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Growing Green Onions (Without a Garden)

Sure, you say. I’d like to have a garden, but I don’t have a yard, I only have a window ledge, and my thumb is anything but green. How can I grow vegetables?

Let me introduce you to the most determined vegetable of them all, the onion. Onions are members of the allium family which means they have a bulb, a handy little storage chamber at the base of the stem and it’s the secret to the onion’s invincibility. These plants have a life wish!

Think of all those onions that sprouted in the fridge or on the counter–they drew on their reserves to grow new leaves, and that pointy  green sprout, as we know from eating scallions, is just as delicious as the bulb, and a lot easier to grow.

Onions are a wonderful mix of green vegetable and condiment. A sprinkling of chopped green onion boosts flavor, presentation and nutrition of everything from mashed potatoes to enchiladas and pad Thai. Fresh green onions provide vitamins A and C, iron, calcium and fiber.

So what do you need to get started growing these gems?

  • A pot at least 6 inches deep and as wide as your space allows
  • Good quality potting soil
  • A bunch of young green onions or a bag of pearl onions from your local food store

Selecting Your Onions: Two Options for Onion Greens

Green Onions
Young green onions are sometimes called scallions, spring or salad onions, and can be found with the lettuces in the produce section. They are whole young plants grown from seed and harvested just as their bulbs and leaves become juicy. Unlike the larger onions over there by the potatoes these have not been allowed to mature and dry out; they’re teenage onions. Their fat little white roots should still be attached. The longer and more intact these roots are the faster the onions will grow again. Before you plant them, cut off and use their long green tops—trimming their tops is important to encourage new growth. Just be sure not to cut down into the white bulb itself.

Pearl Onions
Pearl onions, also called boiler onions, are a bit of a gourmet item. These miniature dried onions are just an inch or two in diameter and are often used for creamed onions or for roasting with meat or new potatoes. They may be white, yellow or even red. They usually come packed twenty or so in a nifty little mesh bag, but you might also find them in bulk at a farmers’ market. These will take a little longer than green onions to get started as they have to grow new roots. But because their bulb is larger they have the potential to make a healthy show of greenery to harvest and enjoy. Their tops are pointed and their roots are a brushy dried stubble.

Planting

To plant your onions, fill the pot half full with moist soil. Then arrange the onion plants or bulbs two inches apart with the root side down. Gently but firmly pack more soil around them until the trimmed top of the green onion is just peeking out or the bulbs are completely covered. Water well and add more soil if it settles and exposes the bulbs. Place in a sunny window (onions need about six to seven hours of light per day) or under a grow light, and be patient.

Keep the pots moist and in a few weeks you will have a crop of green onion tops to harvest. Once harvested they will grow more green tops and you can harvest them again and again. In fact now that you know the trick you can start onion pots as gifts for all your friends!

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10 Responses to “Growing Green Onions (Without a Garden)”

  1. Matt April 13, 2012 12:21 pm #

    If you’re already growing a tomato plant in a pot (or garden, but this is a container gardening article) plant some onions with it. They are great companions and will benefit each other!

  2. Co+op, stronger together
    Stronger Together April 13, 2012 4:22 pm #

    @Matt, great idea! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Sarah Petersen Jarvis Mandel June 13, 2013 6:01 pm #

    Hey there friends – here's a piece I wrote a while back that's still to the point!

    • Lin Spanier June 14, 2013 11:31 am #

      Thanks Sarah! You've inspired me to work on my patio garden.

  4. Mary Ann Zielinski July 17, 2013 4:50 am #

    Now I won't have to throw away unused green onions. Food recycling 101. Smile!

  5. Lynn Ryan August 4, 2013 3:24 am #

    Wow that is something I never thought to do! I will do it today and I will try it with celery also. Not going to try the potatoes though. Thanks for the info!

  6. Frank Lurz December 11, 2013 10:55 am #

    There's even more to the story! If you love green onions (scallions) as I do and use them a lot in your cooking, you may be frustrated in finding them in the produce section so small and skinny that they're simply not worth having (or buying). That's okay, buy them anyway. When you get them home take off the rubber bands, put them in a beer stein or some other tall glass (don't crowd them) and fill the glass with just enough water to cover the white ends (about two or three inches).

    In a week's time the roots will take off, and before long the bulbs will begin to grow much larger. Keep the roots from rotting by changing the water every couple of days. I often take the process one step further by transplanting some of the onions to a container with potting soil. With no care other than a little watering, they'll grow on their own and become even larger. If you really want to beat the system, let some of them grow until they flower. Let the flowers go to seed, and then carefully trim them off and put them in a paper bag. Close the paper bag and give it a good shaking. Inside the bag you'll find scads of little black seeds that you can use to grow your next batch of onions from scratch. Price per bunch: $0.00!

  7. Joe Bill DiDomenico April 4, 2014 12:01 pm #

    This is great to know. Thanks, Frank. I've never had spring onions long enough for them to sprout flowers except for recently. Without thinking I potted two and now I see one of the flowers is really developing. Can't wait to do the paper bag trick to get seeds so I can grow my own.

  8. Haluk Levent Aka May 13, 2014 9:23 am #

    +1. I'd like to add that having fresh (alive) green onions is much better than buying because you don't have to worry about them going bad in the fridge. Each time you can trim whatever you'll use for cooking and the rest will keep growing. Fresh green onions each and every time

  9. Ginger Thacker May 14, 2014 4:34 pm #

    Planting green onions….this works!