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I wonder if anyone can help me?

My partner planted onions next to the potatoes at the end of March.  They've now been in the ground for two months and apart from green stems show no sign of growth.  I poked one yesterday and it felt a bit soft.

Is this right? Or are my onions doomed?  They were planted in clay and get sun for about half the day.

Any help or advice would be appreciated.


Hello Daisy,

Soft?  Do you mean the bulb part?  Squishy soft?  

Onions should be in full active growth now.  They will grow until mid summer.  Thereafter they begin the swelling process so time is running out for growth 


Hi Verdun, thanks for replying.  Yes I meant the bulb part.  Not squishy soft like it's rotted but a bit soft nonetheless.  I take it they should have grown a bit by now?

Steve 309

Nope - sounds like they're doing fine.  The small bulb (set) that you planted in March contained food to feed the leaves and roots in the initial stages.  As it was used up the swollen leaf bases (forming the bulb) shrank, leaving what was the bulb feeling soft.  The leaves photosynthesise, making food, which makes more leaves and roots.  It looks like they've got plenty of leaves now.

This goes on till the days start getting shorter, and the more leaves they have by then the better.  Because after midsummer (less than three weeks now ) they stop making new leaves and start sending the food they're making down into the leaf bases - which makes a new bulb start swelling with food stored for next spring's growth. Except that we come along and pull them up in the autumn and eat them ourselves .

So, the long and the short of it is that they shouldn't be swelling now, but they should start doing so next month.  Fret not.  All is well!

They'd prefer full sun, but they'll put up with what they get (they just won't get quite so big), and I'm sure you know you need to get plenty of organic matter into your rich clay soil to break it up a bit and release all those nutrients.


Thanks Steve, what a relief.  I'm afraid nowhere in my back garden get full sun, but they do pretty well in terms of what sun there is.  We'll leave them alone for now, perhaps fork some compost in around them to help with breaking up the clay.


Steve 309

I should leave adding compost for now, Daisy as onions really hate having their (shallow) roots disturbed. (For the same reason they should be weeded by hand before the weeds get too big).  I was talking in general terms anyway.  You could put a bit of a mulch on I suppose, and let the worms do the work.

As far as sun is concerned we all have to make do with what we have; most crops do better with more, some can put up with less.  No doubt you'll be rotating your crops around so they'll all get a turn at each lot of conditions anyway.

Incidentally, it looks like you (or your OH) have been pretty generous with spacing.  Onions can go 6 - 9" apart (that's 15 - 20cm in new money).  Wider spacing tends to give bigger onions, up to a point, but closer spacing gives a bigger overall crop.  Yer pays yer money and yer takes yer choice.

I think Steve has said much as I did. Great minds think alike

  If onion has no smell and it seems reasonably solid then it should be fine. A scattering of fertiliser lightly mixed into the soil will help growth but do not hoe or  disturb onion plant. 

I used to feed with high nitrogen before mid summer and then switch to balanced fertiliser thereafter to encourage growth now and swelling later.  


Steve 309

Would you say we know our onions, Verdun?

Ha ha Steve.  Of course,,the weather helps.  If we get a good hot summer there's nothing finer than seeing lifted onions baking in the sun. Glorious colour and, to show off, I place them on raised boards.  


Well, I would certainly say you both know your onions!!!

Ok so no forking in compost.  Which fertiliser do you use?  I only have bonemeal at the moment but can buy something at the weekend.

Partner looked on the internet at videos etc., for the spacing.  He was the one that wanted to grow vegetables, having never grown anything before.  So I encouraged him to plant them as well. 

Thank you both for your input, we've learned a lot.  Next year it will be a raised bed in the one part of the garden that almost gets full sun, although we have to build it yet!!

Steve 309

Blood, fish and bone is the standard balanced organic fertiliser.  I should get a big tub cos you'll use it everwhere and it works out cheaper.  Follow the instructions.

No prob about spacing - you could experiment next year.  Many trad gardeners still use rows but the more efficient modern bed system used closer spacings the same each way so there's less empty space.  You can also plant three or four close together in a group although I don't know why you might want to.

A sunny raised bed is ideal, but you'll have to move them the year after. Rotation and all that.

Hi Vernon and Steve 309

I have sown Mammoth Onion seeds and Mammoth Pot Leeks from seed, and noticed holes appearing on the leaves on my Red Barron Onions sown in the Autumn just like in Daisyheadcase pictures, could that be a sign of Onion Fly? 

I had Onion Fly last autumn which saw off the last of the leek crop and disinfected the soil with a warm solution of Jeyes Fluid in this spring


The Mammoth Onions and Mammoth Pot Leeks were planted out about 3 weeks ago in a different plot to those grown last year.

If the holes aren't made by the Onion Fly would you please be so kind as to advise what would make the holes and does it affect the onion?

Many thanks in anticipation.



Steve 309

Sorry DG - no experience of this problem.  But someone will have....

Thanks Steve 309 will check if there is an onion fly thread, apologies to Daisyheadcase for tagging on her thread, no disrepect intended.



Hiya daffodil girl,

No, dont think it's onion fly but our old adversary slugs and snails.  Go out at night and check.  I think,welsh onion is the expert here but I,think onion fly primarily affects the bulb.  

I am a great believer in fleece for carrot fly, pea moth, etc., and.for onion fly.

Morning Verdun

Thank you I have since removed the Red Barron Onion Crop for fear of infecting the new onions and leeks which have been covered in Insect Mesh and also I have strung sticky fly strips up in the patch hopefully this year will be better

The joys of gardening always learning something new. 

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