How to Grow Multiplier Onions

Days to germination: 6 to 12 days
Days to harvest: 90 to 110 days
Light requirements: Full sun
Water requirements: Regular watering
Soil: Loose, fertile and high in nitrogen
Container: Large pots only


A multiplier onion is one variation of the more common green onions (or spring onion, or shallot), that produces more than one bulb per plant. They are also sometimes referred to as potato onions or underground onions. These are an older type of onion that are not as wide-spread in home gardens as they once were.

The only difference between multiplier onions and “regular” onions is the way they grow in bunches. The flavor is much the same, though usually on the milder side.

Onions are usually grown as a vegetable to be used for seasoning and flavor, but you shouldn’t ignore the nutrition in an onion either. They are quite high in chromium, fiber and even vitamin C. You may not think of chromium as an important mineral, but many people are actually deficient in it.

Starting from Seed

Unlike other onions, the multiplier onion doesn’t produce any seed and can only be reproduced by planting bulbs or sets. While you can start your sets indoors, it’s not common practice with multiplier onions.


You’ll want to have your sets planted out into the garden about 3 weeks before you expect to have your last winter frost. Dig your garden area well, so there are no rocks or hard pieces of soil to block the onion bulb growth. Add some fertilizer, compost or aged manure to the soil before planting to make sure there are plenty of nutrients (particularly nitrogen).

Onion sets are just small bulbs, rather than seeds. You don’t need to plant them very deeply, in fact the top of each one can be pointing out of the soil. Keep them spaced further than with traditional onions, about 10 inches apart.

You should plant multiplier onions where there will be full sun during the day. If you have the space, you may want to plant them around your other vegetables so that the strong smell can help keep insects away from your other plants.

They can tolerate hot weather, so you can also plant a second crop a month or so later than your spring planting. As long as you have a long enough growing season to allow them to mature when the first frosts arrive.

Growing Instructions

While your onions are first growing, keep them well-watered. Once they have several leaves sprouted, you can just give them regular waterings when the soil starts to dry out around them.

The growing bulbs won’t be very deep, so you don’t want to be digging around your onions to get rid of weeds. Either do your weeding by hand (no hoes or cultivators), or add a thick layer of straw or mulch around your plants to keep out the weeds.


You can definitely grow multipliers in containers, but you will need much larger pots that you would with any other kind of onion due to the extra bulbs being produced. Each plant should be in a pot at least 18 to 20 inches across.

Pests and Diseases

Just like with garlic, the pungent smell of onions can repel many insects so they are often a bug-free kind of vegetable to grow. But even without insect pests, you still need to watch for a few possible threats to your onions. Various fungus and mold problems can crop up.

If your onion leaves start to wilt and turn yellow, you may have an infestation of white rot. You won’t be able to tell for sure until you dig up one of your onions and check the bulbs and roots. At the base of at least one of your onions there will be fibrous white fungus instead of actual plant roots. Dig up the onions that are showing symptoms, but once it starts to spread in the soil, there is no treatment.

Another untreatable disease is Botyrtis blight, that will first show up as pale spots on the leaves which quickly spread until the entire leaf looks bleached. Your onions will soon die once it strikes. Again, dig up the effected plants to slow its spread in your garden.

Lastly, be on the lookout for onion smut. Black streaks will start to show on the leaves, and is more likely to be a concern during wet weather.

With any of these fungus infections, you should rotate your onion crops to another part of the garden for at least 3 or 4 years because the spores can survive that long.

Harvest and Storage

Each multiplier onion can produce up to 7 or 8 bulbs that will be about 2 inches across.

You can pull your onions at any time, but you should wait at least 2 to 3 months in order to get decent size bulbs. If you pull them much sooner, either to thin or just to get a headstart on having fresh onions, you will lose the benefit of planting multipliers in the first place. They need to be left to mature so that you get the full number of bulbs.

Being underground, they can tolerate some frost so any onions you planted later in the season should be fine even once the cold weather hits. No rush to harvest them at once.

After harvest, keep your bulbs somewhere dry and warm for a few days. Laying out in the sun works, as long as the weather is dry. This helps to dry the outer layers of skin on the bulbs, and they will store much longer. A cool and dark location is best to store your crop of onions, and they should last for months. Don’t keep them in a closed container or they will certainly get moldy.

At the end of the season, keep out a handful of small onions and store them somewhere dark and dry over the winter. You can plant them as your new sets for the next season, rather than buy new bulbs again.

10 Responses to “How to Grow Multiplier Onions”

  1. Mark Ferris  Says:

    I am setting up a garden in Conway Arkansas, anyone nearby who has multipliers and can spare some, I would appreciate a call. 329-5278

    Mark Ferris
    Claranne Elsinger

  2. Carol Ihli  Says:

    I am in ND my brother has tons of them. He would probably be wiling to send you some in the spring if you pay the postage or what ever. I will speak with him. I just started some from him in July and they like double by fall. I bought my first onion today. I will have a full pot early this spring. E-mail me at Carol

  3. Tom  Says:

    This is my first year growing multiplier onions. The instructions said to plant the “cloves” as late last fall as I could and cover with mulch which I did. Everything was going great then all of a sudden flower stalks with flower heads appeared.Most of the onion bunches have a flower stalk coming from each onion bulb. This has sapped the energy from each bulb and made them small and tough(ineddible).An internet search says that multipliers don’t make seeds. What happened?? I got great bulbing with 10-12 for each one I planted.Are these really multipliers??
    Thanks for your help
    Tom, Bedford, New Hampshire

  4. Ruth Worth  Says:

    Where can I buy some to start in my garden

  5. mike  Says:

    Jung but the info is scant i ordered two bundles got about twenty plants in spring. real tall now. seem to be reaching all the way to ground. from what i gather you wait until bigger dry replant in fall. Mine were planted in fall and have only one bulb at bottom.

  6. Beverly  Says:

    There are several species of onions commonly called multipliers. The “potato” onions work well for me in Maryland. In spring I plant whatever we didn’t eat. In a month they have sprouted into 6 or 8 green plants. I can transplant them whenever they seem crowded, and dig in the fall. This year I tried something different. I left some in all winter, and they split again in the spring. I transplanted them to make larger bulbs. They are still green, seem to be still growing (late July) so maybe I will dig a few and leave in the rest to see what happens. These onions keep well all winter, so different from the seed onions.

  7. Mark farrer  Says:

    My multiplayer onions were planted early May and now mid July, they are all dying. I only water when required approx 1-2 day intervals. They only get about half day of partial sun, I suspect this might contribute to some problems, but would it kill them completely?

  8. Beverly  Says:

    More explanation: Egyptian walking onions also are referred to as multipliers. And they are much more available, and cost a lot less. They throw up stalks with a bunch of little onions at the top. They “walk” if the bunch hits the ground and roots. The little onions are tasty, but the bulbs are not very good to eat. Potato onions don’t send up a stalk, but split readily.

  9. Mick V  Says:

    I’d like info on flowering on Multiplier Onions.

  10. Linda Hamm  Says:

    I am interested in a picture of a multiplier onion plant in HIGH RESOLUTION to use in a family history about my father.

    Thanks for anyone’s help
    Linda Hamm

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