How to Grow Shallots

shallots

The Spruce / Randi Rhoades

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).

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 90 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
Botanical Name Allium cepa var. aggregatum (formerly, Allium ascalonicum)
Family Amaryllidaceae
Plant Type Biennial, bulb
Size 1–2 ft. tall, 6–12 in. wide
Sun Exposure Full sun, partial sun
Soil Type Loamy, well-drained
Soil pH Neutral to acidic (5.0 to 7.0)
Bloom Time Spring
Hardiness Zones 4–10 (USDA)
Native Area Uncertain; likely southwest Asia
Toxicity Toxic to pets

How to Plant Shallots

When to Plant

Plant shallots 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 them in the early spring to harvest in the late summer. Roughly six to eight weeks before your area's projected last frost date in the spring, plant the shallots.

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 inches apart in rows, and space each row around 12 inches apart. These plants do not need a support structure to grow on.

Shallot Care

Light

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.

Soil

Plant shallots in well-draining soil enriched with organic matter. They like an acidic to neutral soil pH of about 5.0 to 7.0.

Water

Shallots need continuous water throughout the growing season. Make sure the soil remains lightly moist, but don't let the bulbs sit in soggy soil, which can cause them to rot.

Temperature and Humidity

Cloves 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.

Fertilizer

Shallots generally don't require fertilizer. However, amending the soil with compost in the spring can help to add nutrients and improve drainage. 

shallot harvest

The Spruce / Randi Rhoades

shallots growing

The Spruce / Randi Rhoades

planting shallots

The Spruce / Randi Rhoades

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
  • 'Conservator': A hybrid similar to 'Ambition' but larger and rounder

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.

Harvesting Shallots

Shallots are usually ready for harvesting approximately 90 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 diluted liquid 24-8-16 fertilizer product for the best results.

Pruning

Cut off flower stalks, so the growing energy goes to the bulbs. Some gardeners prefer to trim the leaves by one-third for the same reason.

Propagating Shallots

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:

  1. When harvesting shallots, save some of the healthiest-looking bulbs to replant the next fall or spring.
  2. 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.
  3. Plant the bulb with the pointed end just above the soil line.
  4. 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 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. After the danger of frost has passed, the seedlings can be planted 6 inches apart in the garden. 

Overwintering

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, so shallots should not be grown again in the same location for five to eight years once white rot occurs. 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 two years.

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.

FAQ
  • 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 90 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.

Article Sources
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  1. "Onion." ASPCA, https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants/onion.