Grit Blogs > A Long Time Coming

Growing Onions: Should Onions Bloom?

A photo of Shannon SaiaI never make the same mistake twice. I make new ones.

Like so many things I’ve tried in the garden, my relationship with onions began on a whim. I was at the garden store last spring picking up some nasturtiums to plant with my tomatoes and peppers, and I happened to see one lone pot of Spanish onions just sitting there, and I thought, Onions! Why not?! So I took them home and planted them in the very beginning of May.

After that, I pretty much left them alone. I would check them out when I was outside making my rounds, and they always seemed to be doing fine. They were growing. They began to form quite large bulbs, and I felt pretty good about the whole project.

My mistake last year was in leaving them in the ground for too long. They had started to fall over, but the green tops hadn't died off, and in my limited understanding I thought that the green had to turn brown and fall over before I could pull them from the ground, and I sure wasn’t expecting them to be ready to harvest in July.

But apparently they were, and I didn’t even get the pleasure of being the first one to pull them out of the ground.

I was in the kitchen when I saw my husband from the window, walking up from the garden with his arms full of onions. I nearly had a fit.

"What are you doing!” I shrieked at him. “They're not ready! The tops aren’t brown! Their skins aren’t papery!"

"Some of them are rotting,” he said. “These were all sitting above ground. I think they're done."

"Then you're not supposed to bring them in! I think you're supposed to pull them up and leave them out there to dry up or something..."

I wasn't really upset with him, of course. I was upset at myself for being so unprepared to deal with them. I went back out the next day and there were two more decent ones, which I pulled up and left to lay there in the hot dirt for the day. They actually dried up on the outside and did get papery, and so I set them in the vestibule in front of an open window to get a few more days of hot air.

The good news was that we did manage to produce onions, and we ate what we grew. The bad news is that we only got half the crop that we should have. Still, I was optimistic. I felt well-prepared to do better this year.


What’s went wrong this year, you wonder? This.


In the beginning of May, my onions bolted. As soon as I saw this, I knew it was bad. So I did a little research – too little, too late. It seems that temperature fluctuations will “fool” an onion plant into thinking it has gone through two growing seasons instead of one, and it will flower – or “bolt” – prematurely. I put my green onions in in March this year, and since then we’ve had weeks of 40 and 50 degree weather, alternating with weeks of the high 90s. Technically, I don't think that this is my fault. It would seem that this year I am the victim of the vicissitudes of nature. But hey, isn’t that what gardening is all about?

Is there anything I can do about it? My first thought was to cut the flowers off – but apparently once this process has started, cutting the flower off won’t make a difference. The onions will never fully develop, and they will be completely unsuitable for storage.

So I did a few things.

First off, when the buds finally opened, I learned what an onion flower looks like, first hand. I cut the flowers and brought them inside and enjoyed them. So there.

Onion Blooming 

Onion Bloom Bouquet

Second, I harvested all the small onions over the next few weeks or so and we’ll be eating them. I happen to know from the other night’s grilled dinner that these little suckers make one heck of a shish kabob.

And for my next onion crop? I’m still undecided. It's only June. I know from last year that I still have plenty of time to put in onions, so maybe I'll do that. I have a lot of onion seeds, so I might do some research and try my luck planting them this fall when I plant my garlic. Or I might do some more transplants next spring and hope the weather isn’t so crazy – or I might wait to put them in in May like I did the first year. Or I might do all of these things.

In the meantime, did you know that onions are on the EWG Clean Fifteen produce list? It’s a good thing, because I bought a big bag of yellow onions last week, and it looks like we’re going to need them.

michel richad
6/15/2012 1:53:04 AM

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6/14/2012 6:57:01 PM

I grow onions for the greens, which are excellent in eggs. By the time my greens run out and/or shrivel up, the flowers start opening up and I use them in my eggs as well.

stephen fischer
5/20/2012 7:39:55 PM

A little botanical clarification, if I may. Allium IS the genus of all onions. yet, not all Alliums are onions. Leeks, chives, garlic, and others, although onion-like, are Allium species, but not onions.

s.m.r. saia
6/8/2010 5:41:09 AM

Paul - Thanks!! I have my bowl of onions sitting in my warmish vestibule right now getting lovely and papery, and I haven't been too good about using them up, so that's great to hear. I didn't even think to try collecting any seeds. I was too mesmerized by the beautiful flowers, I guess. I have a garlic that's about ready to bloom (I heard they're supposed to) and I can't wait to see that. I like the idea of putting the onion and garlic about. I'm already thinking of how I'd like to do things for fall (which is amazingly already sneaking up on us) and for next spring/summer, so I will keep that in mind. Thanks for reading.

paul gardener
6/8/2010 1:06:11 AM

Don't you just love those Alium blossoms though? They are fun. I have some coming up on my onions too. Here's the thing. I've gotten these blossoms every year that I've grown onions. Not on all the plants, but many of them. I generally always remove the blooms, but I have left some to bloom and set seed before. One of two blooms will yield lot of seed surprisingly.As for storage potential. I'm still eating the last few of my onions from last year and they bloomed too. They can still be stored. I also thought I'd give you another possible idea for your future onions plantings. I always end up getting way too many sets, what I do with them is to intersperse them throughout the garden around other plantings. Onion and garlic plants make really good "scent based" deterrants for insects and animals. In an organic garden it's always nice to have the plants doing the work for you. Enjoy those shish kabobs! Paul~

s.m.r. saia
6/7/2010 4:16:24 PM

Cindy, I've already lost my greens too. The spinach lasted longer than the kale; one variety of kale bolted weeks ago. They made a nice addition to an indoor flower arrangement too. Good luck with your onions!

cindy murphy
6/5/2010 8:56:15 PM

You're right on time with this post, Shannon. I planted onions for the first time this year, kind of like you did last year, on a whim. I learned a lot about what to expect from your post. I've always assumed my soil was way too sandy for onions. I got them in two weeks ago, and it looks as if they're all up, so one trial is over. I started with sets, not seeds or starts, and just this week read that sets are prone to bolting rather quickly, (second trial coming up). Funny, but I never thought of onions as bolting. I know onions are alliums (in fact all allium species are in the onion genus), and a huge number of allium are grown specifically for flowers. I have chives in a number of my flower gardens, using them as a double-duty plant. They flower late spring (they're just about done), then I cut them way back, and use the new growth in the kitchen until frost. Bummer, but a spike in temperatures here in the latter part of May, from the sixties, to three days at almost ninety, caused my mustard greens to bolt. I always count on greens lasting until mid-June before they bolt. I'm still in the process of salvaging what I can, blanching, then freezing it. I just bought my seeds a couple of days ago to put in for a fall crop. Interesting thing about gardening; success or failure, we're always ready to try again.

s.m.r. saia
6/5/2010 10:22:57 AM

Thanks MountainWoman!!!!

mountain woman
6/5/2010 9:36:42 AM

Shannon, I always enjoy your posts so much. I can relate to what you write in so many ways. I loved the story of your onion adventures and who knew they would look so beautiful in a vase. I've never planted onions but garlic is another story and I've had success with that and you might enjoy trying it. Just love your spirit of trying and trying again and always finding the positive in the outcome. That's wonderful. Have a great weekend and thanks for such a great post.

s.m.r. saia
6/5/2010 5:02:06 AM

Thanks N. Dave. We had a storm here the other night that did the same thing to my potato plants. I went out afterwards and kind of tried to prop them up, patting the dirt around thier stems to firm it up a little. A few days of sun later and they look like nothing ever happened. Perhaps yours will be okay too! Some of mine are Yukon Gold also. It's my understanding that potato plants are actually pretty hardy. Do you know that they can lose up to 30% of thier foliage to pests and still produce a decent crop? That was really comforting information to me last year when I was battling potato beetles.

nebraska dave
6/4/2010 6:08:47 PM

Shannon, I too use onions in almost every thing. I’ve always enjoyed the flavor that they give to different foods. This year I planted a small patch of onions. Apparently the weather co operated as they are doing great. I don’t think that onions have any real predators or bug infestations that I can think of. That’s always a good thing. I have mine mulched in with straw and water them every couple days unless rain happens. I had to laugh at your attitude about can’t beat them or change them so lets enjoy them with a flower arrangement. It looks like they do have pretty flowers. You are correct about weather being a factor that’s different every year. What works on year will not necessarily work the next year. A gardener always tries to go as much as possible with nature to get to the harvest. Some crops grow better than others in any given year. I wouldn’t have it any other way. This year was the first year in 40 years that I planted potatoes. They came up looked beautiful until the straight line winds hit them when their foliage was about two foot. It knocked them down flat. Hopefully they were well enough along that they will still produce a crop of Yukon Gold spuds. If not well then there are other things to munch on. Sometimes gardening will test your metal. Thanks for sharing you onion experiences.