Shallots are a member of the Allium genus, which includes onions, garlic, chives, and several ornamental plants. The term "shallot" refers to a particular group of plants in an onion subgroup, known as "multiplier onions," that produces two or more bulbs per plant. Although shallots were once considered a separate species (Allium ascalonicum), they are now categorized botanically as an onion variety (Allium cepa var. aggregatum--Dutch shallots, or A.oschaninii—French shallots).
Shallots multiply in the ground like garlic, but the individual bulbs have concentric layers like onions. Moreover, shallots are generally smaller than garlic bulbs and have a mild onion flavor. They are relatively easy to grow. Like garlic cloves, they should be planted in the fall or early spring, and with their fast growth rate, they are usually ready to harvest in 100-120 days on average. Be warned that all parts of Allium cepa species and varieties are toxic to pets.
|Common Name||Shallot, French shallot, gray shallot, Dutch shallot|
|Botanical Name||Allium cepa var. aggregatum (formerly, Allium ascalonicum, Dutch shallot), A. oschaninii (French shallot), Allium stipitatum (Persian shallot)|
|Plant Type||Biennial, bulb|
|Size||1–2 ft. tall, 6–12 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Loamy, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Neutral, acidic|
|Hardiness Zones||2–10 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Uncertain; likely southwest Asia|
|Toxicity||Toxic to pets|
How to Plant Shallots
Shallots are normally planted from commercially-grown "sets"—immature bulbs that are in their second year after being planted in greenhouses from seeds. Planting shallots purchased at grocery stores often works, too, but be aware that growers have sometimes treated produce with chemicals that hinder sprouting. If your store-bought shallots have begun to sprout, though, these will almost certainly work fine for planting. Separate store-bought shallots into individual cloves and let them dry out slightly. Then, plant them as directed below.
When to Plant
Planting time depends on whether you'll be growing from seeds or shallot sets—immature bulbs. Plant shallot sets in late fall, and you’ll be able to harvest by early summer. However, fall plantings don’t always work out in the colder parts of this plant’s growing zones. You also can plant sets in the early spring to harvest in the fall. Roughly two to four weeks before your area's projected last frost date in the spring, plant the shallot sets. If growing from seeds, sow shallots seeds outdoors 4 weeks before your past expected frost in spring, or start seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before average last frost date.
Selecting a Planting Site
Choose a sunny spot of your garden for your shallots. It's also ideal to have some space from other plants, as shallots don't like to compete for soil moisture or nutrients. Plus, the planting site should have sharp soil drainage and not be prone to flooding. Shallots also can be grown in containers.
Spacing, Depth, and Support
Shallots are most commonly grown from cloves. Place each clove in the soil with the thick end pointing down and the top just above the soil line. Plant them around 6 to 8 inches apart in rows, and space each row around 12 to 18 inches apart. These plants do not need a support structure to grow on.
For best results, grow your shallots in full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days. Shallots can also tolerate a bit of shade, but they might not be as robust.
Shallots need continuous water throughout the growing season especially during dry spells. Make sure the soil remains lightly moist, but don't let the bulbs sit in soggy soil, which can cause them to rot. They need about an inch of water per week.
Temperature and Humidity
Shallots require a cool dormant period of at least one month with temperatures between 32 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit before they start growing. Shallot plants prefer soil temperatures from 35 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, as long as they are regularly watered and kept in well-draining soil, shallots are not humidity-sensitive.
Shallots generally don't require fertilizer. However, amending the soil with compost in the spring can help to add nutrients and improve drainage.
Types of Shallots
Shallots sold for garden planting are generally divided into traditional heirloom varieties and hybrids bred to have a larger size or better storage longevity. Some types of shallots include:
- 'French Gray': An heirloom considered by most to be the only true shallot and the one favored for gourmet cooking
- 'French Red': An heirloom that has a spicy flavor and is easy to peel
- 'Frog's Leg': An heirloom that is very mild; the bulbs are elongated like a frog's leg
- 'Ambition': A hybrid large French shallot that stores very well
- 'Conservor': A hybrid similar to 'Ambition' but larger and less rounded
Shallots vs. Scallions
As they’re both part of the Allium genus, shallots and scallions are often mistaken for one another. However, the manner in which they are used is very different. Scallions, also known as green onions, are harvested when the bulbs are immature and used for their long, thin, green leaves. Shallots are used for their small but fully mature bulbs, which have a much stronger flavor than scallions.
Shallots are usually ready for harvesting approximately 100-120 days after planting. As with onions, shallots signal they are ready to be dug up once their leafy tops turn brown and wither. Dig up the whole plant, and shake off excess soil. Then, place it in a dry, shady spot for a couple of weeks to cure. After that, remove the roots and tops.
You can store shallots in a cool, dry room at around 35 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit for up to eight months. Place them in a mesh bag, and ensure that they have good air circulation. Shallots have a mild onion/garlic flavor and can be used in any recipe calling for onions, especially if you want a milder taste. They are great raw or cooked.
How to Grow Shallots in Pots
Growing shallots in a container is helpful because you can move the container for the plant to receive adequate sunlight. You also can carefully control the plant's water intake. A pot that's 6 inches in diameter is ideal for one clove. Be sure to space multiple cloves 6 inches apart just like you would when planting in the ground. The container must have ample drainage holes. An unglazed clay container is best to allow excess soil moisture to evaporate through its walls.
Water the plant when the soil is dry around 1 inch down. Pour water slowly over the soil surface until it flows out of the drainage holes, and then stop. Shallots usually need about 1 inch of water each week—maybe more in sweltering conditions. Give container shallots fertilizer in the early spring. Apply a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer product for the best results.
Cut off flower stalks, so the growing energy goes to the bulbs. Do not cut the leaves, as they provide energy to the bulb.
Most shallots are harvested in their first growing season before they flower and set seed, so the only way to propagate them is from the bulbs. Because each bulb planted usually results in several new bulbs, there is rarely any need to buy more shallots once you have established a patch. Here's how to propagate with the bulbs:
- When harvesting shallots, save some of the healthiest-looking bulbs to replant the next fall or spring.
- Carefully divide the shallot bulbs, ensuring that the papery coating remains on each section. Store in a cool and dry area.
- When it comes time to plant, pick a sunny spot, and dig a hole roughly the size of an individual bulb. Mix some compost into the soil.
- Plant the bulb with the pointed end just above the soil line.
- Water to keep the soil lightly moist. Green shoots should pop up within a week.
How to Grow Shallots From Seed
To grow shallots from seed, plant the seeds roughly eight to ten weeks before your area’s last projected frost date in the spring. Use a shallow tray with a seed-starting mix, and sow seeds only around 1/4 inch deep. Place the tray in a bright location, and you should see germination in about a week. Do not let soil dry out. Harden off seedlings before planting. After the danger of frost has passed, the seedlings can be planted 4 to 6 inches apart in the garden.
Shallot bulbs can overwinter in the ground, as they go dormant for the winter season. No special maintenance is necessary for them to overwinter, as long as their planting site has good drainage. Once temperatures begin to warm, the plant awakens, spurring the growing process.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
Shallots are subject to many of the same problems as onions. Diseases to watch for include white rot and neck rot. White rot is a fungal disease that attacks the roots and base of the bulb. It can persist in the soil for as long as 15 years, so shallots should not be grown again in the same location for quite some time. Discard affected plants. Neck rot is a soil-borne fungal disease that attacks the neck and leaves of the plant. Discard the plants, and don't plant again in the same area for three years. Watch out for purple blotch and pink root as well.
Pests that go after shallots include onion fly larva and rodents. The larval worms hatch from fly eggs that burrow into the bulbs. But planting carrots nearby can deter them. Moreover, rodents including gophers, rabbits, and squirrels often dig up shallots to feed on the bulbs. Exclusion techniques, such as using fencing, are the best way to keep rodents out of the garden.
Are shallots easy to grow?
Shallots are relatively easy to grow as long as you have the proper planting site with adequate sun and good drainage.
How long does it take to grow shallots?
Shallots should be ready to harvest roughly 100 days after planting.
How many shallots will grow from one bulb?
A single bulb can produce anywhere from four to 12 new bulbs when planted.
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Allium spp Toxicosis in Animals. Merck Veterinary Manual.
Onion Neck Rot. The Royal Horticultural Society.
Onion White Rot. The Royal Horticultural Society.
Shallots: What They are and How to Grow Them. Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
Onion Fly. The Royal Horticultural Society.