Gardening Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day Vegetables

Don’t Wash Onion, Garlic and Potatoes at Harvest

Cure onions under dry conditions before you store them. Source:

Cleanliness is next to godliness, we’re often told. But that doesn’t mean you should wash bulbs and tubers at harvest time, not if you want to store them at least.

Dry Bulbs Out, Don’t Moisten Them

You probably know that you should leave onions and garlic out in the sun for a week or two after you dig them (although do move them to a shed or garage to dry if the weather is rainy). This helps “cure” them (allows them to build up a thicker outer skin so they store better). Then brush off any excess soil with a soft brush and move them to their winter quarters (a cool, dry storage area).

These onions aren’t spotless. They don’t need to be clean to store well. Source:

Do not clean them by washing them in water in an effort to get them squeaky clean. The lingering presence of moisture can lead to rot later on, so you want your bulbs to be as dry as possible. It’s better to have a bit of dirt on a healthy bulb (after all, you’ll be peeling them before you serve, them, right?) than a spotless rotting one!

Oops, it’s too late and you’ve already rinsed them off? Well, put them back out in the sun to dry them thoroughly and keep your fingers crossed. Rot doesn’t always set into washed bulbs, but you have just made it that much more likely.


Don’t worry about a bit of dirt on potatoes when you put them into storage. You can rinse them later, as you prepare them for supper. Source:

The same applies to potatoes, with the exception that I suggest always curing them indoors (on the floor of a garage or tool shed) in the dark rather than outdoors in the sun, as potato tubers exposed to sun begin to turn green and green potato parts are poisonous. But if you’re worried about dirt, you can carefully brush off any clinging soil rather than washing them. And if they aren’t perfectly clean, don’t worry about it.

Potato tubers too like to be thoroughly dry on the outside before storage, but keep best under more humid conditions that onions and garlic, in a root cellar, for example, where it’s both cool and humid.

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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