what’s wrong with my onions???

Root Vegetables

indoor onion seedlings winter sown onion seedlings
I often have trouble with onion seedlings. They shrivel up and die a week or two after sprouting. The ones in the tray (the photo on the left) started dying a couple weeks ago. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.

Fortunately, I also did some winter sowing and seeded onions outside in plastic bottles (photo on the right). These are doing much better. They look good to me. They are growing very slowly, but surely.

Last night I picked up my new book, The Gardener’s Bible (my bedtime reading), and read about onions. “To grow good onions, give them what they need and then don’t bother them. Come harvest time, you’ll have a crop that will bring tears to your eyes” says the author, Edward C. Smith. I think this is the problem. The onions don’t seem to like all the attention of my seed trays under the bright lights and warm room temp.

What is it about onions? Are they shy? My other seedlings are doing well.

13 Comments. Leave new

  • no! a problem! zome of my zinnias simply wilted and died…..damn failure!

  • Oh zinnias – that’s another one I have trouble with.

  • the gardeners bible-i love that book! next year simply start all the onions outside.also, i discovered what your problem with radishes were…you started them too late…when the temperature is consistently from 70-80, such as in may, that horrid root forms…thtas why is started them in april!

  • oh, and by the way…immediatly take the onions outside, and put them in a warm-esque protected area that recives sun. get them out of the heat and artificial light! take evasive action! let them live! …sorry for the drama.

  • I planted onions outdoors last year and didn’t have a problem. They were a bit small at harvest, but that was a different problem. I see you like The Gardener’s Bible, did you like your other book I saw mentioned called Great Garden Companions? I’m looking for good bedtime books :-).

    Hope you still get onions though.

  • I had the same seedling problem last year and opted not to start onion seeds this year. Sounds like perhaps I should find some room for them though outdoors.

  • These farmers trim their onion seedlings to encourage healthier growth:

  • I was reading one of my books last night, the Mass. Gardener’s Guide (not quite the right title…) and they were discussing the fact that soil temperature necessary for germination is often different from temp. necessary for good veggie/fruiting growth. I remember onions was on the list, and don’t remember the necessary temps. Perhaps this is what you’re seeing? I’ll look up the temps. when I get home…

  • Thanks for the help!

    What’s left of my onions have been hardening off outside during the days all of the past week. The past two days, they have been out overnight too. With the rain and clouds coming this weekend, I would like to transplant them tomorrow once the clouds thicken.

    I’ll start some seeds outside too. I was hoping to get a good onion crop this year.

    I also have a bag of sets to try. I’ll put them in my community garden plot as soon as I can prepare the soil.

    Gretta at the CSA farm has BEAUTIFUL onion sprouts. Hers were in a minimally heated hoop house with full natural light and have been in the field a week now.

    I wonder if I could make a very small version of a hoop house – a cold frame…. For next year…

  • Thanks for checking Margo. I bet onions germinate good in warmer temps then need to be cold and bright.

  • This is my first season of onions from seed (usually grow from sets), so I was reading this with interest. I think the (or at least, a) cause is not enough light. My seedlings were doing fine, but I took a couple of trays out of the main light for a couple of days and starting getting the wilts. Now I’ve got them back under, and the droopier ones seem to be perking up after a couple of days.

    Starting or moving them outside as soon as possible also sounds good. I moved several trays out to the unheated greenhouse and they seem to be doing fine.

    Another odd thing: I read a couple of places that too much indoor light, even on tiny seedlings, can cause premature bulbing, and you’ll get marble-size onions even after full season in the garden. By that advice, you have to keep the light below they’re day length requiement, like, more to the north (Northern Hemisphere), that’d but under 10-12 hours. Others say just about the opposite, 14+ hours for fluorescents…

    It may sound a little paranoid and unlikely at first, but onions are particularly photoperiod sensitive, so I don’t know. I had some trays under fluorescents for 15-16 hours a day for 2-3 weeks, and I’m wondering if that was…bad. I’m planting them out anyway, so we’ll see…

  • Dear Skippy-

    I’m writing from Jackson, Mississippi- I met you once, when your mom and dad invited my mom and dad to your house (and vegetable garden) and I just saw pictures of you camping in the snow on the Troop 304 website. Well, we don’t get any snow down here, but we sure do get tornadoes!
    You can come visit anytime you like.

    Rachel W.

  • HI Rachel!

    I missed your comment earlier. SO nice to hear from you! And thanks for the invitation. I hope you and your family will be able to come by and visit us again soon.



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