QUESTION: Can I plant alliums in the spring? I missed putting my onions and garlic in the ground in the fall like I usually do. — Nancy G.
ANSWER: Don’t worry—all of your alliums can be planted in the spring just like they can in the fall. You won’t get the same size potential from your alliums when they are planted in spring. Instead, you’ll get tasty slender-necked bulbs topped with fresh greens using the spring planting technique. Here are the instructions for planting onions, green onions, garlic, or chives in spring.
Planting Onions in the Spring
You can plant onions in springtime either by planting sets or by starting the seeds indoors ahead of time. Plan to put onions into the outdoor garden while it’s still cool outdoors. The onions will sleep in a dormant state until the weather warms up in spring. That’s their cue to start growing in earnest.
In regions where the winter gets extremely cold, plant your sets out into the garden as soon as the ground has warmed up enough to work. This is normally around the beginning of spring, in March or April. Check ahead in the weather forecast—you’ll want to schedule planting your onions so the temperature will stay above 28 degrees Fahrenheit once they’re in the garden.
If you decide to grow your onions from seeds instead of sets, you’ll need to plant the seeds six weeks before you’ll be moving the onions into your garden. Count backward from the date you chose in the previous paragraph. The seeds should be kept at room temperature indoors in a dry, safe location. The temperature must stay above 50 degrees Fahrenheit in the room where onion seeds are planted in order for them to sprout.
Learn more with our guide to growing onions.
Planting Green Onions/Spring Onions/Scallions in the Spring
You can grow green onions by planting them in the spring either from sets or from seeds. As soon as the weather in spring has warmed up enough for you to be able to work the soil, you can plant the sets or seeds.
Set your rows up between 12 and 18 inches apart. Lay the seeds down in a strip two inches wide and a quarter of an inch to half an inch deep. Once the seeds have germinated and have their first true leaves, the young plants should be thinned out so only one per inch remains.
Green onions are not the easiest plant to grow from seeds, so many gardeners opt to use sets instead. Sets are young plants that you can put straight into your garden. They are quick to settle in and get established, and they are faster than seeds to start thriving. Choose sets that have a bulb at least as wide as a dime.
If you are growing your green onions from seeds, you will need to start them indoors. Plant the seeds about a month before you will transplant them into the garden. You should check the weather forecast to estimate when the soil will be warm enough to work and count four weeks backward from that date to find out when to plant your green onion seeds.
Use cells or a seed tray filled with seed starter mix. The seeds should be planted between a quarter of an inch to half an inch deep. Use a spray bottle to keep the seeds moist but not waterlogged. Touch your finger to the surface of the soil at least twice a day, and water your green onions if the soil is dry.
When it is time to transplant your seedlings into the garden, prepare the soil by making a trench two inches deep for your seeds. Trim the green onion tops to four inches long, and clip the roots so they are half an inch long. Use garden shears or kitchen shears that have been disinfected with bleach to avoid spreading plant diseases in your garden. Plant the young green onions in the trench about an inch apart.
Your green onions need about an inch of water per week, whether it comes from rainfall or from you. If your soil is sandy, you may find that you need to water them more frequently. Green onions are susceptible to being driven out by weeds, so be careful to keep your garden weeded well. Be careful as you are weeding not to disturb or damage the roots of your green onion plants.
It is up to you when you harvest your green onions. Watch their progress, and pull them when the bulb is the size you want. They are normally harvested when the green tops have grown to reach six inches tall. If you let the green onions grow for much longer than that, their flavor will change and become more pungent. You might need to use a trowel to break up the soil if the plants are too stubborn to pull right up.
If your plants bolt, sending up a flower stalk that eventually turns to seed, their taste will become less pleasant. If you see that a plant has bolted, you can stop the process by harvesting those onions before they develop flowers. Harvesting green onions that have bolted right away will spur the plant to keep flourishing and multiplying.
By the way, if you aren’t sure what the difference is between green onions and spring onions, scallions, bunching onions, or chives, this article will break it down for you.
There’s more information in our article How to Grow Green Onions. If you’re wondering about the differences between green onions, spring onions, and scallions, we’ve got an article breaking all that down for you, too.
Planting Garlic in the Spring
Garlic can also be planted in the spring, and if your area has a long growing season, it will perform best. Spring garlic won’t have cloves as big as garlic planted the previous fall, but the plants will produce small cloves. You can also harvest the green tops of the garlic, called garlic scapes. They are edible and can be chopped and sprinkled into all kinds of dishes. Our article Can I Eat the Green Tops of Garlic for ideas about how to cook with garlic scapes as well as advice for how to store the scapes.
Plant your garlic as early in the spring as you can, because garlic tends to struggle once the temperature rises. Spring garlic is best grown in the South or Southwest of the United States. Although you should plant early in the season, you must wait until the soil has thawed enough for you to work it easily and it crumbles apart.
Find a place in your garden for the garlic that gets full sun—at least six hours of sunshine each day. Add some compost to the soil to make it more nutritious, and pull any weeds in the area where you plan to grow your spring garlic. Fertilize the soil by adding two or three tablespoons of a 5-10-10 fertilizer, or you can use bone meal or fish meal.
Some gardeners recommend using mulch on the surface of the soil around your garlic plants. Create a layer of mulch two to three inches deep, making sure the mulch does not touch your plants. If you don’t leave some empty space between the mulch and your garlic plants, your plants will be more susceptible to diseases.
The cloves you plant should come from the nursery, garden center, or online seed company. Cloves from the grocery store are not recommended for planting because many of them have been treated with a substance to extend their shelf life, which will make it less likely the cloves will sprout. Not only that, the garlic at the grocery store is often a variety that won’t thrive in your region.
You should choose large cloves that look healthy and do not show signs of disease, such as discoloration. Choose the largest available cloves, because they will grow into large, healthy garlic bulbs by harvest time.
Two or three days before you will be planting your garlic, separate the individual cloves in each bulb. Do not remove the “skin” or papery husk from the cloves before you plant them.
Your garlic cloves should be planted right side up, which means the pointy end goes at the top, and the wider end where the roots will grow belong at the bottom. Space your garlic two to four inches apart, planting each clove two inches deep. Your rows should be between 10 and 14 inches apart.
For more information, you can read our article How to Grow Garlic.
Planting Chives in the Spring
You can grow chives in springtime if you plant them between the beginning and middle of spring. They will be ready to harvest at the beginning of the summer.
Be advised that if you leave chives in the garden to flower, the seeds the flowers release can hijack your garden because they spread so easily. If this does happen, though, you won’t have much trouble digging up the wayward chives.
Learn more about cultivating chives in our article on how to grow them, or if you prefer, check How to Grow Garlic Chives instead.
If it’s especially cold in your area, you can start your chives indoors. Check the weather forecast to find out the date of the last frost in spring. Then count backward six to eight weeks from that date. The soil should have just thawed enough to be workable by this date. This is when you should start your chive seeds. They will need plenty of time to get established before you transplant them into the garden.
If you’ll be planting your seeds outdoors, get them in the ground as soon as the temperature has warmed up enough for the soil to be workable. If you don’t see them breaking through the soil right away, be patient—chive seeds can take a few weeks to sprout. For best results, plant your chive seeds when the soil temperature is between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit (between 15 and 21 degrees Celsius).
After the last frost of spring, you can move your young chive plants into the garden whether they were grown from seed or purchased. Find a spot for them where they will get full sun if possible (at least six hours of direct sunshine each day). If you don’t have full sun in your garden, the chives will still grow in a bit of shade.
The soil where you grow your chives should be fertile and drain well. Work in four to six inches of finished compost, getting the compost six to eight inches down into the soil. If you do not have compost, you can use regular potting soil instead.
If you are planting your chive seeds outdoors, they should be a quarter of an inch deep and two inches apart. Gently cover the seeds with a bit of soil, and firm it down with the palm of your hand. Do not plant chive seeds any deeper than a quarter of an inch.
When the young plants have their first true leaves, they should be thinned out. Choose the hardiest seedlings, and thin them to stand eight to 12 inches apart.
Monitor the soil around your chives, and give them water when the top inch of the soil is dry. You can test the moisture level of the soil by inserting your finger an inch deep into the ground near your chives. If the soil feels moist or clings to your finger, it is not yet time to water the chives. Check their moisture level every week.
You can fertilize your chives with water-soluble plant food if you would like to promote better foliage growth and more blossoms. The chives are ready to harvest once the leaves have grown to a size large enough to eat. You can also eat the flowers of your chive plants.
As we’ve discussed, you can plant all alliums in the spring if you missed the fall planting time. Just follow the instructions we’ve given you, and you’ll soon have a garden full of healthy onions, green onions, garlic, and chives to make your dishes more delicious.