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Onions and their cousins

By George Boyhan
University of Georgia

Georgia is known all over for its sweet, mild, Vidalia onions. But onions have several cousins, too, that you may want to try in your fall garden.

While south Georgia is an ideal place to grow those sweet specialty onions because of its mild winters, abundant water and low-sulfur soils, the state is generally a fine place to grow the onion's cousins.

Grow traditional or Elephant garlic

Garlic is easily grown from cloves, or the individual sections of the garlic bulb. You can get these seed cloves from a variety of seed companies, and they may be available at your local feed-and-seed store or garden center.

The type that will do well in Georgia is California Early. This is a soft-neck type (it doesn't form a flower stalk) that matures in late spring. Later varieties don't do well here because of the hot summers.

Elephant garlic is actually more closely related to leeks than to garlic. But it, too, will do well in south Georgia. You can plant it from cloves as well. The bulb, as the name implies, is much larger than the standard garlic.

Leeks grow from seed

Leeks don't produce bulbs at all but instead develop a pseudostem of closely adhering leaves near the base of the plant. They're grown from seed and should be sown in the fall around the time onions would be sown in plant beds (in September).

With leeks, gardeners often throw up soil to cover the base. They do this to blanch the tissue white, which is considered more appealing.

Leeks have a mild flavor, with the white lower stem the best-tasting. The green tops can be eaten as well, but they generally have a stronger taste and more fibrous texture.

Shallots aren't baby onions

Sow shallots later than onions, in mid-October or later, so they don't form seed stems, or flower stems, in the spring.

Gardeners often think of shallots as small onions, but they're not. They're actually a species all their own. They grow in clusters and have a mild flavor, somewhere between an onion and garlic.

Chives are the smallest plants in the onion family. They're often available in small pots or packs at garden centers. Check where you'd find normally other herb plants, and you may find chives there, too.

Chives also grow in clumps, and that makes it an easy way to reproduce them. Just separate the clumps and replant them to get more plants. You can start them from seeds, too, without a lot of trouble.

If you like onions, chances are good that you'll enjoy one or more of the plant's cousins. Give some a try in your fall garden this year.

(George Boyhan is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences)

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