Onions by Diana Sidebottom
I know you’re thinking, who gardens in January? Well, onion lovers do, and it’s time to get onion slips in the ground. Onions are rugged plants that can withstand some temperatures below freezing, which is good because they need to be planted 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost date. Varieties well suited for East Texas can be purchased in small bundles of 50 -100 at this time of the year.
Plant your slips as soon as possible, but if you are unable to plant immediately, spread them out in a cool dry area. The onion is a member of the lily family and can survive up to three weeks without being planted.
Onions require very specific conditions to produce really good results. They need full sun and prefer a rich loose soil that is full of organic matter, but will grow reasonably well in clay soil. They prefer a pH between 6.2 and 6.8 so test your soil and amend as necessary. For the best growth and yield, fertilize right from the start. Dig a 10 foot long 4” deep trench and sprinkle with ½ cup of 10-20-10 fertilizer. Cover with 2 to 3 inches of soil and plant the transplants no more than 1” deep and at least 4” apart. Water thoroughly after planting, and regularly thereafter. Onions have shallow roots, so don’t let the soil become dry and cracked.
Fertilize every 2 to 3 weeks after planting. Use ammonium sulfate (21-0-0) for alkaline soils or calcium nitrate (15.5-0-0) for acidic soils. Water after each application. Remember that soil test you did? It will come in handy now!
Weeds are a problem with onions, so apply a light layer of compost mulch and weed by hand, being careful to not damage the roots or bulbs.
When the soil starts to be pushed away as the onion grows, the bulbing process has begun and you should stop fertilizing at this point. When the tops start falling over, generally in May, stop watering and let the soil dry out before harvesting. Pull or gently dig up the onion, brush off excess soil, and lay them in a shady spot for a week to dry. Clip off the roots and cut the stalk about 1 to 2 inches from the bulb, and store in a cool dry place with onions not touching. You can also store in onion net or nylon hose with knots tied between each onion.
Due to temperature fluctuations in this area, sometimes onions will send up a flower stalk know as bolting. Onions are biennial, and if the plant is exposed to alternating cold and warm temperatures the plant becomes “confused” thinking two seasons have passed, and will prematurely bolt. Once the plant has bolted, it doesn’t matter if you remove the flower stalk. The bulb is completely edible; however, the storage life of the onion will be shortened, so plan to use those bulbs first.
So get those slips in the ground and prepare to be amazed in about 4 months when you are holding an onion that will rival any you have ever purchased. As always, happy harvesting!