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How to Grow I’itoi Onions

Learn how to grow I’itoi onions, and you will soon have enough to enjoy, plant again, and share with your friends and neighbors.

The ease of growing and the delicious flavor of I’itoi onions makes it easy to see why this once little-known and nearly extinct vegetable is enjoying a resurgence in popularity for home gardeners.

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.

How to Grow I'itoi Onions

9 Tips for Growing I’itoi Onions

Learn how to grow I'itoi onions, and you will soon have enough to enjoy, plant again, and share with your friends and neighbors.

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links. See my disclosure policy for more information.


1. Find bulbs to plant I’itoi Onions

In 2005 when I took the Master Gardener classes, they gave each student a couple of withered, sad-looking I’itoi onion bulbs. I was disappointed and thought, there’s no way these will grow.

I was wrong. That couple of I’itoi onions has multiplied into thousands of bulbs that have since been eaten, planted, and shared with countless others.

Some years, it is hard to know where to buy I’itoi onions. They can be challenging to come by. On other years it’s easy to find them at the farmer’s market or other local sellers. Check Native Seeds Search, Crooked Sky Farm, and Vilardi Gardens; they may have them available for purchase.

If you’re having a hard time finding I’itoi onion bulbs to plant, ask other gardeners, they may have some to share.

Learn how to grow I'itoi onions, and you will soon have enough to enjoy, plant again, and share with your friends and neighbors.

2. Understand how to grow I’itoi Onions

I’itoi onions are a multiplier onion (allium cepa var. Aggregatum). The onions are typically grown from bulbs planted in the ground. The planted bulb multiplies and is propagated by the division of bulbs. This easy-to-grow onion rarely sends up flower stalks and bolts. 

Learn how to grow I'itoi onions, and you will soon have enough to enjoy, plant again, and share with your friends and neighbors.

I’itoi onions tolerate and even thrive in the Sonoran Desert’s difficult growing conditions. One bulb becomes 8 or 10 bulbs, which, when planted, become more bulbs. You will be amazed how quickly these bulbs multiply.


3. Plant I’itoi onions correctly

Learn how to grow I'itoi onions, and you will soon have enough to enjoy, plant again, and share with your friends and neighbors.
  • In the low desert of Arizona, begin planting 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 produces 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

4. 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

Plant one bulb near the plant, and the I’itoi onions will grow, divide, and provide companion planting benefits. For more information on preventing pests organically, read this post.

Plant I’itoi onions as companion plants

5. Use all parts of the I’itoi onion

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 the bulb, wash well and peel the 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.

Use all parts of the I’itoi onion

6. Harvest I’itoi onions at the right time

In the low desert of Arizona, harvest I’itoi onions for storing when the tops begin to die back, and the bulbs develop a papery skin. I’itoi onions are usually ready for harvest between May and July.

when to harvest I'itoi Onions

Pull up clumps of onions and allow them to cure for the most extended storage life. Onions may rot and mold if not cured and stored correctly. 

when to harvest I'itoi Onions

7. Cure I’itoi onions before storing

How to cure I’itoi onions: 

Cure I'itoi onions before storing
  • Choose a shady location that is ideally 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
Cure I'itoi onions before storing
  • Allow the onion stems to wither and the papery skins to tighten around the onions. 
  • Trim the stems to about 1″ when the necks are moisture free and completely tight and dry. 
  • Separate clumps into single onions if desired. 
Cure I'itoi onions before storing

8. Store cured I’itoi Onions Correctly

Store cured I'itoi Onions Correctly

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 hall closet. The onions must have good airflow, or they will get moldy. 

Check stored onions regularly and discard any soft or moldy onions.


9. Share I’itoi onions with others

Each time you harvest I’itoi onions, save some to plant and share some with others.

Learn how to grow I'itoi onions, and you will soon have enough to enjoy, plant again, and share with your friends and neighbors.


If this post about how to grow I’itoi onions was helpful, please share it:


Tricia Weber

Saturday 18th of June 2022

Hi Angela,

Native-Seeds-Search has I'itoi onions for sale on their website today if any are interested in buying them.

Best,

Tricia

Angela Judd

Saturday 18th of June 2022

Thanks for the heads up. I shared it on a couple of my social channels.

Raejean

Saturday 21st of May 2022

Hi Angela, So happy to have found another Arizona grower! Your videos are a huge help! One of your comments below say you will have some I'itoi Onions available for sale on your website when cured. Are they for sale yet, I cant find them.

Edward J. Bawolek

Friday 3rd of June 2022

@Angela Judd,

Hi Angela,

In April 2020 I was able to purchase some I'itoi onions from Crooked Sky Farms in Phoenix. Perhaps that will help your interested viewers.

Crooked Sky Farms Main: 623-363-7422 Hours of Operation: Mon-Fri 8:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. Location: 2615 S. 27th Ave. Phoenix, AZ 85009

(I have no affiliation with Crooked Sky, BTW).

I enjoy your web site. It is especially relevant as I am in Chandler.

Best, Ed Bawolek

Angela Judd

Saturday 21st of May 2022

I had some to sell in previous years, but I don't currently have any for sale.

Rebecca

Thursday 19th of May 2022

In the Green Valley area (south of Tucson) I have been wondering where I can find the I'itoi onion starts. Do you have a reliable on-line nursery you buy them from or can you or any of your followers suggest somewhere to find them? It is May right now - when should I be looking to plant these outside? Should I consider the timing of planting as if they were shallots? Thanks for any info!

Angela Judd

Saturday 21st of May 2022

Unfortunately, no I don't have a source. I like to plant mine out with the monsoons in August through October or November.

Rebecca

Tuesday 3rd of May 2022

Where can the planting bulbs be found? I would love to try them out - am in the Tucson area and I am trying to incorporate "local" veg & flowers in my garden.

Angela Judd

Tuesday 3rd of May 2022

They can be tough to find. Check local farmer's markets. Villardi Garden's here in the Phoenix Metro area has them occasionally. You could also check with Native Seed Search.

Kayla

Saturday 9th of April 2022

Hi Angela,

I finally found some I'itoi onion plants today at a farmer's market. I know these are usually planted later in the year, but I'm wondering if I would be fine planting them now in April?

Angela Judd

Monday 11th of April 2022

Sure, you can always give them a try and see how they do.