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Gardeners Advice

Planting onion sets, shallots and garlic

Planting onion sets, shallots and garlic

Posted By: rocket veg Category: Growing Veg, Seasonal Advice

Make the most of any fine, sunny autumn days while the soil is in a good, workable state to plant onions, shallots and garlic – both easy and fun to do, so you might involve any Little Helpers who happen to be around.

Onion sets and shallots

Onions can either be grown from seed or ‘sets’, the latter being small, immature onions which, once planted, will develop and swell over the coming months ready to be lifted in early summer. The beauty of planting sets is that it is a fairly straightforward task with instant results in the form of neat rows of tiny plants in what was a bare patch of ground. Here’s what to do. Firstly, make sure that the soil is weed-free in and in good state; you could give the tiny onions a head start by digging in some well-rotted (not fresh) manure or a barrow load of your own compost. Once done, rake the patch level and produce a crumb-like surface at the same time (basic soil preparation prior to planting and sowing most vegetables). Next, sort through the onions and select those which are fat and round, rather than the thin and pointed ones which are more likely to bolt in spring.

Use your string line as a guide for planting in neat rows 30cm (12in) apart and a dibber to create a shallow depression where each onion will sit – then plant 10cm (4in) apart. The tip of the onion should be showing just above the surface of the soil. It’s tempting to dispense with the dibber and simply push each onion straight into soft soil, but in doing so you risk damaging the embryonic root system on the base of the onion. Follow the same procedure for planting shallots. Once planted, cover the area with fleece or fine netting to deter birds from spotting the tips of the onions and pulling them up.

Varieties of onion and shallots for autumn planting

Not all varieties of onion sets will do well over the winter, but some have been specially developed to cope with the worst that winter can throw at us. My favourites are ‘Senshu’ (yellow), ‘Shakespeare’ (white) and ‘Electric’ (red) but other types are available. If you wish to plant shallots, try ‘Jemor’, ‘Yellow Moon’ or ‘Eschalote Grise’


Garlic is a hungry crop and will reward you handsomely if you provide rich, well-dug soil – so good preparation is needed. Once done, take each bulb of garlic, carefully split into the individual cloves and select the largest for planting. Set out rows as for onion sets, then create a hole in which to pop a clove with its pointed end upwards. Space the garlic (4in) apart and when each hole is filled the tip of each clove should be 2.5cm (1in) below the surface.

There’s an old adage which advises to ‘plant garlic on the shortest day and lift on the longest.’ The trouble is that the weather round these parts on 22 December is usually rather nasty and garlic hates sitting in cold, wet soil. Better to plant now and get the plants off to a good start before winter sets in.

Varieties of garlic to plant now

Don’t be tempted to plant garlic from your local greengrocer or supermarket as they won’t have been heat treated against disease and may not do well in our climate. Seek out varieties of ‘Wight’ - and for spectacularly large bulbs, plant the aptly named ‘Elephant Garlic’.

Aftercare of onions, shallots and garlic

Once planted, the tiny ‘sets’ will quickly develop a shoot and begin to swell over the winter, ready for a growth spurt next spring. Be sure to keep the surrounding soil clear of weeds which will sap vital nutrients from the developing onion, shallots or garlic plants and stunt their growth.

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Get in touch! 0117 966 7535 Mon-Sat: 9.30-5.30 Sun: 10.30-4.30

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