Potato Onions

February 28, 2007

What’s a Potato Onion you ask? Well it’s definitely not a potato, not even distantly related to those starchy tubers. No, it’s not some weird genetic cross between a potato and an onion.

Potato onions are actually a type of onion that has more in common with a shallot than either a potato or an onion, so don’t ask me how it got its name.

Why Grow Potato Onions

One thing is for sure; if you’ve struggled to grow onions in your garden, then potato onions may be the perfect solution, and an easy growing alternative that will have you harvesting plenty of flavorful onions right from your own backyard.

Potato OnionsPotato Onions aren’t as common as the regular onions that you find at the grocer, but they’re much more convenient for the gardener and offer unique qualities and subtle flavors to the gourmet cook in the kitchen.

You’ll also have less concern with issues such as selecting varieties that are best suited for your soil type, growing region, and day length, which you often experience when growing the standard types of onions.

Potato Onion Characteristics

In appearance and growth habits potato onions resemble shallots and other multiplier onions such as Egyptian Walking Onions. Their advantages and unique characteristics include the following:

  • Potato Onions are easy to grow and are best when planted during the fall season. They will over winter right in the garden and send up early spring growth as soon as the weather begins to warm.
  • These multipliers are very productive and also resistant to insect pests. Rather than produce a single onion, potato onions produce bulbs in clusters of three to five onions which are connected at their base just like shallots.
  • Each cluster of onions will contain an assortment of sizes, all of which can be eaten or replanted into the garden.
  • Potato Onions are versatile; you can harvest leaf growth in early spring to use as “spring greens.” While the mature bulbs keep extremely well and can be stored in the home through the winter months until they are needed for cooking.
  • The bulbs themselves are much larger than shallots and are easy to peel and prepare for kitchen use. Potato Onions have a mild, sweet taste that I prefer over regular onions, and will impart more of a distinctly gourmet flavor to your favorite recipes when used in place of onions.
  • Once you plant Potato Onions in your garden you’ll have an everlasting and continuous supply. It couldn’t be any easier to save your own seed to use when replanting. All you do is set aside a mix of the best bulbs that you harvest to replant in the fall.

Challenging Aspect of Growing Potato Onions

Grow, harvest, cure, and store your Potato Onions in the same manner and using the same techniques that you would follow when growing shallots. You’ll find that Potato Onions are just as easy to grow as shallots and garlic in the home garden.

You may be wondering; if Potato Onions are as good as I’m making them out to be, why haven’t you heard more about them? I’m not sure why they aren’t more popular, but my guess would be that it’s because they aren’t as easy to grow in a commercial farm environment. And of course the seed suppliers cater to the needs and desires of the commercial growers who purchase larger amounts of seed.

In fact, your biggest challenge in growing Potato Onions will probably be locating the seed for your first planting. There just aren’t many suppliers that market potato onions, and those that do usually sell out quickly. Reserve seed early for summer shipments and fall planting.

Fortunately as I mentioned earlier, obtaining seed is a one time event and you won’t have to repurchase seed every year. So if you’re interested in trying this interesting and easy to grow gourmet vegetable locate a source to purchase seed stock and don’t forget to set aside part of your initial harvest for future plantings.





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  • http://ottawahortiphilia.blogspot.com/ Ottawa Gardener

    I am sooo interested in potato onions. I do grow bulbing onions and have success with them but how much easier potato oninos sound. I have plans on only growing them, shallots, garlic, leeks, and topsetting onions from next year onward. Thanks for the tips.

  • Barb

    Where can I buy Potato Onions?

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Barb, I have purchased potato onions from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in the past. They only ship the multiplier onions during the fall and usually sell out of their supply, so it’s best to order early to ensure that they will be available. The best thing is that once you grow your own crop of potato onions you’ll never have to purchase seed again.

  • Josh

    If I plant potato onions next to gourmet garlic is there any threat of the two crossing to make some sort of hybrid plant?

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Josh, potato onions will not cross with garlic, shallots, or any other root vegetable so it is safe to plant them together in the same area.

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  • rush

    i would like to get started with potato onions. if someone
    knows where i can get some let me know. thanks, rush

  • Kenny Point

    Rush, there is a link to a supplier in the 4th comment above, but it’s probably too late to order potato onions for planting this fall because they usually sell out and cut off orders during the summer.

  • http://jimh@gemair.com Jim Hendrix

    How do I order Potato Onions

  • Sharon Ahrens

    how deep do you plant the bulbs? I got them in the garden this fall, and wondering if I planted them correctly…

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Sharon, I plant my potato onion seeds just deep enough so that the bulbs are completely covered with soil.

  • Donna

    How long after planting does it take to sprout? Also, can we just harvest a few bulbs at a time as needed to get an established onion patch, rather than harvesting all the onions & replanting every year? We live an hour north of Orlando, FL, so winter is short & mild. Thanks for the excellent article.

  • Donna

    When I was a kid my dad grew onions that I now believe were potatoe onions but I have no idea where to buy them. Can you help me?

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Donna, there’s a link to Southern Exposure Seed exchange in comment #4 above. That is where I purchased my original potato onion seed, and they are super easy to maintain once you get your crop established.

  • Michelle

    Hi, I’m not sure what type of onion i have. it was sold as a tree onion but it has only flowered once and it didn’t have bulblets on it, it seems to reproduce from around the base of the main bulb. the stem is quite thick and seems closer looking to a leek. I just repotted it (I don’t have a garden) and replanted the main bulb and some of the other bigger ones. There are a lot of little bulbs, some sprouting some not, some are brown but others look fresh and green quite like peas and beans out of their pods, and others are translucent white. The tops of the stems have never dried off and i have had this plant for about 6 years. Can you help?

  • http://www.ready4what.com hmkjr

    Hello,

    I am new at gardening and have a question. how do you harvest the potato onion and still leave part of it to grow the following year? The onions are in the ground, right?

    Thanks!

  • Kenny Point

    You can dig or pull the cluster of potato onion bulbs after the leafy tops die back. The clusters are then cured, stored, and part of the harvest can be saved for seed. To replant simply separate the individual cloves from the cluster and replant at the proper time for your growing region.

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  • Tina

    I have some potato onions. Can I plant them in mid January?

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Tina, I usually plant potato onions in October, maybe early November here in Central PA. You didn’t mention where you are gardening but if you’re in a southern or mild weather region you can probably plant them out in January if you can work the soil and don’t anticipate any freezing conditions.

  • http://veggiegarentips Deirdre

    Hi … just ordered potato onions from an organic specialist supplier here in New Zealand. Was wondering… can you plant potato onions in the same soil each year… do you need to treat? what fertiliser to add?… just mindful of possible pests developing? and loosing the crop

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Deirdre, I would include potato onions in some type of rotation rather than to plant them in the same area year after year. I have never treated them or had any type of pest problem with potato onions. Compost works great as a fertilizer for them, they don’t seem to be too demanding.

  • http://adamsamigos.net Diana

    Thanks so much for your informative website. I’d never heard of potato onions. Neither has our nursery in town. I’m excited to try growing some!

    I ordered some yellow potato onions (from Southern Exposure) with the understanding that they would be shipped to me in September. But now I have been notified that they already shipped and are on their way to me (CA). We usually have pretty hot, dry summers (upper 90’s and 100 + fairly often). Our house temp. gets up to the 80’s usually everyday and down to maybe 70 at night. So my question is should I try to save them until Sept. before I plant them? Will they keep okay if our house is not that cool? I don’t have a root cellar or basement. Just a large pantry where I could put them on the floor and they would be in the dark. Maybe my neighbor who uses her AC more than we do would be willing to keep them in her house for me.

    Or should I go ahead and plant them now (end of June) and then replant whatever was able to grow from them in the fall?

    Maybe I’ll do an experiment and plant half now and keep the other half until Sept.!

    Thank you for your time and I look forward to your advice!

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Diana, potato onions keep extremely well so I don’t think that it would be a problem at all to hold them for fall planting. The pantry would be fine for storage and yes, you could experiment but they always perform great here in the Northeast from a fall planting. Good luck and let us know the results if you do plant some of the seed now.

  • deirdre

    love these little onions… doing really well, for every onion I plant I get 10-12 back again…great size for putting on kebabs, or pickling.

  • Chris L

    Kenny,

    I cook very, very rarely, but I’ve just used potato onions in what has turned out to be a surprisingly tasty potato onion soup. Even my father says so, and he’s a pretty awesome cook (awesome as in I’m in awe of his cooking skills). I thought I was using shallots that he had taken from his tiny backyard garden, but he has told me they are not, and are in fact what he calls potato onions. I asked him why in the world they’re called potato onions, when they’re obviously nothing like a potato.
    His answer was “I don’t know, that’s just always what we’ve called them, because they’re always planted near the potato patch. They seem to do really well there.”

    My father grew up as a subsistence farmer in the mid/upper Ohio River valley region. It may seem a little on the folk-name side for calling them potato onions, but a rural/folksy origin of the name sounds very likely to me.

  • Kenny Point

    Thanks Chris, I love potato onions and find them easier to grow and maintain than either shallots or onions. They also keep in storage for a much longer time and as you discovered they taste great.

  • Janet

    My mother grew potato onions for over 50 years. We always called them multipliers and had never heard of them being called potato onions. We loved them. Mom always said that they were just right for when you didn’t need a large onion. I too ordered mine from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and they are very nice bulbs.

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  • jay walker

    territorial seed co also carries these

  • Carol

    I live in SC, and believe I have the potato onion. A co-worker gave me the original several years ago, and I planted in my flower garden along with garlic bulbs. Neither one ever grew in fact I thought it dyed. However one survived (I had no clue which one) and I transplanted the survivor to an old wash tub. I left it there all last summer and thought a hard frost got it. This spring it revived and is growing like crazy. My question is does the potato onion get seed pods? whatever i have has multiplied via bulbs (I can see the in the soil), and do they get seed pods? If so what do I do with the seed pod that are forming on the plant? Thanks

  • Kenny Point

    I have never seen potato onions go to seed but garlic does send up a long curly scape. People eat garlic scapes but do not try to use them as seed.

  • Ed Tieman

    Is there someone I can send some photos of my Potato Onions. This is the first time I have tried growing them. Last August I received and planted about 6 and now some of the stems have this unusuall growth like a tube growth with stems inside them. In all the photos I have seen none of them have this tube growth. Inside of them is like a branch like a branch getting ready to branch out. I might of planted them to deep with about inch of dirt above the top of the plant. Right now they are about two feet or more tall.

    Note. The bulbs I received were almost 2 inches in size. I staked them so I could see how the tops grow out. I have searched the net and have not seen any that looked like mine.

    Thanks….Ed

  • Careen Hawkins

    Where can i get starts for potato onions?

  • http://www.ready4what.com Buddy king

    http://www.southernexposure.com/perennial-onions-multiplier-potato-onions-c-120_219.html

    I bought these 3 years ago and haven’t had to buy any since. I replant them every fall.

  • J. Wayne Brasher

    Very interesting! Would Potato Onions grow in Phoenix Arizona? I tried Shalots once without success. If you think they might thrive, please tell me how you would try to raise them.

  • Ed Tieman

    Should have no problem growing them there just be sure to keep them watered. If you can get them now would be an excellent time to plant.

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