Gardening Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day Vegetables

The Long and Short (Days) of Onions

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Day length determines whether onions form a bulb, so you need to plant the right kind, depending on where you garden. Source: clipartix.com & http://www.abc-color.com, montage: laidbackgardener.blog

When you plant onions (Allium cepa), you expect them to provide you with nice fat bulbs at the end of the season. And as long as you buy your seeds, onion sets or plants locally, that’s just what they’ll do. But did you know that onions only produce a bulb worthy of that name when they receive the right day length? In fact, if you grow the wrong kind of onion, there’ll be no bulb at all!

Here’s an explanation.

Three Categories

There are actually three categories of onions: long-day onions, short-day onions and day-neutral onions.

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The 35th parallel north (red) and south (green) help determine where you can grow different types of onion. Source: imgur.com

In the Northern Hemisphere, long-day onions are grown in the North, above the 35th parallel. That means throughout Canada and the northern states of the USA and through most of Europe and Northern Asia as well. They need 14 to 16 hours of sunlight per day, otherwise no bulb is formed. They are usually planted early in the spring for harvest in late summer. Seed companies from northern areas usually only offer long-day varieties.

In the Southern Hemisphere, long-day onions are rarely grown at all, except in New Zealand, Chile and Argentina, as otherwise southern land masses really don’t really extend far into areas with long summer days.

Long-day onions tend to have a strong taste and store well.

Short-day onions are grown between the 35th parallel and the equator, since they don’t produce bulbs under long days. They form bulbs when the days reach from 10 to 12 hours. Given the hot summers nearer the equator (and onions like things on the cool side), they are usually sown in the fall for a spring crop, quite doable in areas with a mild climate.

Short-day onions tend to have a milder taste than long-day onions, but don’t store as well.

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The formation of a bulb shows this onion was grown at the right day length. Source: gardenerd.com

Day-neutral onions produce bulbs under the effect of 12- to 14-hour days. They are planted in the spring in cooler climates for harvest in late summer and in the fall in the hotter ones for a spring harvest. They usually give their best performance on either side of the 35th parallel, so are popular in the south of Europe and in the southern United States (except Florida, where short-day onions reign) and are also widely grown in Australia and South Africa.

Day-neutral onions tend to be intermediate in taste and shelf life compared to long- and short-day onions.

If you grow an onion in the wrong area and no bulb forms, all is not lost: you can still use it as a green onion.

How Pertinent Is This Information?

As long as you grow onions from locally produced seeds, plants or sets, the information above will not likely change the way you garden. But if you order seeds by mail, it is important to consider where they came from. The best catalogs will mention the category their various onion varieties belong to.20180519A ENG clipartix.com & www.abc-color.com

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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