Spring Onions:

Spring Onions are grown from seed and need as close as you have to full sun.  Spring Onions can happily be planted in Melbourne at any time of the year.  I try and sow a line of spring onions whenever I a sowing or planting out other vegetables.  To ensure a constant supply you need to sow seed every month or so.  Spring Onions are slow to develop in their intial stages and can be frustrating in this respect.  They do seem to speed up though when they get a bit bigger.  It usually takes a good couple of months from sowing to eating spring onions, however as this is quicker than most other food crops they can be very usefully sown between rows of other veg as they will be gone before the other crop reaches full size.   I sow the seeds for the other vegetable their normal recommended distance apart and squeeze a row of Spring Onions between them.   For instance a row of spring onions in between your rows of carrots or broccoli can work really well.  Leave the mulch off spring onions until they are a reasonable size as the mulch will often smother their delicate stems.  I also grow Spring Onions in pots as below.


This entry was posted in Alliums - Onions, Leeks, Garlic, Autumn Planting, Summer Harvesting, Winter Planting and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Growing Shallots, Onions and Spring Onions

  1. Azuresa says:

    Hi, interesting website. I would like to ask you something.
    I planted spring onions seeds in the middle of November 2011. It’s February 23rd, and they’re like 10 cm high. I live in Spain and the weather is cold at night time (around 0ºc degrees) and warmer during the day (around 20 degrees) So it’s quite a big diference. I protect them with a plastic at night time. But they grow sooo slow… What can I do?

    • Liz says:

      Hi Azuresa, The best advice I can give you is to wait. I find all onions, including Spring Onions really slow at first. Onions tend to respond to day length so once they realise that the days are getting longer and the night temperatures get a little less cold then they should grow much more quickly. I think you’ll find they should put on more growth in the next month or so. Your climate sounds quite similar to mine and I find they grow more quickly in September here so that would be March for you. I tend to have lots of staggered sowings of Spring Onions so I always have some coming on at any given time – that way I don’t get as impatient for them to develop. Hope I’ve been of some assistance and thanks for visiting my site.

  2. Azuresa says:

    Thank you very much for your reply. I’ll try to be patient, and wait for them to grow.

  3. Emy says:

    Hi! I bought spring onions from shop one week ago. I put them in a glass of water to grow roots. I’m planning to move them into pots (I have some 6inch/15cm pots). How many bulb could I plant in one pot? Do you have any advice how to grow them? Last time I grew garlic chives but after two months, all of them died. Thank you.

    • Liz says:

      Hi Emy, I think you could grow about 8 – 12 depending on how wide you want the stems to grow. If the water doesn’t work I would try either buying seedlings or getting some seed – they grow easily from seed but they do take quite a while to get themselves established. Garlic Chives can be difficult, the easiest way I find with them is to either buy established plants or get someone with them established in their garden to dig up some for you.

  4. Carol says:

    I have onions spring onions and leeks planted butits hard to tell which is which. The brown onions
    Plants look and smell like spring onions but I take it they will grow bigger bulbs as they mature???

    • Liz says:

      Spring onions are just another type of onion so you are right that they look and smell like brown onions. Yes the brown onions should grow bigger bulbs as they mature but it wont necessarily be a quick process so they will look very similar for a long time I’m afraid. Some onions sold as Spring or Bunching onions can grow quite big bulbs if left to develop but they don’t generally store particularly well.

  5. dave fergusson says:

    I planted out my onions that I grew from seed in the Autumn. The brown have done really well , the red very poorly, with some even rotted away along with some of my shallots. We have had a very wet winter & wonder if that was the cause? Garlic & leeks were not affected!

    • Liz says:

      I have had a similar experience with my red onions (unfortunately I only planted red onions) all dying this year too. You may well be right about the wet winter. I haven’t formed any real opinions on it but I reckon you might be right.

  6. Ibrahim Gad says:

    Good day

    I want to grow around 20 acres of shallot.
    I do not have either the bulbs or the seeds.
    I am looking for either. But please let me know
    what is the best temperature to start shallot.
    it is not grown on large sclae here, just little fields
    and we do not have experience with this. We normally
    grow the red and golden onions.

    here in egypt now it is around 20 by day, and
    7 to 8 at night. then it goes colder end of dec
    and jan, start to get moderate in february

    Your help will be highly appreciated

    Best Regards

    • Liz says:

      Hi Ibrahim, Thanks for visiting my site. I have never grown shallot from seeds so I’m not sure what sort of temperature they germinate at. If they behave like onions then now would be a good time but I would recommend seeking advice closer to home as different varieties may behave different in different climates. 20 acres is a huge amount of shallots and I would hate to advise you the wrong thing. I’m wondering if there are any growers in Spain who may be able to offer better advice?

  7. Sue says:

    Hi…i am in Sydney so when i bought small shallots to plant they resembled tiny chive plants but quickly grew into big healthy shallots that my Victorian husband calls spring onions..but they are now enormous, about two inches around the base and gone to seed…i know i can harvest the seed but is there a quick way to get the plants i have left in the soil to regenerate or have i left them too long…still taste spectacular…thanks Sue

  8. marcus co says:

    Which needs the most sunlight to grow. Kangkong, Basil or Spring Onions and leeks. which needs the most and which needs the least

    • Liz says:

      I’m afraid I don’t know. I’m not particularly familiar with Kangkong. Leeks need a fair amount of sun. I’ve grown both basil and spring onions in part sun and they’ve been fine – not as good as full sun but fine.

  9. Julie Kent says:

    Hi Liz,
    We’re in WA and planted spring onions, but left them in the ground a bit too long as we had a surplus. My question to you is, since being in the ground so long, they grew bulbs (a good size for pickling) and I was trying to find out whether these would be any good for doing just that…picklilng. If so, do you have a ny good pickling recipies that you would share?
    Thanks, julie

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