Five easier onion alternatives you can grow in a small garden

Instead of planting onions, which are challenging to grow and take up to 10 months to mature, try these simpler alternatives

27 March 2022 - 00:00
By Jane Griffiths
Spring and green onions.
Image: Jane Griffiths and Nick Knowlton Spring and green onions.


Green onions (aka scallions ) are large onions that are harvested early, before the bulb has fully formed.  


Transplant onion seedlings closer together than normal - about 5cm - in fertile well-drained soil. Maintain regular moisture and they will be ready for harvesting after about eight to 10 weeks, when stems are at least 1.5cm thick and about 20-25cm tall.

They don't keep well so only harvest what you plan to eat. The longer they stay in the ground, the stronger their flavour. Both the green stalk and white stem are edible.

Shallots  have a mild oniony flavour.
Image: Jane Griffiths and Nick Knowlton Shallots have a mild oniony flavour.


Shallots, which contain clusters of small bulbs, take less time to mature than onions or garlic. They have a deliciously mild oniony flavour (with a touch of garlic), without onion's sharp bite.


Sow seeds in seed trays and transplant when six weeks old into well-drained fertile soil. Once established, mulch well but keep the tops of the bulbs clear of earth or mulch. Water during dry spells and break off any flower stems as soon as they pop up. When bulbs have formed, loosen the soil to expose them to the sun. They are ready to harvest once the leaves turn yellow and flop over.

Spring onions.
Image: Jane Griffiths and Nick Knowlton Spring onions.


These bunching onions have edible green stems and small white bulbs.


Sow seeds directly - or in seed trays and then transplant -  year round, except for the hottest mid-summer and the coldest mid-winter months. They like full sun, fertile soil and regular moisture. Harvest when young for the best flavour.

Leave a few to go to seed; they produce white flower heads that bees and butterflies love.

They will also happily seed themselves. Look out for seeds of red varieties to add interest to your salads.

Walking onions.
Image: Jan Griffiths and Nick Knowlton Walking onions.


Perennial Egyptian walking onions are unusual in that they produce clusters of small bulbs on top of the stem, where the onion flower normally would be. These reach up to 90cm, become top heavy, fall over and then root themselves a short distance from the mother plant - hence their name "walking onions''.


Plant in full sun from autumn through to late spring in fertile, well-drained soil. Four to five months after planting, clusters of what look like miniature onions at the top of each stalk will have matured. At the base of the plant, underground, there is a small shallot-like swelling. The underground bulb, leaves and top-sets are all edible, with the leaves having a flavour similar to spring onions. The underground bulb has a mild flavour, like a shallot.

Garlic chives in bloom.
Image: Jane Griffiths and Nick Knowlton Garlic chives in bloom.


An easy perennial, chives should be grown in every vegetable garden. Not only do they add flavour to any meal, they are a very good protective plant, deterring many pests, especially if grown as a border.

  • Onion chives have hollow leaves, lilac pom-pom flowers and a mild onion flavour.
  • Garlic chives have flat, mildly garlic-flavoured leaves and white flowers. They are larger and bushier than onion chives.


Easily grown from seed or seedlings, they prefer full sun and moist soil but can handle dry weather. When harvesting, don’t cut the tops as if giving them a hair trim because this weakens the plant. Harvest by snipping off leaves 2cm above the base with a pair of scissors. They will regrow quickly. Every couple of years, divide in spring by lifting and splitting them into new plants.