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 many others.
I’itoi onions tolerate and thrive in the Sonoran Desert’s difficult growing conditions. 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 with these tips.
9 Tips for How to Grow I’itoi Onions
Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links. See my disclosure policy for more information.
1. Find bulbs to plant I’itoi Onions
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.
2. Understand how I’itoi onions grow
I’itoi onions are a multiplier onion (allium cepa var. Aggregatum). The planted onion multiplies and is propagated by the division of bulbs.
One becomes 8 or 10, which, when planted, become more onions. You will be amazed at how quickly they multiply.
3. How to Grow I’itoi Onions? Plant I’itoi onions correctly
- In the low desert of Arizona, begin planting I’itoi onions with the monsoon moisture in August; 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.
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.
5. Use all parts of the I’itoi onion as needed throughout the season
As green shoots develop, harvest as needed by trimming them off the onion. The greens have a mild flavor and work well in most recipes that call for chives. The onion will regrow new shoots.
Harvest individual bulbs as needed throughout the growing season. To use the bulb, wash and peel. The bulbs have a mild, peppery flavor similar to shallots. They are delicious sautéed and in recipes that call for shallots or onions.
6. Harvest I’itoi onions for storage at the right time
Harvest I’itoi onions for storing when the tops begin to die back, and the bulbs develop a papery skin. In the low desert of Arizona I’itoi onions are usually ready for harvest between May and July.
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.
7. Cure I’itoi onions before storing
How to cure I’itoi onions:
- Choose a shady location 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 until the onion stems wither and the papery skins tighten around the onions.
8. 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 cool closet. The onions must have good airflow, or they will get moldy.
Check stored onions regularly, and discard (or plant right away) soft or moldy onions.
9. Enjoy, save, and share I’itoi onions
Each time you harvest I’itoi onions, enjoy some, save some to plant, and share some with others.
Friday 12th of May 2023
Grew them this last year - loved it! Used your tips but I have one question.. when trimming the i'itoi onions to use how far down should I cut them to keep them growing and producing? There is a natural 'Y' in the stem growth it seems - should I trim below that or above? Or right down to the ground?
Tuesday 14th of March 2023
I have been growing I'itoi for about 8 years here in central AZ. They are the best as a scallion, or shallot, or even chives. We have 4 seasons here .................. 20's in the winter and 110's in the summer. The I'toi tolerate the extremes quite well. I grow them year round and replant anytime, as long as the soil isn't frozen. Now here's a tip ............ when you cut the roots off when prepping for dinner, save the roots and replant. Seriously, they will grow into a bunch of 30-40 scallions. Oh! Check out potato onions. :-)
Wednesday 15th of March 2023
Great tips from a longtime grower. Thank you!!!
Saturday 11th of February 2023
Where can we purchase these onions?
Tuesday 21st of February 2023
Check online at Native Seeds or Crooked Sky Farms they often carry them seasonally.
Friday 20th of January 2023
Hi Angela, a question about I’itoi onions, can they be kept in refrigerator until ready to plant in colder regions?
Saturday 21st of January 2023
That should be fine.
Saturday 18th of June 2022
Native-Seeds-Search has I'itoi onions for sale on their website today if any are interested in buying them.
Saturday 18th of June 2022
Thanks for the heads up. I shared it on a couple of my social channels.