Before you start picturing onions with green stalks for legs, let’s look at where “Walking Onions” get their name, and why I think they should be a staple in every garden.
When I first heard a friend talk about her “Egyptian Walking Onions” I thought it was quite a strange thing to hear and that perhaps I misunderstood what she had just said. Why “walking?” What are Walking Onions, anyway? Egyptian Walking Onions are a cross between the cultivated onion (allium cepa) and a Welsh Onion (allium fistulosum). Commonly called the Egyptian Walking Onion for the way it “walks” across the garden. Put another way, each plant plants more onion sets in a radius around it.
Why you need them in your garden
The new scientific name given to Egyptian Walking Onions is allium proliferum, which says it all. These onions are quite prolific. One healthy plant, planted in the spring, will look like a regular spring onion after a month or two. But instead of simply flowering and dying off, this onion produces unique “flowers” that are actually miniature plant “bulbils” (“bulblets”, “topsets”) that “walk” or spread by tipping and dropping the tiny bulbs, which root and sprout. In other words, one flowering stalk will produce anywhere from a couple to up to thirty little bulblets that will each grow a new plant!
Walking Onions are a wonderful addition to your garden because even a single plant can provide you with more and more delicious onions year after year. You see, these are perennials. They will continue to give you food, flavor, and garnish for as long as you keep them alive (which, by the way, takes very little effort). Also called Top Onions, Tree Onions, Topset Onions, Winter Onions, and Perennial Onions, Walking Onions are very hardy and can withstand very cold climates as well as summer heat.
These fabulous little onions can quite literally provide food every year for the rest of your life. Sounds like a good idea to me!
Egyptian Walking Onions may be harvested continuously during the growing season. All spring and summer, the greens can be trimmed off to use as green onions. The plant may grow like bunching onions (with several smaller bulbs) which can be harvested for the bulb onions as well. However, if you want to keep your perennial onion patch growing and spreading, you will be careful how much you harvest right at the beginning. You see, you need to leave enough growing strongly to produce the bulblets that then tip over to form more plants. If you planted a lot of Walking Onions to begin with, this is less of a concern. If left to grow, the bulbs can grow rather large (but not usually as large as bulb onions from the store). Climate and soil will, of course, play in as well. But these little onions are quite hardy and will grow in even less-than-ideal circumstances, some dominant stalks reaching as high as three feet.
Many people like to plant them around their trees as a sort of ground cover. It works very well, as they grow outward, enjoy the cooler temperatures in hot weather, and take care of the need to mow or weed eat close to the tree trunk. Mature Walking Onion plants can get quite strong and tall, are dark green in color, and are nice to look at, in my opinion. In fact, they almost have a sort of Lilly look about them, which reminds me of the Lilly garden my mom had around the beautiful oak tree in our front yard growing up.
How to get started
If you think having a perpetually growing onion patch sounds like a great idea, what are you waiting for? There are two ways to plant your Egyptian Walking Onions. One is to purchase a set of “topsets” or small bulblets, which are very small lightweight “bulbs.” This way is just fine, but keep in mind that it takes a little longer for them to take off. The second way is to buy the actual bulbs (growing plants). This way works fabulously and the onions do very well, in my experience. I have purchased from a few different growers off of Etsy, both bulblets (like these and these) and growing bulb plants. Both have done just fine. I have included image links below this article, if you are interested.
Remember that the more mature starts are more likely to flower and produce topsets in the same year. Some plants do not produce topsets until the second year of growth. This is another reason to consider buying fully formed and sprouted plants. Egyptian Walking Onions are available in both white and red/purple varieties.
I would consider buying several and planting them in a few different places, although this is not necessary. But you may find that they just love a particular location. Or maybe you have a few trees in your yard and you’d like to plant a ring around each. Be sure to order enough onions to get started. Egyptian Walking Onions are not particularly cheap to buy starts for, but they more than give back your investment, possibly even in the very first year if they do well.
You can share in a few ways.
First of all, share with us below what your plans are for growing Walking Onions. Have you grown them before? Tell us where and how you grew them and what conditions they liked best! Are you still being fed by your onion patch? We want to hear about it!
Secondly, and possibly my second favorite thing about these onions, Walking Onions themselves are perfect for sharing! Once your patch is growing and healthy, you can spread the love around by giving friends and neighbors bulb shoots or little bulblets. You’ll continue to get more and more every year! Can you imagine the potential for sharing? If you really have a vibrantly “prolific” patch, there is even opportunity for you to get on Etsy and sell your bulbs, or find your local farmer’s market or garden/seed club and share. These little bulbs pack a lot of punch!
I hope to hear from you below! Happy, flavorful growing!