UT Gardens' Plant of the Month:
by Terumi Saito
Walking onion, or Allium cepa var.
proliferum, is a distinct onion that is hard to miss
in a garden because of its unique appearance once it blooms.
It is also known as tree onion, topsetting onion, Egyptian
onion or Catawissa onion. It originates from Canada, and
became popular in kitchen gardens in the 1790s.
Walking onion produces a tall green stalk about as thick as
a thumb at the bottom. The stalk can be eaten like chives or
spring onions early in the season. When a plant matures and is
ready to bloom, it sends up a flower stalk that produces
clusters of small onions called bulbils. These bulbils can be
harvested and used like pearl onions or shallots. They are
excellent for pickling.
The name "walking onion" comes from the plantís unique
self-propagation habit. After a mature plant produces a set of
bulbils on top of the stalk, it often sends out a shorter
flower stalk from the bulbils and sets another cluster of
bulbils at the end. This second set of bulbils weighs down the
main stalk and allows bulbils to make contact with the soil
several inches away from the mother plant. The bulbils will
then root and start producing more plants.
Walking onions are similar to green onions or shallots
because they do not produce bulbs at the base, but several
large bunching onions in the ground. These onions are also
edible and can be kept for up to 12 months.
Without cultivation, this onion can easily naturalize and
keep growing on its own in a field, however you can separate
the bulbils, or plant them as a bunch about 8 inches apart in
rows. This onion can be planted either in fall or spring, as
it is hardy enough to survive our winter in the ground. Treat
it as a perennial.
Onions generally prefer rich, well-drained soil and dislike
soggy conditions or drought. It is important to keep weeds
away from plants, so the roots have enough room to grow under
If you plan on cultivating multiple varieties of walking
onions and preserving their seeds, grow them at least 100 feet
apart because they will cross pollinate with each other.
Walking onion is the first onion to appear in spring, as
its green shoots will start to come up above the snow before
it thaws. It blooms in early summer and bulbils can be
harvested in mid to late summer.
Saito is a graduate student in the University of Tennessee Department of Plant Sciences. She
works under the guidance of Dr. Susan Hamilton, director of
the UT Gardens. The UT Gardens are a
project of the Tennessee Agricultural Experiment
Station. The original gardens are located in Knoxville on Neyland
Drive. Additional gardens are located in Jackson on
Airways Blvd. Admission is free, and the Gardens are open to
the public seven days a week during daylight hours.
McDaniels, UTIA Marketing and Communications, (865)