How to Grow Shallots

comments (4) May 12th, 2009

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Planted after the first autumn frost, shallots will send up shoots and settle into the soil before winter arrives.
Shallots arent difficult to grow. They keep well, and will enhance your cooking all year round.
Plant shallots with their tips just emerging from the soil.
Planted after the first autumn frost, shallots will send up shoots and settle into the soil before winter arrives.Click To Enlarge

Planted after the first autumn frost, shallots will send up shoots and settle into the soil before winter arrives.

Photo: André Baranowski

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Plant in autumn or early spring
In Zone 5 or warmer, plant shallots from sets (last year’s bulbs) after the first frost of autumn, about 6 inches apart and 2 to 3 inches deep. Vernalization—exposure to winter freezing—usually results in larger and better-flavored shallots.

On the other hand, shallots are sensitive to severe winters, especially if they remain unprotected by a straw mulch. In Zone 4, it may be too cold to grow shallots. In this case, don’t plant shallots in the fall; wait until the ground can be worked in the spring, then plant the sets. For spring planting, get the bulbs into the ground as soon after spring thaw as possible, since cool ground is essential for forming good bulbs. Conversely, Zone 9 may be too hot to produce great bulbs.

Amend and mound the soil
Shallots are particular about soil, and even in an ideal climate, soil must be well drained to prevent the shallots from rotting. Although you have no control over the weather, you can amend your soil so it drains well. This is especially important with clay soil.

An unusually mild and rainy winter can wreak havoc, and the bulbs may rot in the ground. The Garden, a Victorian-era British monthly, reported in its May 1873 issue that English gardeners had experienced a massive shallot failure over the winter of 1872-1873, which was much like the unusually mild and rainy winter of 1997-1998 that devastated the shallots in this country. Wilt, canker worms, and rot were the main culprits.

There is a way to prevent this type of setback: Loosen the soil and plant the shal­lots in ridges. Dig long trenches, mounding the soil into gentle ridges about 2 feet apart. Do not fertilize because overly rich soil causes growth in the tops rather than in the bulbs and increases the likelihood of worms attacking the roots during the late spring. Gently press the shallot sets into the soil so that the tops remain just below the surface (2 to 3 inches deep, depending on the size of the bulb). Dust the ridges liberally with wood ashes. (Repeat this twice more during the winter to discourage worms and wilt.) Tamp the soil on both sides of the ridges so that water will drain away from the shallots during heavy rains (photos, p. 27). If you like, scatter seed for mâche between the ridges, so there is a harvest of salad greens while the shallots are growing.

Smooth the soil

Plant the shallots
Keeping shallots growing means keeping them dry. Amend the soil so it drains well, and plant the shallots with their tips just emerging in raised ridges.
Sprinkle wood ashes Plant in ridges
Dust a newly planted shallot bed with wood ashes to discourage wilt and harmful worms. Walk on either side of the planted ridge, pressing the soil into a gully to improve drainage.

This technique is almost fail-proof, but don’t attempt it in regions with severe winters. Extreme freezing and thawing will heave the shallots out of the ridges in the spring, when they are most vulnerable. If you have very cold winters and must therefore plant in the spring, choose your variety carefully. Select a variety known for its storing qualities, so the bulbs don’t sprout over the winter before they’re set out. Firm bulbs store best; large bulbs tend not to keep as well. Try to choose bulbs for planting the following season that will perpetuate the characteristic traits of a particular variety.

Some shallots will try to send up flower heads, a sign that the strain you’ve been selecting may be deteriorating. This normally happens in June due to the day-length sensitivity of the plants. Snip the flower stems off at their base so the shallot concentrates all its strength on the formation of bulbs. Harvest the bulbs once the tops die back.

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Comments (4)

cindetta writes: Two Questions: I have some 2 year old shallots. I do cut back the tops a bit for garnishes and I water them a bit every week year round. They are in pots in a greenhouse in northern coastal California (near Oregon). But, I'm not sure if I can harvest them since the tops don't die back, so far. Should I just dig up one and see what's going on with the bulb? I can't grow them outside since the soil is clay and gophers are rampant. And, do they make more bulbs that can be planted like garlic or do you start from new store bought bulbs each season? Thank you for your help!
Posted: 7:55 pm on December 7th
Ruth writes: In Zone 8, I think the shallots will be fine just as they are (ditto for the garlic). You can mulch lightly if you are concerned. Up here in Connecticut, I've found both very hardy, mulch or no mulch. Leave the tops as they are.
Posted: 10:02 am on December 28th
NCZone8Gardener writes: I planted my Shallots here in Wilmington, NC just after the first frost (around November 15th) and followed the directions above. One question, it is the day after Christmas and they have already all shot up nice tops. Do I need to cut off the tops or leave them alone? I have read that I may need to cut the tops to put more focus on the bulbs, but I may be confusing this with cutting off the seed head in June. Do you let the tops stay on through winter, or keep cutting them as they shoot up? Also, my garlic has shot up green stalks as well. Do I need to cut them off too, or leave them alone until June? Any help would be much appreciated. Thank you!
Posted: 11:38 am on December 26th
Anneke16 writes: I was looking for information on how to grow shallots (specifically - is it too late to plant for this year - answer yes of course!) and was delighted to find info by William Woys Weaver, always totally knowledgeable and reliable. Thank you!
I'll be ready to plant this Fall.
Posted: 1:39 pm on June 25th
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