Just when you thought that it was too late in the season to plant vegetables in the garden, you will be happy to learn that you can still plant members of the allium family. For those who don’t speak botanical Latin, alliums are members of the onion family. That includes many related plants that are edible or ornamental, such as onions, leeks, chives and garlic. In fact, the Latin word allium means garlic.

Garlic bulbs and onion sets are two examples of alliums that are particularly suited for late season gardening in our area. They are easy to grow, have few pest and disease problems, and they are drought tolerant. Onions and garlic bulbs are available at local nurseries, and planting them is an enjoyable project for kids. The kids at Hurley Garden are delighted to plant and observe the onion and garlic crops in our garden, and you will be, too.

Before you begin, you may want to know a bit about planting onions and garlic because you are not planting seeds. You will be planting parts of plants. Onion sets are miniature onion bulbs that have been started commercially and then dried to prevent further development. You can buy many different varieties in small packages at your local nursery.

“Seed” garlic bulbs are larger garlic bulbs that have been harvested several weeks after “food” garlic bulbs. The only other difference between “seed” and “food” garlic is that the wrapper, the dry sheaf surrounding the head of garlic, is not as white or attractive as “food”-grade garlic, and the individual cloves may not form a tight head. Seed garlic is sold in heads that must be broken apart into individual cloves for planting. These cloves will develop into complete heads at harvest.

Here is what you will need:

  • A cultivated spot in your garden that receives six hours of sunlight daily
  • Onion sets and “seed” garlic bulbs.
  • Composting material like leaves of other organic products to work into the soil
  • A spade and hand trowel for digging
  • A ruler for spacing
  • Scissors for clipping dried onion tops

The first step to planting is to prepare your garden bed by working the soil by mixing in composted material.

Next, you will use a ruler and trowel to plant individual onion bulbs 2 inches apart and 1 to 2 inches deep. Plant the pointy side up and the root side down. Use the scissors to cut any dried tops that remain in the onion bulbs. Water the newly planted bulbs.

To plant the garlic, you must break apart the head into individual cloves. Leave the papery sheath and plant them pointy side up 2 to 3 inches deep and 6 inches apart. Water thoroughly.

Both onions and garlic will continue to grow through the late spring season. If the plants begin to flower, remove the flower stalk. This will direct the plants’ energy to growing larger onion and garlic bulbs.

You will know when your plants are ready to harvest when their green tops fall over and begin to dry. You can also carefully scratch away the surface soil to check the size of the onions or garlic. Then, you can dig them up, clean them off and dry them for several weeks before storing or using them.

When you are chopping your own onions and garlic, you may shed tears, but they will be tears of pride because you and your kids grew them at home.