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UT Gardens' Plant of the Month:
Walking Onion


Submitted 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 ground.

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.

Terumi 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.

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Patricia McDaniels, UTIA Marketing and Communications, (865) 974-7141

 

 
     
 

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