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Spring onions Why can't I grow them

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George the Pigman:
I constantly fail ovef many years of trying to grow spring onions whilst others I  know have no problems. They either germinate very poorly  then die or the few that do grow take months to mature to spindly little things.
Anyone any tips?

I don't have any magical tips but I certainly agree that spring onions reputation for being fast growing is exaggerated.  The seed packets claim from sowing to picking can be as little as eight weeks.  But while I grow them most years with reasonable success I'd say twelve weeks is more realistic and perhaps a bit longer if you prefer them a bit thicker rooted.

Early season I avoid sowing direct but start six or eight seeds together in modules and plant out as it gets milder.  Make sure they get enough nutrition. 

One year my leeks were slow to germinate and slow growing so I waited patiently thinking they would catch up. But by early summer when time to plant in their final position they were still like blades of grass.  I planted them anyway and they did recover a bit but we're below average that year.  I pondered on what had gone wrong. Was it the weather, too much or too little moisture, pests, too hot or too cold? Not sure but strongly suspect six weeks in compost being watered regularly had washed out any nutrients.  Since then I've always used a little liquid feed to keep them going.  Might be worth trying a little extra feed on spring onions!

George, I have never in the last 53 years of trying even managed to get a spring onion seed to germinate, so you are not alone.

I agree that the key to success may be high soil fertility. Alliums do not have root hairs so they have a greatly reduced surface area to scavenge nutrients from the soil compared to other vegetables. They also need full sun - tiny leaf surface area.

From what I've read in Brewster's 'Onions and other Vegetable Alliums', starter fertilisation for the young plants is important to establish a robust root system that can go on to extract N from the wider soil as the plants grow. Repeated P, K fertiliser applications throughout the season are greatly beneficial, or limit the P and inoculate with mycorrhizal fungi which dissolves and transports otherwise unavailable soil phosphorus and will massively expand the root zone. In practice I don't segregate the nutrients and just mix fish, blood & bone plus inoculant into the compost.

Last season my neighbours resurrected their onions from a suspected leaf miner attack with tomato feed, so it appears that K can really help bulk them up quickly.

Regarding germination, there's a lot of crap onion seed about, plus it doesn't keep well at all. I bought a pack of Isobel Rose this winter and not a single seed germinated. Bedfordshire Champion and Lilia seeds were also rubbish when I tried them a couple of years ago. I haven't had any problems with Japanese bunching onions, like Ishikura and Red Beard. Perhaps the stock is fresher, who knows? So they may be worth a try instead of the Cepa spring onions. In spring let them germinate indoors - I think the seed may rot if too cold/wet.

Tee Gee:
Like Vetivert, I have moved to Ishikuru where I make a couple of sowings per year!


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