Your Complete Guide to Growing Onions in North Carolina

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. This old saying fits the Peed family well, who started growing yellow onions on their farm, Flatland Ag, Inc. during the 1970s. , near Aurora in the early ’90s. The Peeds had been farming other crops, like corn and soybeans, for more than 100 years, but this one was harder than the others. For example, it was hard to get rid of weeds, they didn’t have the right tools, and they had to harvest the crops by hand, which was a lot of work. So they put onions on the back burner for a while – with every intention of trying again.

Jeff Peed is a fourth-generation farmer who runs the family business with his wife Barbara, his father Floyd, and his brother Scott. “We said we’d get back into them when we had the money to buy the equipment for a mechanical harvest,” he says.

When they planted onions again in 2008, their circumstances looked much different. Peed says it cost a lot of money to buy the planting and harvesting tools needed for a successful onion crop, but it was the only way to be successful. “Parts work together so well from top to bottom that you can’t just pick one and say, ‘I’ll start by getting this,'” he says.

Onions are a beloved vegetable in many cuisines and recipes. If you live in North Carolina, you can easily grow your own onions right at home for fresher flavor and plenty of savings. This comprehensive guide will teach you everything you need to know about successfully growing onions in North Carolina’s climate.

Why Grow Onions in NC?

There are many great reasons to try your hand at growing onions in North Carolina

  • Onions grow very well in NC’s climate and soil. The state offers ideal cool temperatures needed for bulb formation.

  • You can harvest onions in NC before other regions, fetching premium prices at market in June/July.

  • Homegrown onions are more flavorful and pungent than store-bought varieties,

  • Onions are expensive to buy so growing your own saves money.

  • Many different onion varieties can be grown, including sweet, storage, and red types.

  • Onions can be grown from seeds, transplants, or sets for flexibility.

  • Long summer days in NC are perfect for curing onions after harvest.

When to Plant Onions in North Carolina

Onions can be planted in either spring or fall in NC:


  • Coastal Plain: February 1st – March 15th
  • Piedmont: February 15th – March 30th


  • Coastal Plain: October 1st – November 30th
  • Piedmont: September 1st – October 30th
  • Central NC: September 15th – November 15th

Fall planting allows onions to develop roots before winter dormancy. Spring planting is best done with transplants or sets.

Selecting the Best Onion Variety

Choosing short-day onion varieties is key for North Carolina’s long summer daylight hours. Look for varieties that resist bolting.

Here are some excellent options:

  • Juno
  • Candy
  • Granex 33
  • Texas Grano 502
  • Sweet Winter
  • MidStar

I also recommend trying some newer long and intermediate day varieties like Sweet Sandwich and PrimaVera.

3 Ways to Plant Onions

1. Seeds: Sow seeds 1/2 inch deep in rows in fall or spring. Thin seedlings to 2-4 inches apart.

2. Transplants: Ideal for spring planting. Set transplants 1-2 inches deep and 2-4 inches apart in rows.

3. Sets: Immature onion bulbs. Quick option for either season. Space 3-4 inches apart in rows.

I prefer seeds or transplants over sets for best bulb quality and yields.

Providing Proper Care

Caring for your onion crop involves:

  • Loose, fertile soil with lots of organic matter and pH of 6.0-6.5.

  • Consistent moisture, about 1-1.5 inches per week. Avoid overwatering.

  • Fertilizing at planting and again when onions are 1/3 grown.

  • Controlling weeds and pests like thrips, maggots, and wireworms.

  • Allowing the tops to fall over before harvesting bulbs.

Harvesting and Storing Onions

  • Harvest when 75% of the tops are brown and fallen over.

  • Pull bulbs and allow them to dry out of direct sun for 1-2 days.

  • Cut tops 1-1.5 inches above bulbs and trim roots.

  • Cure bulbs for 3-4 weeks at 80-100°F to properly dry necks.

  • Store cured bulbs in a cool, dry place. They will last 2-3 months.

Avoid leaving onions in the ground too long or they may rot. Start checking bulbs 2-3 weeks after tops fall over.

Common Onion Growing Problems in NC

Growing onions in a new region comes with some potential pitfalls. Here are solutions to some possible issues:

  • Bolting – Plant resistant varieties at suggested times. Avoid very early fall planting.

  • Diseases – Improve air circulation. Use preventative fungicides if needed.

  • Sunburn – Don’t leave harvested bulbs in direct sun. Handle gently.

  • Neck rot – Cure bulbs thoroughly before storage at proper temperature.

  • Double bulbs – Can occur when bulbs begin second growth. Harvest promptly.

With proper care and favorable weather, you can overcome these challenges and grow a bountiful onion crop in North Carolina suitable for long term storage. Nothing beats the flavor of homegrown onions!

Enjoying Your NC Onion Harvest

The best part about growing your own onions is putting them to use! Here are some of my favorite ways to enjoy fresh NC onions:

  • Chopped raw in salads, salsas, and guacamole
  • Grilled or roasted whole onions
  • Caramelized onion relish or jam
  • Onion soup, especially with Vidalia varieties
  • Pickled red onions on sandwiches and burgers
  • Sauteed onions as a side or topping for meat
  • Onion rings! Slice, dip in batter, and fry crisp

Storing extra onions allows you to enjoy their flavor all year round in your favorite recipes. Nothing compares to the taste of freshly harvested onions.

Inner Banks Soil Ideal for Onions

The Peed family first got the idea to plant onions from a North Carolina State University researcher named Doug Sanders, who thought yellow onions would grow well in the rich soil of eastern North Carolina. Sanders obtained seed he believed could work there, and about a dozen farmers in the area tried them.

“It was hardest to find varieties that would survive the winter here,” Peed says. “But he was right—you can grow good onions here.” ”.

At Flatland Ag, Inc., they mostly grow the Tough Ball onion, which Peed calls “a sweet onion with flavor.” Onions spend the winter in the ground because they are planted in late September and picked in late May or early June. A warm fall is best for growing plants because they get off to a good start. Temperatures should not drop below 25 degrees. Because Aurora is near the coast, the weather doesn’t get too cold most of the time, but not always. Peed says that the first year they had about a dozen test plots to see what would make it through the winter.

“It was frustrating at first,” he says. “We’d get one hard freeze and the next day, [the onions] would be all flopped over. ”.

growing onions in north carolina

The Difficulty of Growing Onions

Growing onions is “not for the faint of heart,” Peed says, as he knows firsthand. Seventy-five percent of the year, the crop is in the ground, but they are in the field every month taking care of the onions.

“We call them our baby crop because they take nine months to mature,” Peed says.

To get the soil ready for planting in the fall, they till it until it’s very fine. Then, they use an Oregon-made Beck Precision Planter to plant eight rows of onions. The planter is pulled behind a tractor and works in three beds at a time. It’s slow going and takes three days to plant onions on 75 acres. The Peeds use direct seed, which costs them about half of what it costs to grow them. They are spaced 4 inches apart and in different positions.

Controlling weeds is an important part of growing plants, but it can be hard, in part because chemicals don’t work as well in the winter.

Harvest time is signified when about half of the onion tops have fallen over. It looks like a potato harvester, but the Peeds use a special tool that doesn’t go in the ground. When it’s done, it puts the onions back on the bed and packs the soil down again. This lets the onions dry for two or three days. Then they use the harvester to pick them up and put them in box bins to cure (dry) the necks of the onions so they don’t go bad. For the onions to be ready to be bagged, they go through a grading line, are dumped into a hopper that cuts off the tops, and are then brushed and sized.

growing onions in north carolina

When to Plant Onions & Garlic in North Carolina

When to plant onions in Onslow County?

Unfortunately, the onion sets sold in big box stores are usually long-day onions and will not form properly in our area. It is best to prepare ground in fall as average planting dates in Onslow County for live onion plants is February 10 through March 10. Later planting will produce a smaller bulb given same plant conditions.

How to grow edible onions in North Carolina?

Growing edible onions ( Allium capa) in North Carolina is fairly easy to do with proper soil preparation and garden care. Onions need full sun, well-drained soil with a good amount of organic matter (well-rotten compost), and pH 6.5 -6.8. The area planted should be weed free and watered as necessary during dry spells.

When do onions grow in North Carolina?

Regardless of when they are planted, varieties won’t form bulbs until the days are long enough for them to do so. Varieties that bulb in a 10 to 12 hour day (short day) are desired in eastern North Carolina for May-June harvest. It is also desirable to have an onion that has a small neck when mature.

What types of onion grow well in North Carolina?

Recently, long-day and intermediate-day-type onion varieties have been developed that are well-adapted to North Carolina conditions. They all have been very resistant to bolting and have produced good yields of large bulbs when overwintered. Some of the varieties overwinter very well. Table 1. Recommended varieties for Eastern North Carolina.

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