Plant onions now & why trying for a head start with tomatoes may backfire

When you buy onion starts, each section of the six-pack will contain several onions. Make sure you separate them before planting. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
onion transplants in West Seneca NY
You can see that these onion transplants have already been trimmed once. Trimming them makes the onion larger. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko


by Connie Oswald Stofko

Vegetable gardeners are eager to get planting, and there is a lot you can do now– if your soil is workable after all that rain. Give it the squeeze test. If you squeeze a handful of soil and it sticks together, it’s too wet to plant. If you squeeze it and it crumbles, you can plant.

If you want to plant cool-weather veggies, this is the time to do it, said Jen Weber, retail manager at Mike Weber Greenhouses, 42 French Rd., West Seneca.

You can plant onions now, and Weber gives us  some tips for growing onions to make them bigger and sweeter.

Finally, she will tell us why putting tomatoes and peppers out early may not give you the early start you’re hoping for. In fact, it may backfire.

Hurry to plant your cold-weather vegetables

The end of April to mid-May is the best time to plant cold-weather crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, onions, beets and carrots, Weber said. You can get those plants now at Mike Weber’s.

For cold-weather root crops such as carrots, Weber thinks it’s actually easier to start from seed, and you can plant the seeds outside now. Mike Weber Greenhouses doesn’t carry seeds, but they do carry the carrot starts (seedlings) because so many people like them and ask for them.

Get your cold-weather vegetables planted by mid-May or at least by Memorial Day. They not only tolerate the cold, they actually like it on the cold side, Weber explained. If you wait until it’s too warm, they won’t grow as well. The broccoli and cauliflower might get just one floret instead of a big head. And the warm weather will make them go to seed too soon.

Plant onions now; how to make them bigger and sweeter

You can buy onions as starts in six-packs, which you can see in the photo. When you buy them, trim the green tops of the onions, Weber said. Trim them about two inches or the width of two fingers.

Then separate the onion starts and plant them.

The week after planting, trim the tops again, she said. The following week, do it again. Do this weekly until June– but then stop. If you do it too many times, it will kill the plant.

Trimming the tops of the plants “makes the onions sweeter and forces the energy into the bulb instead of into the top,” Weber said. “You’ll get bigger onions.”

Get some tips on spacing onions here.

Why that headstart may backfire with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers

For tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, wait to plant until the nights are 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Weber said the first week of June is the best time to plant because the ground is warmer, the air temperature is warmer and we’re past the last frost.

Yet I hear from gardeners who love to get a head start by putting out their plants in the middle of May.

“Yep, that’s what they do,” she said, “then they come in a week later and tell me their plant died or it’s not doing well.”

If you have your plants out in poor conditions, it may take time for the plant to recover.

“If you plant too early, you could stunt your plant,” Weber said. “You might get a setback instead of that head start you think you’re getting.”

The cloudy days and moisture can cause mold and the plant will rot. Frost can kill the plants. When there are frost warnings, gardeners scurry outside to cover their plants to try to protect them.

“If you just wait until the first week of June, you won’t have to cover them,” she said.

I think that should make a lot of gardeners feel better. If you’re like me and you don’t have time to get out into your garden, you feel as if you’re being delinquent by planting after Memorial Day. It’s good to know that it’s not only allowed, Weber says it’s better!

Get tips on planting vegetables in containers as well as two tips that may shock you.













4 Comments on “Plant onions now & why trying for a head start with tomatoes may backfire

  1. Richard, No, don’t cut the bulb off. The bulb is the root. You need it for the plant to grow. Plus, the bulb is the part you want to eat. And don’t trim back the root hairs, either. Just snip off part of the greens. I hope that answers your question.

  2. Cutting the onion plants, what about onion bulbs? Should we cut them also?

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