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—forms that can produce two or more bulbs per plant. Although shallots were once viewed as a separate species, they are now categorized botanically as an onion variety. However, not all multiplier onions can be called shallots.
Shallow multiply in the ground like garlic, but have concentric rings, 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.
|Botanical Name||Allium ascalonicum|
|Common Names||Shallot, French shallot, gray shallot, Spanish garlic|
|Mature Size||1 to 2 feet tall with a spread of 6 inches to 1 foot.|
|Sun Exposure||Full to partial|
|Soil pH||6.0 to 6.8; slightly acidic to neutral|
|Hardiness Zones||4 to 10, USDA|
|Native Area||Central and Southwest Asia|
How to Grow 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 5 or 6, so they need more room than garlic.
If you leave shallots in the ground, they will re-sprout; however, the quality is better if they are dug 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 partial 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 dormant period of about one month with temperatures between 32 and 50 degrees F. Shallots can thrive in soil temperatures from 35 to 90 degrees F. Provided they are regularly watered and kept in well-drained soil, they are not particularly humidity-sensitive.
Shallots prefer rich, loose soil and generally don't require fertilizer. Compacted soil will yield smaller bulbs. Don't mulch your shallots, but you can side-dress them with organic matter in early spring.
Varieties of Shallots
- French Gray: considered by most to be the only true shallot and the one favored for gourmet cooking
- French Red Shallot: spicy flavor and easy to peel
- Frog's Leg Shallot: very mild; long and elongated, like a frog's leg
- 'Ambition': large French shallot that stores very well
- 'Conservator': 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 F.)
Culinary Uses for Shallots
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.
Common Pests and Diseases
Shallots are subject to many of the same problems as onions:
- White rot: 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: 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: Burrow into bulbs. Planting carrots nearby will deter them.
- Gophers: Use exclusion techniques to keep gophers out of the garden.