Egyptian walking onions are becoming an increasingly popular option for gardeners looking for a hardy, no-fuss, easy-to-grow perennial onion. These onions first resemble bunching onions, but in the summer, they produce a topset of bulbils, not flowers, which can be eaten or planted like small onion sets to expand your onion patch.
These onions can tolerate a wide variety of growing conditions and are just as easy to grow in containers as they are in the ground. Read more below to learn about how to grow walking onions in containers.
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What Are Egyptian Walking Onions?
Egyptian walking onions (also called tree onions, topset onions, and often just walking onions) are perennial onions that are a cross between traditional bulbing onions and bunching onions. They resemble bunching onions, but with a larger bulb underground. However, when it bolts, instead of producing flowers, it produces a topset cluster of small onion bulbils (bulblets). These bulbils, which are often less than 1 inch in diameter, can be planted like onion sets or harvested and eaten like tiny onions.
They are called walking onions because of the way the plants multiply and spread throughout the garden; the bulbils can get heavy and even sprout while still attached to the plant if not harvested, causing the main onion stalk to bend down to the ground, after which the bulbils can root and grow into a new onion plant. If left unharvested, it may seem like your onion patch is “walking” as it expands season after season.
Walking onions are true perennials (hardy down to zone 3) and will grow back every year as long as the main bulb isn’t harvested. The main bulb will also multiply over the years.
What Part of Walking Onions Do You Eat?
All parts of an Egyptian walking onion are edible: the main bulb, the green tops, and the topset cluster of bulbils. The flavor of the greens and bulbils is mild and oniony, while the mature bulb at the base of the plant has a more pungent, intense flavor.
The main bulb is smaller than a regular bulb onion and does tend to have a tougher outer skin than regular onions, but it is perfectly edible and can be used in the same way as regular onions or shallots. The green tops can be used like green onions at any stage of the walking onion’s growth, but they are the most tender in spring and early summer. The bulbils can also be harvested and used in the kitchen like baby onions.
Tips on Growing Walking Onions in Containers
When to Plant Egyptian Walking Onions
Egyptian walking onions can be planted in spring, summer, and fall, but are best planted in spring or fall.
Because walking onions are hardy perennials planted from bulbs, you can plant them any time during the growing season. However, walking onions planted early in the spring will have plenty of time to get established in your garden while planting them in the fall will ensure they establish a root system before winter.
Where to Plant Walking Onions
Walking onions should be planted in loamy, rich soil in-ground, or in well-draining potting mix in containers. Avoid planting in overly wet or heavy clay soil. While walking onions can thrive in partial shade, they grow best in full sun.
Some ideas on where to put your container of walking onions including near a south-facing wall or fence, on a patio or deck that gets full sun, or at the corner of a garden bed where it won’t get shaded too much. You can also keep them on a balcony. South-facing is best, but you can make due with an east-facing or west-facing balcony; a north-facing balcony may be too shaded but you can still harvest the green onion tops.
How to Plant Walking Onions
Plant walking onions about 1 inch deep with the pointy side pointing up, similar to planting onion sets. For full-sized bulbs, plant 4 to 5 inches apart. Walking onions tolerate being planted as little as 1 inch apart, but will have smaller bulbs at the base of the plants and the plants themselves will be smaller.
Container Size for Egyptian Walking Onions
Pots for walking onions should be at least 4 inches deep, but ideally 6+ inches deep. Container diameter depends on how many walking onions you are planting. For full-sized walking onions, give them at least 4 inches of space around each bulb. But a small clump of walking onions can grow comfortably in a container 5 inches across, but will produce thinner tops and smaller bulbs. Always make sure your container has well-draining potting mix and adequate drainage holes on the bottom.
There is no hard rule for what type of container you should use when planting walking onions. You can even grow 2-3 walking onions together in a 3-inch pot. However, using a very small pot will cause your onions to stay small and they will require more frequent watering. A larger container will allow you to grow more onions and hold more water and nutrient-rich potting soil. [Editor’s note: I have walking onions both in-ground and in containers, and the container-grown ones are in a 5-inch deep pot that’s around 14 inches across.]
When to Harvest Egyptian Walking Onions
The green tops can be harvested at any time, but are most tender in spring and early summer. Bulbils can be harvested any time but typically don’t get larger than ½ inch to 1 inch in diameter. If harvesting bulbils to replant, wait until they mature–when the stalk starts to turn brown–and plant them like you would onion sets.
When to Divide Egyptian Walking Onions
Walking onions don’t need to be divided and can grow comfortably as a clump. But if you want to divide them to give them more space or relocate your walking onions, this is best done in early spring.
When dividing walking onions, carefully dig them up and pull the clump of bulbs apart, then transplant about 1 inch deep just as you would plant bulbils or regular onion sets.
Overwintering Container-Grown Walking Onions
While walking onions are hardy down to Zone 3, you can give them extra insulation and mulch them with straw or leaf mulch (avoid piling full-sized leaves as they can sometimes flatten into an impenetrable mat over the winter). You can also move your containers close to a south-facing wall for extra warmth in the winter. If you live in Zone 1 or 2, you can also bring the container with your Egyptian walking onions into your garage over the winter.
Where to Buy Egyptian Walking Onions
With walking onions becoming more popular, more nurseries, online shops, and independent vendors on places like Etsy and eBay are starting to offer walking onion bulbils for planting. Below are some places where you can buy walking onion bulbils online.
- Burpee (US)
- Sow True Seed (US)
- Mountain Valley Growers (US)
- EgyptianWalkingOnions.com Store (US)
- Planting Justice (US)
- Eagle Ridge Seeds (Canada)
- Terre Promise (Canada)
- Otter Farm (UK)
- TreeOnions.com Store (UK)
- Quercus Edibles (UK)
- You can also sometimes find vendors on Etsy, but always buy from trusted sellers!
- Mahr, S. (n.d.). Egyptian Walking Onions. Wisconsin Horticulture. Retrieved from https://hort.extension.wisc.edu/articles/egyptian-walking-onions/
- Voyle, G. (2021). Egyptian walking onions – what are these strange-looking plants? MSU Extension. Retrieved from https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/egyptian_walking_onions_what_are_these_strange-looking_plants