Start onions now for transplanting in the spring

Bob Dluzen
Special to The Detroit News

Our 2020 seed sowing season started this week. Sowing onions for transplants was first on the list.

We’ll be growing a lot of different kinds of Alliums (onion family) in our garden this year and for that, for the most part, we are growing our own transplants.

We like to grow our own transplants for a variety of reasons. First of all, garden centers, in general, carry only a small selection of varieties. If you’re looking for an unusual or specialized type, the only way to get plants is to grow your own from seed. Online mail order seed sellers are the only places where specialty seed can be found.

It’s much more economical to grow your own too. Sometimes, especially for the more unusual types, if you go to buy them, each individual transplant can cost as much or more than the full-sized onion you’re trying to grow. So seeds are really the way to go in that case.

Yes, time is involved in growing transplants but hey, we’re gardeners and like to grow things so we don’t consider that time lost.

Onion seeds are somewhat small but still easy enough to sow using your fingers.

I like to get onions started early so they have time to grow into decent sized transplants by planting time.

We spread the onion seeds in growing flats and covered them with about a quarter inch of soil and watered them well. Right now, the flats are on a warming pad which will encourage the seeds to germinate days earlier than if left unheated. Once they’re up, we’ll take them off of the heat pad and place them under our grow lights.

Nothing to see yet, but soon these flats will be covered with onion seedlings.

The seedlings will invariably grow tall and flop over before they go outside. Whenever that happens we just cut them back the excess with a pair of scissors being careful to leave plenty of green tops for photosynthesis. 

Onion transplants are resistant to moderately cold temperatures so they can handle spring frost.

My plan is to plant the first onions in our upper garden in April; those will be the bunching onions or scallions. That area has sandy soil and warms up faster than the other parts of the garden. Later on, the main crop will go in the lower garden where the soil stays moist.

2020 may be the Chinese Year of the Rat, but at our house this will be the year of the onion.