Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.
What are Shallots?
Shallots (Allium cepa aggregatum) are an ancient vegetable that originated in Asia, and then made their way to the Mediterranean region. They are a member of the Alium family, which includes onions and garlic. The taste is milder than onions and contains a slight garlic flavor. They can be used in the place of onions in recipes if you want a milder flavor. Another advantage is that they can be stored for six to eight months, longer than onions can be stored.
There are three types of shallots. The familiar yellow shallots, called gold shallots, have skins that are tan or copper while the interior is yellow. The bulbs are shaped like tear drops. This is the most popular type for home gardeners because they keep longer than the other kinds of shallots.
Red shallots, as their name implies, have red outer skins with bulbs that have red rings similar to red onions. The bulbs have the same teardrop shape as yellow shallots.
Gray shallots are preferred by gourmet chefs as having the best flavor. The bulbs have gray skins with white and purple interiors. They are elongated rather than tear drop shaped. They also have a shorter dormancy period so they are best planted in the fall.
Should You Grow Shallots From Seeds or Starts?
Seeds for shallots can be difficult to come by. If you do find them, you will want to start them indoors in late winter so that the seedlings are ready to be planted in your garden 4 to 6 weeks before your last frost. They will be slow to get started, but once started grow faster than their onion cousins.
Most people plant bulbs that are also referred to as cloves (like garlic). The bulbs are planted in the fall, like garlic. In colder areas, plant your bulbs by the middle of October. If you are unable to get them planted on time, then wait until spring. Shallots are hardy in growing zones 3 through 10 so they have no problem overwintering in your garden.
How to Grow Shallots
Shallots prefer a slightly acidic soil in the range of pH 6.0 to 7.0 but will also do well in regular garden soil. They do best in rich soil that is kept consistently moist.
Plant your bulbs 4 to 6 inches apart with the pointed end up. They need more space than garlic because the cloves grow outwards, rather than in a tight bulb like garlic. Planting depth is just below the surface.
Shallots prefer their soil loose, so they are one of those rare plants that shouldn't be mulched. Side dress them with compost or apply an organic fertilizer when they reach a height of 12 inches. Keep them well-watered but not soggy. They do not like to dry out. Shallots don't compete well with weeds, so keep your garden as clear of them as possible. Cut off any flower stalks from your shallot plants. This keeps them putting energy into their bulbs rather than into making seeds.
How to Harvest Shallots
Your shallots are ready to harvest when the foliage begins to die back. Fall planted bulbs should be ready in early summer while spring planted bulbs will be ready for harvest in mid- to late summer.
Carefully loosen the soil around your plants using a garden fork and then gently pull the bulbs out of the ground. You can expect to harvest 4 to 5 times the number of bulbs that you planted.
Any bulbs left in the ground will resprout the following spring but it is always best to dig up all of your bulbs and then replant some in the fall. Be sure to keep your biggest and best bulbs for fall re-planting.
How to Store Shallots
Shallots need to be cured before they can be stored. Carefully brush off the excess soil and then leave your plants in a warm, dry place for about a week. Cut off the roots and the tops then cure them for an additional two weeks.
Shallots should be stored indoors in a cool, dry place that maintains a consistent temperature of 35°F to 45°F to ensure maximum storage time.
© 2014 Caren White
Caren White (author) on August 12, 2014:
Thanks Flourish! I don't understand why shallots are so expensive to buy in the grocery store when they are so easy to grow. Thanks for reading and commenting.
FlourishAnyway from USA on August 11, 2014:
Good information. It was helpful to know their advantages over onions and how to store them.
Caren White (author) on August 11, 2014:
I love allium blossoms too, Kaili! Thanks for reading and voting!
Kaili Bisson from Canada on August 11, 2014:
Oh I love these in my garden. I leave some of the flowers as they are kind of pretty. Voted up!