A Guide on How to Grow Shallots in a UK Garden

AlanGardenMaster
Published on February 14th 2021
2
A basket of freshly picked shallots
Shallots are one of the easiest vegetables to grow with the added benefit that they will store for many months. There are golden and red shallots and I find the tastiest is the so-called banana shallots

When to Plant Shallots

  • There's an old adage that you should plant shallots on the shortest day and harvest them on the longest! It's not far from the truth as shallots are hardy and will tolerate winter weather well.
  • It's worth noting that by contrast onions planted out before early March often fail by 'bolting'. Bolting means that they send up a flower stalk at the expense of producing a bulb.
  • Personally, I always try to get mine started around the first few days of the New Year. I can't help but have a thrill that this is the first crop to start a new growing season!
Banana shallot bulbs
Tasty banana shallots

Should You Grow Shallots as Sets or Seed?

  • Most gardeners grow shallots from sets.
  • Sets are immature and small bulbs that are widely available from mid-winter onwards.
  • But shallots can be grown from seed and if you want to grow lots and are on a budget then growing from seed is well worth considering.

How to Sow Shallots as Seed

  • You'll need to start seed off really early and this can be done on a bright warm windowsill.
  • Option 1 Sow shallot seeds singly into cell packs (if you have lots of room) or sow thinly in seed trays and carefully prick the seedlings out into cell/module trays when big enough to handle.
  • Option 2 You can sow a pinch of seed and then remove all but the strongest seedling when they have germinated.
  • Tip Always use clean containers and fresh seed compost.
  • Seed can be sown directly into the garden but it's unlikely in most areas that the soil will be warm enough to get good germination until early March.
  • Two good varieties to sow are Matador F1 and Zebrune. The latter is a sweet-tasting banana shallot.
Seedling shallots in a garden
Shallot seedlings prior to thinning out

How to Growing Shallots as Sets

  • Choose a spot where members of the onion family have not been grown recently. So avoid where leeks, garlic and onions have been grown during the last year. This is to avoid soil-borne disease infection.
  • If your soil is friable and easy to work then you should be able to plant shallot sets directly into the veg garden where you are going to grow them.
  • Make certain that the soil is well cultivated and has added organic matter such as garden compost worked in. Alternatively, shallots can be grown without cultivating by the 'No Dig' method.
  • Shallots will grow well if fed well. Apply a general balanced fertiliser at the recommended application rate (Vitax Q4), Growmore, etc.) prior to planting.
  • Plant each set about 18-20 cms apart (in all directions). Cell/modular seed raised plants are planted at the same spacing.
A shallot bulb beginning to grow
A shallot set at the correct depth
  • Plant them with a trowel but not too deeply. The tip of the bulb should be just poking out of the soil.
  • Curious birds may pull them out until firmly rooted so keep an eye out for this!
  • If your soil is like mine and too wet and sticky for planting in mid-winter then start shallot sets off in cell packs.
  • I use the cell packs that you can buy 6 or 9 pack bedding plants in.
  • Plant each set in a cell using peat-free potting compost. You can do this in a cold frame, polytunnel, unheated greenhouse or just a sheltered spot outside near a wall.
  • When your veg plot soil is ready simply transplant each shallot as described for direct planting of sets.
Shallots in cell packs
Sets starting off in cell packs

Growing them on

  • Shallots need very little attention! However, it is important to keep them weed-free.
  • Water well during dry periods. A boost of a high nitrogen liquid fertiliser when the bulbs are swelling will help too. But don't over-do the feed as that can result in shallots that do not store so well.
  • You might even be able to grow another crop between the rows before the shallots really get going! Try radish, rocket and baby salad leaf.

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Shallots with radish between in a garden
Radish growing as a catch crop between shallots

When to Harvest Shallots

  • Around mid-summer, you will notice that the tips of the leaves will start to turn yellow. Those leaves will also flop over and lie flat.
  • This is an indication that the bulbs are not going to increase in size any more.
  • Taking a fork, gently loosen each plant so that it now rests on top of the soil.

Ripening

  • After a day or two you can transfer the bulbs to a dry place in the sun to ripen the bulbs off.
Shallots drying on a bench
Partially dry shallot bulbs- note leaves still green
  • Don't hurry this as fully ripened and well-grown bulbs will store in a frost-free dry place until spring of the next year!
Ripening shallots on a greenhouse bench
Ripened and dry shallots on a greenhouse bench

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