Learn how to grow I’itoi onions, one of the easiest vegetables to plant and grow. Today, this once little known and nearly extinct vegetable is enjoying a resurgence in popularity as home gardeners and commercial growers alike appreciate the ease of growing and delicious flavor of I’itoi onions.

I’itoi onions (pronounced “EE-EE-toy”) have a long history in the Sonoran Desert. According to legend, I’itoi – the creator of the O’odham people – called his people together and presented them with onions to plant and share. Learn how to grow I’itoi onions, and you can share them with your friends and neighbors too!

How to Grow I'itoi Onions

How to Grow I'itoi Onions #howtogrowonions #iitoionion #gardening #heirloomvegetable

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1. Understand how to grow I'itoi Onions

I’itoi onions are a multiplier onion (allium cepa var. Aggregatum). The onions do not produce seeds but are grown from bulbs planted in the ground. The planted bulb multiplies and is propagated by division of bulbs. This easy-to-grow onion rarely (if ever) sends up flower stalks and bolts. I’itoi onions tolerate and even thrive in the Sonoran Desert’s difficult growing conditions. One bulb becomes 8 or 10 bulbs, which in turn become more bulbs. You will be amazed how quickly these bulbs multiply. 

How to Grow I'itoi Onions #howtogrowonions #iitoionion #gardening #heirloomvegetable

2. Plant I’itoi onions correctly

  • In the low desert of Arizona, plant I’itoi onions with the monsoon moisture in July; continue planting through November.  
  •  In cold winter areas plant I’itoi onions in the spring. 
  • Plant each bulb about an inch deep, 6-8 inches apart. For square foot gardening plant 4 bulbs per square. 
  • I’itoi onions tolerate native soil well and do not require additional feeding. However, richer soil will produce larger bulbs and shoots. 
  • I’itoi onions also tolerate dry conditions and will respond to monsoons and other rains with growth. Just as with amendments to the soil, regular watering produces larger bulbs and shoots.
How to Grow I'itoi Onions

3. Plant I’itoi onions as companion plants

Because I’itoi onions are easy to grow, it is simple to plant them throughout the garden. Onions are excellent companion plants for brassicas, beets, strawberries and tomatoes. Simply plant one bulb near the plant and the I’itoi onions will grow and divide, and provide the benefits of companion planting. Do not plant near peas and beans as plants in the onion family may impede their growth. For more information on preventing pests organically, read this post.

How to Grow I'itoi Onions #howtogrowonions #iitoionion #gardening #heirloomvegetable

4. Use all parts of the I’itoi onion

As green shoots develop, they can be harvested by trimming them off the onion and used like chives in recipes. The greens have a mild flavor and work well in most recipes that call for chives. 

You can also harvest individual bulbs as needed throughout the growing season. To use bulb, wash well and peel back skin to remove it. The bulbs have a mild peppery flavor similar to shallots. They are delicious sautéed and in recipes that call for shallots or onions.

5. Gather and share your harvest

In the low desert of Arizona, harvest I’itoi onions for storage during the month of May. Pull up clumps of onions and allow to cure following the directions below. 

It’s important to cure I’itoi onions before storing for longer storage life. Onions may rot and mold if not cured and stored properly. 

How to cure I’itoi onions: 

  • Choose a shady, protected location that is around 75-80°F.  Provide a slight breeze with a fan if possible if it is indoors.
  • Lay the onions out in a single layer on a rack or floor
  • Allow the onion stems to wither and the papery skins to tighten around the onions. 
  • Trim stems to about 1″ when the necks are moisture free and completely tight and dry. 
  • Separate clumps into single onions if desired. 

Store cured I’itoi onions in a dry, cool place. A great way to store onions is in mesh net bags (I use these mesh bags from Amazon) hung up in a cool place. 

Pinch yourself when you realize that your few planted bulbs multiplied many, many times! Each time you harvest I’itoi onions, save some to plant and share some with others. Teach others how to grow I’itoi onions, and share what you’ve learned!

How to Grow I'itoi Onions #howtogrowonions #iitoionion #gardening #heirloomvegetable
How to Grow I'itoi Onions #howtogrowonions #iitoionion #gardening #heirloomvegetable

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How to Grow I'itoi Onions
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15 Comments on How to Grow I’itoi Onions

  1. For many years (about 30), I have been looking for the multiplying onions my grandma and a great aunt used to grow in east Texas in the Houston area. They *never* bloomed and never went dormant. I think I’ve figured out they were actually shallots; a variety called “Louisiana Evergreen”, which I can’t find anywhere.

    I recently bought some no-name multiplying onions off eBay that look and smell like I remember, except these were dormant when I received them. (they sprouted immediately when I planted them) We’ll see if they are close to what I remember.

    I have also planted a few ping pong ball sized shallots I bought at an Asian market. They also look and smell right, but they are not multiplying like the ones I remember. They multiplied once, but then it doesn’t look like the new bulblets keep dividing. They are making real bulbs instead and will then probably go dormant. They are also producing scapes (flower stalks) but don’t seem to be putting much energy into them so that’s okay, but it’s an indicator they are not the same as what I’m looking for.

    [Finally getting to the point] I live in southern Minnesota now; the south end of zone 4. Would I’Itoi onions survive the cold up here if I keep them covered with leaves and snow in the winter for protection? Can they be lifted and stored for 5 months and then planted in the spring? (yes, winters are 5 months long here) Thanks.

    • Not sure about surviving the cold outside… but I think they would be fine if you brought them in and stored them inside. Be sure to store them in a paper sack or something that breathes. Best of luck. Let me know how it goes. I’d love to know how they do in cold climates.

      • I tried growing I’itoi in Vermont over the past year. They did fairly well over last summer and fall, but all of the I’itoi bulbs I left in the ground failed to sprout this year. Even the ones protected in cold frames did not sprout.

        Oddly, the I’itoi I pulled last fall and stored in the house over the winter completely dried out, turning to nothing but paper skins with no bulb remaining. I replanted them, but they appear to be dead.

        So I lost three-quarters of my I’itoi. The only ones remaining were grown in the house under grow lights all winter. They flourished, with one bulb becoming eight!

        I wish there was more information out there on growing I’itoi in climates other than the Desert Southwest.

        • Interesting. Thanks for sharing your feedback. Each climate is so different. I’m sorry about the loss of some of your onions, but glad a few survived. Please keep me posted as you continue learning about growing them in your climate.

  2. If planting in the fall in the low desert, about how long or what time of year until the greens die and they are ready for harvest? Is there an ideal environment to save the bulbs for next season, i.e. in the fridge or dark pantry?

    • This can be anywhere from April – August depending on where they are planted. The bulbs do mold very easily so keeping them cool and dry is important. The fridge or dark pantry would work, be sure there is plenty of airflow so they don’t get moldy.

    • I haven’t had them flower before. You can let them flower and save the seeds. Or if harvest and eat soon, they won’t store well once they bolt.

  3. Hi Angela!

    First of all, thank you for all your hard work – it is greatly appreciated! Would really love to try growing these, but it looks like Native Seed Search is no longer selling these. Do you know of another source?

  4. Hi Angela!

    First of all, thank you for all your hard work – it’s much appreciated!

    I was wondering if there was another source for bulbs. Native Seed Search is apparently no longer selling these to the general public…

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