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Home » Organic Gardening

How To Start Onions From Seed

Submitted by on January 25, 2011 – 6:44 pm 18 Comments
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Some people buy onion bulb sets (small bulbs) to plant directly into their garden in Spring, and some like to start them from seed. It’s definitely much cheaper to start your own from seed, so that’s what I’m gonna try this year.

I started my seeds over the weekend (Jan 23). They’ll need 8-10 weeks indoors, so find out when the last frost is expected in your area, and then count back the weeks from there to see when you should plant onions as well.

Starting seeds is super easy. (It’s keeping them alive and flourishing once they have been transplanted into the garden that’s the trick!)

Here’s how to start onions indoors from seed. Really, you would start any other seeds the same way:

First, gather your materials.

  • Seed Starting Mix- note: NOT potting soil!!
  • Containers- I’m using Dixie cups, ’cause I have them. You could also use yogurt cups, egg cartons, or a plastic tray. It should be about an inch and a half or so deep.
  • A plastic tray to hold your containers, and to catch the water that will drain out. I use the tray from a package of cookies, or from bakery items.
  • Seeds

Poke holes in the bottom of your container. This will help protect the fragile seedlings from being over-watered. I just used a shish-kabob skewer.

After placing your containers in the tray, fill them with seed starting mix.

Next, water the containers until you see the water leaking out of the bottom of them. The medium should be nice and moist. You may have to let them sit for several minutes to fully absorb the water. You don’t want your seeds to float, but they should definitely be kept moist.

Get your seeds ready! I’m planting Valencia Onions. (You do need to find out which varieties grow best in your area.)

I like to poke a hole to drop my seeds into. They need to be about 1/4″ deep. Then lightly cover the seeds back over.

I started out planting three seeds at a time, but I’m only gonna do two per cup this year. Once they grow a bit, I’ll have to thin these to one plant per cup, and I hate to waste more seeds than I need to, you know?

Once all of my cups are full, I slip the entire tray into a large ziploc bag, leaving it open slightly for ventilation. This creates a mini greenhouse. Then I put it on top of the fridge ( a warm place away from direct light) to allow the seeds to germinate.

Make sure the soil stays moist by pouring water into the plastic container for the cups to absorb through the drainage holes in the bottom, as needed.

In a few days, I should have some seedlings emerging!

So, there you have it class. Easy peasy! Any questions?

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  • edd burkhardt says:


  • Sara says:

    Girl, my new seeds should all be here tomorrow, so I’m a little behind on a couple of things, but the frost here last year was so wonky that we’re going to wait until April 18 or so before we plant anyway….waiting a little later worked better for us last year so we figured we’d try it again. I don’t have the greenest thumb so it does me good to wait until they don’t need so much nurturing lol 🙂
    I got a LOT of the books you suggested. I got seed to seed. I can’t wait to dig in and get started this year! Girl, we got rabbits!!! ;D ;D Very excited. We’re trading it for beef! –S

  • Linda says:

    Thanks for the tutorial! I’m starting onions and garlic this week from seeds and garlic bulbits. I’m going to use 2″ paper towel and toilet paper rolls… I will use the zip lock bag though, it’s a great idea!

  • Dakota says:

    I’ve started other veggies from seed but for some reason was intimidated by onions. I guess it’s because I always heard about people buying the bulbs so it never crossed my mind that I could grow my own. Thanks for showing how simple it can be!

  • Have you ever tried germinating your seeds before you put them in the cups? I germinate mine on a wet coffee filter in a plastic bag on top of my fridge. Then after they have sprouted, I plant 1 in each cup. That way you don’t waste any seeds.

    Your post reminded me that I need to get some of my seeds started. I am also going to do some winter sowing this year in milk jugs. I guess I know what I am doing this weekend!

  • Megan P. says:

    I tried onions from starts that I bought at a local garden center last year and it was a total fail!!! I may try direct sewing this year but I think I’m just going to wait to try again until we have a house that belongs to us so I can put them in a real garden.

  • Larry says:

    Lemon balm makes great hot or iced tea. Sweeten with a little honey.

  • April says:

    The containers you buy cakes and pies in, that have the big dome tops make excellent mini greenhouses. I often use them instead of the zip lock bags.

    I am glad you said on top of the fridge. I always take up the end of the dining room table. Glad you suggested that!!

  • Sweet T Makes Three says:

    Love your dixie cup/ziploc combo! I just planted mine a few days ago in yogurt cups and have some sprouts. It’s exciting, isn’t it? I can pretend spring is right around the corner with those sprouts peeking up.

  • Pam W. says:

    We’re getting ready to start some onions from seed as soon as our seed order arrives. We also do both from seed indoors, then directly sown outdoors later on. Then late in summer, we plant another crop of a variety of longer storage onions that will last us somewhat into the winter. Fortunately, my husband does all the seed-starting, planting, and tending of he gardens; my part is the canning, freezing, cooking, etc! And this summer, I’ve vowed to actually use the dehydrator I bought last last year! I have a small herb garden I’d like to expand on this year, but want to work on drying some of them this year.
    By the way, have you ever grown lemon balm, or know what you can do with it? I tried growing some last year, and boy it was prolific, but I guess I need to learn more about what you can use it for.
    Good luck with your seedlings! Oh, and a friend of mine who is a great gardener told me that if the tops of the onion seedlings are getting too tall before it’s time to transplant them outside, it won’t hurt them to “give them a haircut!”

    • Lucky you, Pam! Sounds like your husband is a good helper. I LOVE lemon balm. My mother-in-law grows it… it smells wonderful! But I’m like you, no idea what it’s good for. Surely something! Sounds like a good Google search topic 🙂 Yeah, I read that I can cut the tops of the onions if needed, and use the cutting to cook with. Thanks!!

  • Citysister says:

    I am thinking of using a flat container to start my onions in and then I read you could pick them out with a spoon and plant in the garden when the time comes…what do you think?

  • dilli says:

    may i suggest using a shallow try and broadcasting the see in that.. then transplant from there.. a big was of soil, cups, and time especially if you want to plant more than just a couple onions.. roots stay shallow for a long time with onions and they do very well in about an inch or so of soil for a couple months

  • Lanna says:

    May I suggest trying some direct sown onion seeds, just for kicks? Compared to indoor starts… No question – direct sewn (even my Walla Walla onion seeds!) just grow bigger and better, despite the lack of a headstart. I tried doing starts for a few years, and it ended up being a waste of time for me when the outdoor ones did better – now I get to focus on the heat loving goodies like tomatoes indoors. 😀

  • Heidi says:

    I’m starting my early seeds tomorrow… but I would not have thought of the ziplock bag! Genius!

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