All you need to know about
ONIONS AND GARLIC
PHOTO BY:  ROY COOK, VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER
The 1015Y onions in Master Gardener Roy Cook's garden demonstrate characteristics of yellow softball-size, globe-shaped bulbs.  This onion is early-maturing, disease resistant and stores better than other short-day varieties.  It is a highly recommended choice for the Victoria area.
Timely planting can produce a successful garden

September 18, 2008

By Roy Cook, Victoria County Master Gardener

Edited by Charla Borchers Leon, Victoria County Master Gardener
Have you ever wondered the relationship, if any, of plants that have onion or garlic taste and odor? Are they related in the plant world or just grown as food plants used in the kitchen?

GENUS AND SPECIES


According to Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, Allium is the onion and garlic genus, with about 1,250 species, making it one of the largest plant genera in the world.

They are perennial bulbous plants that produce at least four different types of chemical compounds (mostly cysteine sulfoxides) that give them a characteristic onion or garlic taste and odor.

Onions and garlic have been around for many, many years and used in many food recipes.

Members of the genus include valued vegetables such as onions, shallots, leeks and herbs such as garlic and chives.

A strong “onion” odor is characteristic of the whole genus, but not all members are equally flavorful. Some Allium species are even used as border plants in the flower garden for their flowers and aesthetic qualities.

And although it has the garlic name and smell, the landscape ornamental “society garlic” is not in the same family and is not recommended to be eaten.

OTHER CHARACTERISTICS


Bulbing onions have cylindrical, hollow leaves and an enlarged bulb that develops at ground level. The roots grow from the bottom of the bulb. The familiar dry onion is a weather-wise plant.

The onion grows tops in cool weather and forms bulbs in warm weather. Temperature and day length control the timing of the bulbing.

Onions are classed as long-day and short-day varieties, with the short-day recommended for the Victoria area.

Garlic plants are closely related to and similar to onions, and they have a similar, but stronger odor.

The leaves of garlic plants are neither inflated like onion leaves nor tubular like bunching onions. They are flat, with a crease down the middle and are held erect in two opposite ranks.

Most varieties stand about 1 to 2 feet tall at maturity. Garlic plants produce an underground bulb that is divisible into segments called cloves.

HOW AND WHEN TO PLANT


You can start your onions from seeds, sets or transplants, and garlic from cloves or transplants as they have no true seeds.

Onion seeds should be planted in late September to mid-October. Just follow the directions on the seed packet.

Onion sets (small bulbs) and garlic sets (cloves) are easy to grow and should also be planted in October or early November, but the varieties available are limited.

Transplants of onions may be available at the local garden centers in late October or November and are an excellent choice but should be planted in late December through January to prevent bolting or premature flowering. If you use sets or transplants, plant them ¾ inch deep and 3 inches apart. (See figure 1)

Garlic does not bolt like onions, and therefore, can be planted over a wide range of dates in the fall.

SOIL PREPARATION


For best results, select a site with full sunlight and well-drained soil, and plant on a raised bed. Before planting, work the soil 8 to 10 inches deep. Break up any clods and rake the soil smooth. Work the soil only when it is dry enough not to stick to garden tools.

FERTILIZING


Onions particularly are heavy feeders, but both onions and garlic grow best in rich, fertile soil. I don’t recommend adding fertilizer with a high phosphorus content as according to hundreds of Master Gardener soil tests over the past 6 years, most Victoria gardens are already over-fertilized and are already high in phosphorus.

Have a soil test done if you haven’t done one lately. I do add a lot of compost and composted cow manure prior to planting, and have had good success with my onions.

CARE


Do not let weeds or grass get large where you plant these as they steal nutrients. When hoeing weeds and grass, do not chop too deep or too close to the plants, as you may cut the onion or garlic roots. Mulch around the plants and hand pull weeds when needed. Keep well watered but not soaked.

HARVESTING


Onions may be picked as green onions from the time they are pencil size until they begin to form bulbs.

For dry bulb onions, let plants grow larger. Onions bulbs are mature and ready for harvest when the main stem begins to get weak and fall over.

Pull the plants from the soil and let them lay in the garden sun for 2 to 3 days to dry. Then remove the roots and tops and continue drying in baskets or boxes.

Store onions in a crisper, or hang in a dry, airy place in a wire or net bag.

Garlic may be harvested when the tops start to dry. Bulbs should be dug up rather than pulled to avoid stem injury.

After the bulbs have dried, the tops and roots can be removed with shears to within an inch of the bulb. It is essential that the garlic be well cured before going into storage.

For more help, contact the local Texas AgriLife Extension Service office or The Victoria County Master Gardener Association located at 442 Foster Field Drive, Victoria, TX. 77904 or call 361-575-4581.

The Gardeners’ Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas Cooperative Extension-Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or
vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.
Short day onion varieties

*1015Y Texas Supersweet - Softball size, yellow onions.  Early maturing, disease resistant and improved storage.

*Yellow Granex (Vidalia) - Very sweet for an onion.  Earliest maturing variety available.  Thick, flat bulb.  Best eaten raw.  Does not store well.

*White Granex - White Vidalia type.  Same characteristics as the yellow variety, but with a pearly-white flesh.  Sometimes known as Miss Society.

*White Bermuda - Great for bunching or for eating raw.  Extremely mild.  Thick, flat bulbs.  Does not store well.  Also known as Crystal Wax.