Walking Onions

A couple of years ago a friend gave me some Walking Onions.  A plant of many names, they are also known as: Egyptian Walking Onions, Mennonite Walking Onions, Tree Onions, Egyptian Tree Onions, Top Onions, Winter Onions, or Perennial Onions.  Their proper name is Allium proliferum (or Allium cepa var. proliferum, depending on who you ask) and they do proliferate!

Hardy to zone 4, these onions start producing juicy bright green leaves very early in spring.  Even before my chives awaken they are giving me crisp green onions for my winter salads.

Fresh green onions in January!

As they grow, a small white bump at the top becomes a clump of little papery-skinned bulbils or topsets, hence the name top or tree onions.  When these topsets become heavy enough the stalks topple over and given half a chance the sets root and grow away from the parent plant.  If they are left to continue this cycle they will “walk” across your garden.

This sounds a little alarming but I’ve not found them at all invasive, they are so tasty that I can keep them under control easily; in fact I’ve taken to pulling the clumps of bulbils apart (they are usually in clusters containing 2-30 bulbils) and strewing them around to encourage them.

Sometimes the cluster of bulbils will sprout leaves, and even a second layer of topsets, they are rather bizarre and variable plants!

topsets sprouting leaves

Every part of the plant can be eaten.  The shallot-like onions produced at the base of the plant, the green leaf stalks and the bulbils at the top are all tasty, with a good oniony kick.  And because the plant is actively growing through most of the year (where I live) I almost always have a fresh source of onion!

I have found some onions challenging to grow but not these babies!  And I like plants that are easy to grow, especially if they are tasty to boot.  There will always be a place in my new garden for walking onions.

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About hortophile

I am a very opinionated, slightly obsessed gardener with decades of experience in the retail nursery industry. A lucky resident of the "Wet Coast" of British Columbia I tread a muddy path between practicality and beauty, with my veggie patch, herb garden and fruits vying for position with the beautiful trees, shrubs and flowers that I can't resist. DON'T ask me to choose between them! I believe in environmental responsibility and common sense.
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68 Responses to Walking Onions

  1. These are really my favorite onions to grow!! They really are delicious too!!

  2. Hmm, I am going to see if I can get these in Portugal. They sound like my kind of plant! I tried growing onions on a couple of occassions and they were all tops and no bottoms. These just might work!

  3. Is this your garden as of right now? Are you able to grow one all year-round? We are in the middle of winter, and have a few months until we can plant our summer garden 🙂

  4. I’ve always been somewhat leery of onions, just because of how invasive they can become. But these sound amazing. Thanks for the tip!

    🙂

  5. auntbethany says:

    Sigh…this makes me think of my poor, poor summer gardening efforts…you have a love for gardening and obviously know what you are doing, as I have absolutely no CLUE how to make a garden grow! I’m very envious of your green thumb….I think mine must be a plaid thumb or a polka dotted thumb…anyhoo, kudos on being FP!

    • hortophile says:

      Yes, I do love to garden! Knowledge comes from experience, so just give it your best shot. I still make plenty of mistakes, keep reading my blog and you’ll surely see them 🙂

  6. rtcrita says:

    I love onions. We use them in almost everything. I am going to try some of these in my garden this year. Thanks for the information!

  7. They seem like very random and alive plants, not afraid of anyone or anything. I’m not much of a gardener (unless you count watering sunflowers as being good) but I would love to someday get my mom and plant these.
    I guess that would depend on the kind of soil we have here in Los Angeles, it may or may not be possible.
    A friend of mine told me about these plants once. At first, I thought she was just bluffing. Now I know she’s dead right about the “walking” onion part of her story on these plants.
    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!
    Ashley, aka TheEverydayMuser
    http://www.theeverydaymuser.wordpress.com

  8. Pingback: Tweets that mention Walking Onions | Hortophile – My New Garden -- Topsy.com

  9. J Roycroft says:

    MMM… Onions, I love them especially Vidalias. Great post and congrats on FP

  10. NourishU says:

    Chives get the same bulb on top, will they topple over and do the same? I will look for these, thanks!

    • hortophile says:

      Chives produce a flower, usually purple, but I have some that are pink! They will topple if you leave them long enough, and seed themselves all over the place. They don’t produce an onion on top like walking onions, at least not in my experience.

      • NourishU says:

        Mine did last year and I was surprised. After the flowers went to seed, little bulbs developed. If it happens again I guess I’ll just try eating them. Maybe it was a flukey thing – I’m on the west coast of WA, so similar climate!

      • hortophile says:

        That’s very cool NourishU, one thing I’ve learned about plants is that they can (and will) do unexpected things. Just like people, I guess 🙂

  11. harkheindzel says:

    Hmmm…nice looking onions. Great pictures. And informative post.

  12. kloppenmum says:

    I’ve never heard of walking onions before – how cool. I’ll have to try and grow some just because of the name – the kids will think they’re a hoot.
    And, congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

    • hortophile says:

      Definitely a good choice for kids. Call them Egyptian Walking Onions, and find that old song, “Walk Like an Egyptian” for them to listen to. That should be good for a laugh!

  13. Posky says:

    I love onions too but they (with help from mint) have effectively replaced all of the grass in my tiny back yard.

  14. enjoibeing says:

    very cool. i have been wanting to try and grow a garden. for sure this spring/summer. i must try these onions out

    http://enjoibeing.wordpress.com/

  15. “Easy to grow” is music to my ears :o). I have for a long time been thinking of starting my own little vegetable patch, the walking onion just might be a great way to start!

    • hortophile says:

      Go to your local garden centre (a real one, where they’ll have staff who know stuff) and ask them to set you up with a few things that grow well where you live. The fresh food will be fabulous, and the satisfaction of having grown it yourself, priceless! Careful though, it’s addictive (in a good way).

  16. J says:

    I love onions I will have to buy some they are to ugly for me to grow 🙂 Great job. http://www.copperetiquette.wordpress.com

  17. Kate says:

    I had a load of these – many miles away from you in west Wales – and they got so incredibly invasive I finally had to get rid of them. I’ve never heard them called walking onions, but boy is that appropriate… maybe it’s time to try them again. Perhaps in a container!

    • hortophile says:

      Well, I’ve only been growing them for two seasons, maybe they will get away on me too! But I eat a lot of them, and am presently feeding teenagers as well. Not too many plants can outgrow the voracious teenager! Keeping them contained sounds like a good plan (the onions, not the teenagers).

  18. humanitarikim says:

    I’m so glad I saw this post! I am going to plant some this year for sure! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  19. Lakia Gordon says:

    Onions are soooo good, especially these.

  20. love it when a gardener gets FP’ed!! 😀

  21. whenquiet says:

    I love red onions but I must try my hand at planting these!

  22. how easy are these to kill? im terrible at keeping up with this kind of stuff.

  23. I have not heard of this type before. We had onions in our garden this past year and they have been my favorite crop so far, as the pests do not eat them.

  24. I LOVE ONIONS!!!!!!!!!!

  25. Maman DC says:

    i thought it’s creepy at first, but then i figured out how it’s walking. hahaa,.. Nice 😀

  26. I want some of that! 😦

    Wonder if i can find some of that variety of onions here…

  27. mclj2011 says:

    I would love to try to grow this type of onions in my garden. I bet they taste very good, especially the shallot-like parts.

  28. those onions look so good.. its making me hungry!! congrats on being freshly pressed!! :]

  29. Dawn says:

    I’d love to try walking onions. Maybe this spring. Thanks for the info and pics.

  30. adminsmit says:

    Love the muddy path bit – onions are a must have in the garden – they keep all sort sof pests art bay. Also my fav thing to do when you have lots and lots of onions is to dry them out, process them and store to use as an alternative to salt when cooking; also as stock in soups
    Great real post!!

  31. That looks lovely…I wonder if they will grow well in the Indian climate?

  32. PRIYA says:

    onions are good for health.THEY HAD DONE A GREAT JOB.

  33. richannkur says:

    Even I would like to plant these walking onions, as the prices of onions is growing rapidly in India, instead of them :). thanks for sharing.

  34. Deboshree says:

    Aha, these sound a fair treat. Maybe I’ll kickstart my gardening with these. I have been meaning to forever 😦

  35. stirb says:

    I Cant Believe It Is True

  36. tina says:

    I’ve been looking for an easier onion to grow! this looks interesting and tasty. Thanks for posting.

  37. a. cardott says:

    Sweet! Are there wild varieties? Could be good for forest floor rehab.

    • hortophile says:

      They may be vigorous enough for reclamation plantings, but if not native to the particular area will supplant species that belong. We should always think long and hard before introducing plants to systems.

  38. gw says:

    Hortophile:

    Do the onions taste similar to shallots? I may have overlooked the answer to that question. If so, they sound like a viable, year-round alternative.

    Always looking for heirloom-ish and easy care varieties of veggies.

    Great blog.

    -gw-

  39. DawneeJo says:

    I am putting in two new gardens in the next few days. I never really pay attention to the Zone thingamiggie because I live in FLA. If a hurricane doesn’t blow it away or flood it, then most everything grows. Definitely will look around to see if I can find some Walking Onions to plant. Excited. Thanks.

    • hortophile says:

      Zones are only a general guide, and they can be confusing (Canadian and USDA hardiness zones are different). I`d never let them get in the way of trying a new plant!

  40. Zach says:

    Love onions, great post thanks, for the info 🙂

  41. These remind me of the couple of garlic chives a friend gave me years ago. I pull the flower pods off every blooming to prevent the seeds from going everywhere and I still have garlic chives everywhere. I’m trying to remember who the ex-friend was. Mary

  42. gvipromote says:

    I am putting in two new gardens in the next few days. I never really pay attention to the Zone thingamiggie because I live in FLA. If a hurricane doesn’t blow it away or flood it, then most everything grows. Definitely will look around to see if I can find some Walking Onions to plant. Excited. Thanks.

  43. Amy Jade says:

    I need help with my Walking onion plants. I have a small balcony herb and vegetable garden, and I only have three small walking onion plants that range anywhere from about 3 to 8 inches tall. The 3 inch one is completely brown and the largest one just turned brown. They all live in a ceder planter box that is about 2 and a half feet by 6 inches wide and 6 inches deep. Their are 2 other plants in there with them, but they have at least a foot to them selves and are 4 and a half inches apart. They are in a very sunny place and I water them every day. So what am i doing wrong?

    • hortophile says:

      Even in a sunny spot I don’t think they would need water every day – is the soil drying right out between waterings? Check the soil (not just the surface) before you water. Are the other plants in the planter healthy? What are they? Did you use good quality potting soil? Can the planter drain freely? Sorry for asking so many questions but it’s the only way to figure stuff out. Also, that’s a mighty small planter – won’t hold much soil, which usually makes keeping the plants happy difficult. Hope this helps!

  44. Paul says:

    Hi, where on the island are you? Can’t seem to find the walking onion.
    paul (Courtenay)

  45. Pingback: Tree Onion (Allium cepa proliferum) | Find Me A Cure

  46. bernadette wisniewski says:

    I am growing them in zone 4. Just cut up some green tops in chicken broth and added some sweet curry. MMMmm… Some top sets fell off last fall, endured -20 F. and are starting to grow. I want to send some to my friend in FLA if it is permissible with the ag. dept. I believe it is. Such a wonderful fresh oniony favor addition to salads and soups!

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