How to Grow Shallots
Updated: Sep 15, 2022
A member of the onion family, shallots are typically milder in flavor. Originating from Asia, shallots are now enjoyed around the world – and can be added to any dish that onions would be. They’re also a good source of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
To help ensure your Shallots thrives, we’ve put together this how-to video and transcript, making it easy for you to succeed. :) We’ll cover everything you need to go from seed to harvest and every step in-between. Covering topics like:
Varieties of Shallots available
Caring for Shallots at all stages
Fertilizer and Mulching
Transplanting best practices
Shallot Companion Plants
Pests, Diseases and what to do about them
Harvesting and storing your Shallots
Listen to this Article:
Glossary of shallot terms
Before we get started, let’s learn a little bit about shallots.
Flat on one side and rounded on the other, two or more cloves together form a shallot bulb. Small shallot bulbs will have two to three individual cloves, while larger shallots can have up to six cloves.
A small, virtually complete daughter plant that has been naturally and asexually produced on the mother plant. They are clones, meaning that they are genetically identical to the mother plant. Shallots are propagated by these offsets.
A short stem with fleshy leaves or leaf bases that function as food storage organs when the plant is dormant. When they’re mature, shallot bulbs look like small onions.
A post-harvest treatment of crops to reduce water loss and decay during storage. In bulb crops, curing is the process of drying the neck tissues and outer leaves to form dry scales. Crops can be cured in the field or in facilities that are designed for the process.
Varieties of shallots
If you’re looking for options, you’ve got quite a few when it comes to growing shallots.
These are the commercial shallots that are available in our local grocery stores, with French Red being the most common. They all have brownish-red skin, pinkish-purplish flesh, and pear-shaped bulbs. Their flavor is a subtle combination of onion and garlic.
This variety has a stronger flavor, more like that of an onion than other shallot varieties. They tend to be round with orange-yellow skin and yellowish-cream colored flesh.
Similar Varieties: Ambition A large French cultivar that also stores well.
A hybrid shallot with bright coppery skin and pale yellow flesh, which can be stored for 6 months or more.
Considered to be the best in terms of flavor, their pear-shaped bulbs have gray skin and pinkish-white flesh.
A slightly longer variety, with a reddish brown outside and pale pink inside.
An attractive variety with that’s dark red on the outside and white on the inside.
Starting your shallot seeds
Whether you’re growing from seed or starting from sets, we’ve got the information you need to get started.
STARTING FROM SEEDS
Sow your shallots in a 2 inch (5cm) wide band, about 2 seeds per inch and a quarter to a half- inch deep (1-1.5cm), in rows that are spaced about 12-18 inches (30-45cm) apart.
You’ll want to thin to 2 inches (5cm) apart to get high yields in fertile soil. Or, you can thin to 3-4 inches (7-10 cm) apart for larger shallots.
Shallots that are grown from seed are responsive to day length, so they need to be planted early enough in the spring to respond to the lengthening days of summer to form their bulbs.
Plant your seedlings 6-8 weeks before you plan to transplant them outside, sowing 3 seeds in each cell of a 72-cell tray.
Seeds will emerge in about 6-12 days, depending on their soil temperature - they prefer when it’s 50-75°F (16-25°C) - and they don’t need light to germinate.
You’ll want to allow your seedlings 60 days in the nursery stage, then you can transplant them as a clump, spacing each one about 6 inches (15cm) apart.
If you’re starting shallots indoors, seedlings can be trimmed with scissors once they are about 6 inches (15cm) tall, which will help prevent them from falling over.
STARTING FROM CLOVES OR SETS
First, separate the sections (cloves), and then plant individual cloves about 1-1.5 inches (2.5-3 cm) deep and spaced about 3-4 inches (7-10 cm) apart.
You’ll want to press them in the ground so that the pointed bulb tip is pointed up, and either just below the soil line or barely sticking out of the soil.
Finally, allow about 12-24 inches (30-60 cm) between your rows.
Transplants can typically be moved to your garden after 30-60 days, but make sure not to plant the bulbs or plants deeply, and do not move any soil to cover their base.
That’s because bulbs should grow out of the ground to make them easier to divide. Also, you’ll want to get rid of the weak clumps as well as the smallest plants.
In general, you can plant the bulb at a depth of 1-2 inches (2.5-5cm) deep while spaced about 6-8 inches (15-20cm) apart.
Then, you’ll want to mulch them lightly with leaves or straw to slow the growth of weeds and to maintain a consistent moisture level in your soil. The roots of your plants will be very shallow, so you’ll have to be extremely careful when cultivating or weeding to avoid damaging your shallots.
Make sure also that you plant them in a spot that gets full sun, and is in well-drained soil that’s been either amended or top-dressed with some compost. The general rule of thumb is that the looser the soil composition, the larger your shallots will grow.
Then, as your plants continue to grow, you can mound up the soil around their base.
Caring for shallots
We’ll tell you everything you need to know about how to water, fertilize, and mulch your shallots, as well as transplanting best practices.
We’ll also tell you the best companion plants for shallots, plus your growing structure options.
Also, shallots have shallow root systems, so they need consistent moisture and good weed control.
Weeds compete with your shallots for moisture, light, and nutrients, so it’s definitely important to keep them under control.
You’ll want to bend or “lodge” the stalks when they are at least 16 inches tall, which will force your shallots to mature in 3-4 weeks.
Then, thin your seedlings to 3-4 inches (7-10cm) apart or wider, depending on the variety you’re growing. As they grow, you can heap up some additional soil onto them.
FERTILIZING AND/OR MULCHING
You can add some aged compost to your beds before planting, and then side dress your shallots with aged compost around midseason.
Glacial rock dust is also a useful soil amendment for your shallot bed, because it provides a wide range of minerals necessary for the good growth of your plants.
Otherwise, you can apply either a half or a full cup of a complete organic fertilizer beneath every 10 feet (3m) of row.
Since shallots are planted close to the surface, a bed of peat, compost or well-rotted manure will help them retain moisture. This is essential when your plants are young, because they can easily dry out.
For fall planting where winters are cold, a six-inch blanket of leaves will protect your plants.
Don’t worry about burying them – your shallots will grow right through the leaves in the spring. Also, mulch helps to reduce soil heaving while protecting your plants.
TRANSPLANTING BEST PRACTICES
Shallots actually grow best when they’re started from bulbs/cloves, which you can do indoors. Then, after about 30-45 days, they’ll be ready for transplant.
Before transplanting, harden-off your seedlings for about two weeks by gradually exposing them to cooler temperatures and direct sunlight.
GROWING STRUCTURE OPTIONS
You’ll want to choose a weed-free and well-drained location, and then prepare the bed by turning the soil under to a depth of 8 inches.
Level with a rake to remove clumps of grass and stones, and then incorporate generous amounts of quality compost and a slow release fertilizer before planting.
Sow 3 seeds into individual containers, thinning to two plants per cell after your plants germinate.
These cell trays allow for better root development, which will make your shallots stronger.
COMPANION PLANTS DO’S AND DON’TS
Beets, lettuce, strawberries, summer savory, and tomatoes are all great companions for your shallots.
Avoid planting your shallots with beans or peas.
Common challenges and their solutions
There are a few pests and diseases that can potentially harm your shallots. Not to worry – we’ve outlined them here below, as well as how to either avoid or fix the problem.
ONION FLY/ ONION MAGGOTS
These tiny, white larvae burrow into your shallot plant, which either stunts your seedlings or causes them to wilt. Plants will typically break at the soil line if you try to pull them up. Also, if an infestation happens when your plants are forming bulbs, those bulbs will be deformed and susceptible to storage rots after harvest.
Solution: Planting carrots nearby will help to deter these pests. Also, good sanitation is important, and all onion bulbs should be removed at the end of the season since maggots will die without a food source.
You’ll also want to remove any volunteer wild onion and chive plants, as these can act as an infection source.
Finally, floating row covers might provide some protection for your shallots by preventing females from laying eggs around them.
Pests that cause stunted plant growth and bulbs that rot (either in the ground or in storage). The damage they do to your shallots can also serve as an entry point for other pests or diseases like bulb rot.
Solution: Do not plant successive crops of onion or garlic in the same location.
You might also want to fallow your field (giving it a break by not planting in it for a period of time) to make sure that any leftover organic matter will decompose completely.
Crop residues can act as a home for mites, so you definitely want to make sure any residue is gone.
Also, you can try treating your shallot seeds or cloves with hot water before planting them.
Pests that distort your plants, while scarring leaves and making your plants look silvery in color. Typically, thrips are most damaging when they feed on shallots at their early bulbing stage of development.
Solution: Thrips can be repelled by sheets of aluminum foil spread between the rows of your plants.
Natural enemies like predatory mites, pirate bugs and lacewings can also help control their numbers.
Also, avoid planting shallots too closely to grain fields, since thrips can build up on these plants in the spring.
Finally, overhead watering can help reduce their numbers.
ONION WHITE ROT
A soil-borne fungus that can cause the yellowing and wilting of leaves, while rotting the roots and invading the bulb beneath the soil.
A white fluffy fungus will also appear at the base of the bulb and later becomes covered in small, round black growths.
ONION DOWNY MILDEW
A fungal disease that damages both the leaves and bulbs, resulting in poor yields. It’s mostly a problem in damp conditions.
BOTRYTIS LEAF BLIGHT
At first, this disease causes small oval white spots to grow on the leaves. These lesions are often surrounded by a halo of green water-soaked tissue, and their centers eventually turn tan in color and then collapse.
If there are too many lesions on a single leaf, the entire onion top can die back, giving severely affected fields a `blasted’ appearance.
Symptoms first appear as small tan spots on the leaves, which then become sunken and quickly grow up and down the leaves.
Individual lesions are often surrounded by a band of purple tissue, and if there are too many, the entire top can collapse.
Dark brown streaks will run up and down the leaves of your plant, which initially look like long blisters.
As the lesions mature, they turn brown and form a mass of dark powdery spores that give the tops a sooty appearance.
Diseased leaves may bend or twist abnormally and are usually dropped from your plant prematurely.
PINK ROOT ROT
Infected plants will look stunted, while also showing signs of nutrient deficiencies and drought because the roots can’t take up water and nutrients.
This disease lives in the soil for several years and thrives in warm temperatures.
Infected scales become soft, brownish and spongy. Gray mold may form between the scales, or more commonly, at the neck area, which will then become sunken and can dry out.
HOW TO PREVENT THESE DISEASES
Follow a 3-4-year rotation with Allium crops (onions, garlic, chives) to prevent these diseases. Also, it’s important to properly sanitize any onion debris, especially culled onions. You’ll want to incorporate all onion debris into the soil immediately after harvest - no exposed culls should be present in your soil before your next round of crops.
You’ll also want to plant only high-quality shallot seeds while carefully inspecting transplants for signs of contamination.
Also, avoid extra or late applications of nitrogen – instead, we recommend split nitrogen applications. Make sure to also manage any weeds, since that will improve air movement around your shallots while allowing them to dry off faster.
Harvesting and Storing
Your shallots can be harvested once their leaves have begun to turn brown and fall over. Typically, this takes about 90-120 days from planting, and each clove should yield 10 or more shallots – yay.
All you have to do is dig the bulbs gently, loosening their surrounding soil with a spading fork. Then, wipe off any dirt.
Next, place your shallots on trays or a wire rack in a shady, dry and well-ventilated place. You’ll want to cure them this way for at least 3 weeks.
Shallots store well in temperatures of 32-35°F (0–2°C) with 60–70% relative humidity. Because of their small size, shallots tend to pack closely – so you won’t want to place them in deep piles.
Also, you can store your shallots in slatted crates or trays, which allow for good air movement in and around the bulbs.
This is an important step to remove any excessive moisture and to minimize storage diseases.
Just make sure to dry your shallots in a place that’s away from apples and tomatoes – they give off ethylene gas, which causes shallot bulbs to sprout.
With good air flow and humidity control, your shallots should keep in storage for about 8–10 months.
With good air flow and humidity control, your shallots should keep in storage for about 8–10 months.