What to Do With an Onion (or Garlic Clove) that has Sprouted

An onion with shoots
An onion with shoots | Source

Has an Onion or Garlic Clove Sprouted in Your Refrigerator or Pantry?

You've probably come across this situation plenty of times -- you bring home a bag of onions, or some fresh whole garlic, and a week or two later, you're reaching for some and notice that one or two (or all) of them have put out roots and green shoots. Can you still eat them? Should you plant them? Or just throw them away? In this article I'll give you some helpful tips on what to do with onions or garlic when they've sprouted.

Can You Still Eat Them?

Maybe. If the roots and shoots are still small, it's probably still perfectly good. Just chop them off, cut the onion or garlic clove in half, and remove any remnants of the shoots. Of course, you should also check for mold and rot, especially if the item in question has been sitting around in a cool, dark place for over a week. If there's only a little mold, just cut it out and eat the rest. If the onion or garlic looks black and/or feels mushy, though, throw that thing away.

Can You Plant Them?

Most likely, the answer is yes! The only exception is if the onion or garlic is seriously consumed by mold or rot. If there's only a little, just chop off the bad bits.

Now you may be wondering, if I plant an onion or garlic clove, will I get more onions or garlic? With onions, unfortunately no, but with garlic, maybe. One thing you will get in either case is a lot of chives (those are the green shoots) which in my opinion are just as delicious, making planting that onion or garlic clove worth the trouble.

Flowering chives
Flowering chives | Source

How to Plant a Sprouted Onion (and What to Expect)

  • Plant healthy-looking sprouted onions in 8"-12" pots, one per pot. Be sure to cut off any moldy, rotted, or pitted parts before planting, taking care to maintain the roots and the core of the bulb
  • Fill each pot with potting mix, leaving a couple of inches of space at the top.
  • Make a hole in the center of each pot that is about the width of the onion and the depth of the onion + its roots (and excluding the shoots)
  • Carefully place each onion in a pot, covering them with soil so that the base of the shoots meet the surface of the soil.
  • Press down gently but firmly on the soil to remove air pockets
  • Water thoroughly until water drains from the drainage holes
  • Place the onions in a shaded spot for a couple of weeks. Allow them to get a little bit of filtered light, but don't put them in the sun just yet. Their roots need time to grow and adjust.
  • After a couple of weeks, you can slowly give them more sun - partial shade at first, then full sun.
  • Harvest chives as needed; this will encourage new growth; you can use chives just about everywhere you would use onion, and they also make a wonderful garnish
  • If your chives put up flowers, you can wait until the flowers go to seed, then save the seeds for planting next season (unlike the parent onion, these seeds will produce more onions if planted)

Flowering garlic chives
Flowering garlic chives | Source

How to Plant a Sprouted Garlic Clove (and What to Expect)

Unlike onions, garlic bulbs can produce more garlic if handled correctly. I've therefore divided this tutorial into two sections: the first section is for those who only want to grow chives, and the second section is for those who would like to grow more garlic.

If you only want garlic chives:

  • Plant each clove of garlic in 8"-12" pots, one per pot; you can also start them off in 4" pots and transplant them when they are bigger
  • Fill each pot with potting mix, leaving a couple inches of space between the soil and the rim of the pot
  • Make a small hole in each pot that's about the width of the bulb and the depth of the bulb + its roots + a little extra
  • Plant each clove so that the bulb and its roots are covered, and the base of its shoots are covered just a little (about 1/8"-1/4")
  • When you've finished planting, press gently but firmly on the soil in each pot to remove air pockets
  • Water thoroughly until it drains from the pot
  • Place the garlic plants in a shaded spot for the first couple of weeks; they should only be getting some ambient light, not full sun. This is because their roots are not yet big enough to absorb enough water to handle too much light
  • After a couple of weeks, you can give them a little more light, increasing the amount gradually; eventually they will like full sun
  • Harvest garlic chives as you need them; this will encourage new growth. Garlic chives lend a nice garlic flavor to dishes, and also make a lovely garnish
  • If your plant puts up flowers, you can let them go to seed and save the seeds. You can plant them next season

If you want your plants to produce more garlic bulbs:

  • To produce more bulbs, you can use either sprouted or unsprouted cloves, just make sure to plant unsprouted cloves "pointy-end" up, about 1/2" below the surface.
  • Follow the first six items in instructions above, but know that you must let your plants think they've gone through winter if you want more garlic. You can achieve this naturally by planting them before the first frost, or artificially by putting them in the freezer for a couple weeks
  • Once you've allowed them to go through winter (or "winter"), put them out in the sun to warm up.
  • Keep the soil moist but not soaking throughout the growing process; it takes about 8 months for garlic to mature
  • You can use the chives during this period, but only a little at a time, or you'll stunt the bulbs' growth
  • Prune back any flowering shoots that come up initially (this helps produce larger bulbs)
  • If the bulbs aren't already in 8" or 12" pots, transplant them carefully once they've showed some signs of growth
  • You will know the garlic is ready to be dug up when the tops of most of the leaves have turned yellow

Comments 1 comment

Burkle51 9 months ago

can you start this process in the house as I live in NY State and it is cold and snowy here?

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