Shallots are a member of the allium family of plants, along with onions, garlic, and many ornamental plants. Technically, "shallot" is a name given to a particular group of plants in an onion subgroup known as multiplier onions—types that can produce two or more bulbs per plant. Although shallots were once viewed as a separate species (Allium ascalonicum), they are now categorized botanically as an onion variety (Allium cepa var. aggregatum).
Shallots multiply in the ground like garlic, but the individual bulbs have concentric layers, like onions. They are generally smaller than bulbs of garlic, but the size you achieve depends on the variety and the conditions in which the bulbs grow. Shallots have a mild, subtle onion flavor that makes them very popular with chefs. Shallots are actually very easy to grow, despite their high price in grocery stores.
Shallots are typically planted in the fall or very early in the spring, six to eight weeks before the last average frost date. They are ready for harvest 60 to 120 days after planting.
|Botanical Name||Allium cepa var. aggregatum (also, Allium ascalonicum)|
|Common Name||Shallot, French shallot, gray shallot, Spanish garlic|
|Plant Type||Biennial bulb, usually grown as an annual|
|Size||1 to 2 feet tall; 6- to 12-inch spread|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to part shade|
|Soil Type||Rich, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic (5.0 to 7.0)|
|Native Area||Uncertain; probably southwest Asia|
|Hardiness Zones||4 to 10 (USDA); usually grown as an annual|
|Toxicity||Poisonous to dogs and cats|
How to Plant Shallots
Shallots are usually grown from sets or bulbs, and they are planted very much like garlic cloves. They can be planted in either the fall or spring. In warm climates, fall is better; in cool climates, get them in the ground by mid-October or wait until early spring.
Separate each bulb and plant them just below the soil surface, 4 to 6 inches apart with the pointed end facing up. Unlike garlic, which forms a larger bulb, shallots tend to spread out a bit into clusters of five or six, so they need more room than garlic.
If you leave shallots in the ground at the end of the season rather than harvesting them, they will re-sprout. However, the quality is better if they are dug up and replanted. So save some of your best bulbs to replant.
For best results, grow your shallots in full sun. If that's not possible, shallots can tolerate part shade.
Shallots need plenty of water throughout the growing season. Just make sure the soil is well-draining and that they are not sitting in wet soil, which can cause them to rot. Cut off any flower stalks in order to put the energy back into the bulbs. Some gardeners like to trim the leaves back by one-third, for the same reason.
Temperature and Humidity
Cloves can be planted four to six weeks before the last frost, as they require a cool dormant period of about one month with temperatures between 32 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Shallots can thrive in soil temperatures from 35 to 90 degrees. Provided they are regularly watered and kept in well-drained soil, shallots are not particularly humidity-sensitive.
Shallots generally don't require fertilizer. Don't mulch your shallots, but you can side-dress them with organic matter in early spring.
Are Shallots Toxic?
Like other members of the Allium family, all parts of the shallot contain a toxin that affects red blood cells in cats and dogs, causing anemia and sometimes death.
Varieties of Shallots
The shallots sold for garden planting are generally divided into the traditional "heirloom" varieties and hybrids that are bred to have a larger size or better storage longevity.
- 'French Gray' is considered by most to be the only true shallot and the one favored for gourmet cooking.
- 'French Red' has a spicy flavor and is easy to peel.
- 'Frog's Leg' is very mild; the bulbs are long and elongated, like a frog's leg.
- 'Ambition' is a large French shallot that stores very well.
- 'Conservator' is similar to 'Ambition' but larger and rounder.
Shallots are ready to harvest in three to six months. You can cut some of the green tops to use as green onions, but leave a portion of the stems intact to feed the bulbs.
Fall-planted shallots will be ready to harvest early the following summer. Spring planted shallots should be ready in mid- to late summer, depending on the weather. As with onions, shallots signal they are ready to be dug when their tops start to yellow and fall. Shake off excess soil and let them sit in a dry, shady spot for a couple of weeks to cure. You can store shallots for up to eight months if kept cool (35 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit.)
Shallots have a mild onion/garlic flavor and can be used in any recipe calling for onions, especially where you want a milder taste. They are especially good sauteed in butter and added to recipes. Shallots can also substitute for scallions or spring onions. Since shallots are mild in flavor, they are great raw or cooked.
You can easily save some of the harvested shallot bulbs to replant in the fall or spring. Since each bulb planted usually results in many new bulbs, there is rarely any need to buy more shallot sets once you have established a patch.
Common Pests and Diseases
Shallots are subject to many of the same problems as onions:
- White rot: This fungal disease attacks the roots and base of the bulb. It can persist in the soil, so once white rot occurs, shallots should not be grown again in the same location for five to eight years.
- Neck rot: This fungal disease attacks the neck and leaves of the plant. This is also a soil-born disease; don't plant again in the same area for two years.
- Onion fly larva: The larval worms that hatch from fly eggs burrow into the bulbs. Planting carrots nearby will deter them.
- Rodents: Gophers, rabbits, and squirrels often dig up shallots to feed on the bulbs. Exclusion techniques—such as fencing—are the only ways to keep rodents out of the garden.