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Onion Growing

How to Grow and Harvest Onions

Cultivation and consumption of onions can be reliably traced back over 5500 years to the ancient Egyptians, who most likely grew them for their durability and long keep life although there it is widely believed that onions in one form or another possibly grew on most continents

There are various types and sub types of onion for the South African home gardener. 

The following options are available

  • Red                         Red outer skin and white interlaced with red flesh.  Grown as a raw eating onion as it                                  has a milder, sweeter  taste
  • Brown The onion most commonly seen in the shops.  Grown more for use in cooking as it has                               the strongest, most pungent flavour of the onions
  • White Grown as both a raw/fresh eating onion and for use in cooking as it is not as pungent as                                 brown onions but a little more pungent than red onions

All varieties come in different classifications and, in turn there are a myriad of types to suit everyone's' needs and tastes.



Soil Preparation and feeding for Lettuce

Onions are able to grow in any type of soil but fair best in fertile, spongy, well drained soil.  Onions have very shallow fibrous roots so they benefit most by having all of their food and water fairly close to the surface.  Prepare soil to about 20cm digging in more than average amounts of well rotted compost or manure.  Also work in some bone meal as the phosphorus aids in root and bulb development

Onions do not require any support as they are erect bulb bearing plants


Planting times for cucumbers in South Africa


Red:                             Feb to Mar - Transplant in Apr

Brown:                                     Feb to Mar - Transplant in Apr

White:                         Feb to Mar - Transplant in Apr


Please note:  Planting times supplied are in a general South African sense and are based on typical South African Highveld conditions. Your particular area of South Africa might vary, for instance if you live in Tzaneen you have summer all year long and can grow summer crops January to December!


Sun exposure:

Full sun


Seed Planting and Germination

Seeds can be sown directly into the ground or in shallow seed trays indoors.  Onions are very tolerant of transplanting.

If planting directly into the ground plants can be transplanted to optimize space and use of healthy spare plants.

Onion seeds germinate at between 15 and 30 degrees Celsius.  At lower temperatures germination will be poor and delayed.

Germination takes approximately 4 to 14 days.


Onion Plant Spacing

Red:                            10 - 15cm

Brown:                        10 - 15cm

White:                         10 - 15cm


Days to harvest

Red:                            100 - 120 days

Brown:                        100 - 120 days

White:                         100 - 120 days


  • Days to harvest is based on typical good growing conditions and can sometimes vary depending on climate, state of soil, and in some instances length of day and climate for the area in South Africa where you reside.
  • The specific plant might have characteristic/s that fall outside of the typical type norm.
  • Days to harvest are counted from germination or seedling transplant date whichever is the latest.



The leaves of an onion start to turn yellow and fall over when the bulb is ripe.   Gently loosen the roots and pull the plant out of the ground.  Onions that have not bolted are best suited to storage.  Harvest and use bolted plants as soon as possible.

To store onions lay the entire plant out in a well ventilated place for 2 to 3 weeks until top necks are completely dry and outer skin is slightly crispy.

Onion leaves can be harvested conservatively throughout the season as a fine spring onion replacement.


Click to view which Onions Seeds are available to you now