It’s no-turning-back-awesome: a better way to plant onions!


Here’s a beautiful, freshly-planted onion bed, in my parents’ garden. Well done, Mom and Dad! 🙂

I love to grow my own onions, but there’s one thing I loathe about growing them. If you grow onions in your garden, you can well guess what it is, can’t you? Are you guessing? Are you picturing it . . . there’s your onion bed in your mind and you can see that neat little row of onions, marching proudly down the middle of your raised bed . . and, glory be, nary a weed do you see because it’s just so doggone easy to keep the weeds out of the onion bed . . . it’s child’s play! It’s a piece of proverbial cake!

Except that it’s not. Weeding the onion bed, to me, is a frustrating and difficult task, fraught wish risk, peril, tears, and frustration. I just hate that chore, which means quite often it doesn’t get done, and the onions don’t do as well as they might have, because of the presence of too many weeds in their bed.

It’s just so tricky to pull up the weeds in between the onions without pulling up the onions, themselves. It’s practically impossible to do this successfully when they are small, and not much fun when they get bigger, either. Such a conundrum.

However. I experimented last summer in my onion-planting and discovered a new way to plant onions which really revolutionized onion growing for me! I’ll even venture to assert that it is a better way.

I’ll never go back, Gentle Reader, to the old, traditional way of planting onions. I’m serious.

I read about this different way to plant onions in one of Eliot Coleman’s books. (I think it was in this one, although I would recommend every one of his books to you, if you are a serious gardener . . . or even a casual gardener. . . basically, any sort of gardener at all would learn lots from Coleman’s books.)

Click here for gardening brilliance.

I figured I really didn’t have a lot to lose, since my onions beds, as they were, were never all that successful. It made a lot of sense to me, so I tried it. And I can say honestly that I’ll never go back to the traditional way of planting onions. You can use this method with seeds or plants or bulblets. Versatile. Easy. Awesome.

Here’s what you do. If you were going to plant single onion plants in rows, you would set them about 3 inches apart. Four plants in a clump every 12 inches in a row is the same average spacing as one plant every 3 inches. Each onion is allowed just as much total garden space,and the yield–surprisingly!–is the same. The onions, growing together, push each other aside gently and at harvest time are lying in a series of small circles rather than single rows.


This allows you to grow transplants in groups rather than as singles, making planting and weeding much easier and quicker. If you start from seeds, you can do the same thing, sowing five seeds together (planning for four of the seeds to germinate). When the onion seedlings are large enough to go into your garden, you just set out the clumps of seedlings, rather than separate them.

Here's a brave little clump of onion plants. "Us against the world," they seem to be saying.

Here’s a brave little clump of onion plants. “Us against the world,” they seem to be saying.

Furthermore. When it comes time to harvest, you can gently pull up clumps of onions at one go, rather than individual onions. Brilliant, eh?

Yep. Never goin’ back. 🙂



12 thoughts on “It’s no-turning-back-awesome: a better way to plant onions!

  1. Cathy

    Wow. Shaking my head as I look out over 3 rows of heavily weeded (as in: weeds need to be pulled) rows of onions. Next go-round, I’ll definitely try this one out! Thank you!

    PS- do you think that would work with garlic?

  2. Robin Follette

    Well now aren’t I just the slowest learner. I let an onion go to seed for free range onions. The seeds landed wherever and grew just fine – mostly in clumps of two to four onions. And yet, I’m bent over with my bum in the air, poking onions onto the soil, single file, nicely (well…mostly) spaced, one at a time. Because…I am the slowest learner. Apparently I had to read it for what was literally right beneath my nose to sink in. Thank you!

  3. Chef William Chaney

    Well this does sound like a great plan, although we don’t plant more as many as we should, we might increase the planting using this method, next planting season and see how it comes out, Wonder if it would be the same with garlic? Probably not, but I am willing to give it a try. Fresh garlic is something my kitchen just never seems to have enough of. We like the purple garlic that we can get down here in Mexico. It seems to be a little stronger.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      You know, Chef, I’ve never heard of growing garlic this way, but you could try a small patch and see! I think I will this summer. I can report back in the spring!

  4. cookinmom

    Good one! A must try…will do it too, but only if you report back and let us know how successful yours turned out! 🙂 Deal?? It’s time to pull all of my vidalias as they are laying down. I’ve again been blessed using woodchips and haven’t had to pull one weed this whole spring. Sooo nice!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Actually the top photo is from last year’s garden. I LOVED the way my onion bed was last year: so easy to care for (relatively) and just as productive. My onion crop last year was very successful!!

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