Martha Maletta, Home Horticultural Consultant
Dated - February 09, 2004

There is a new onion available to home gardeners that might be worth a try in Hunterdon County. ‘Super Star’ was a 2001 All America Selections (AAS) winner, the only onion so designated in over 50 years. The reason: this is a day neutral sweet white hybrid that has the potential to do well throughout the country.

Most onions fall into one of two groups: long-day or short-day. The long-day onions need a certain day length to bulb, 14-16 hours, reached here in summer. Short-day onions need only 12-14 hour days to bulb. This is why short-day onions only perform well in the southern states where maximum day length is about 12 hours. If they are grown in the north, the day-length requirement is met when the plants are still small and the bulbs will not develop any size. Unfortunately for “long-day” gardeners, many of the mild, sweet onions are short-day types.

Until now. ‘Super Star’ may be the northern onion grower’s answer because it does not have the day-length requirement and reportedly has the mild, sweet flavor favored for grilling or raw eating. This is not an onion for long storage, however. It does require about 100 days to reach maturity so would best be grown from seed sown indoors about 8 weeks before transplanting in late March/early April. That means very soon!

Here are some onion-growing tips. Onion needs a fertile soil with plenty of organic matter, especially if the soil is heavy as are many in Hunterdon County. Plant transplants 2-3 inches apart and thin to 6-8 inches, using the thinnings as green onions. Set the transplants deep enough to support the plant but do not cover the youngest leaf. Harvest when the tops of 1/4 to 1/2 the plants have fallen over. Onions can be harvested earlier, as needed, but won’t be as large. Weed control is very important. Hand pulling and shallow cultivation are the main options for young plants. Mulch may help on established plants.

A 2004 AAS flower award winner that looks interesting is hollyhock ‘Queeny Purple’. It is to be grown as an annual in most areas, flowering about 12 weeks after seeding indoors in March. Seeds are available from several retail catalog sources, and plants may be available this year from some garden retailers. The plant is reported to reach 2-3 feet, short for a hollyhock, so good for smaller gardens. The frilly double flowers should be a garden standout. In our area watch out for hollyhock rust, Japanese beetle, spider mites and deer as problems on this plant.

After two seasons growing it I’ve added the AAS 2002 winner cleome ‘Sparkler Blush’ to my list of garden regulars. This is the first dwarf cleome, reaching about 36 inches tall. The pale pink to white unique flowers and deer resistance (in addition to smaller stature) have made it welcome in a small flowerbed. To improve germination, chill seeds for 5 days at 34 F before sowing indoors for earlier bloom. The seeds may also respond to light, so do not plant too deeply.