Plant Allium Bulbs in Fall for Gorgeous Spring Flowers
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Allium flowers are easy to plant in fall and enjoy in spring. Check out our tips and tricks for growing allium bulbs and our favorite allium varieties.
It’s impossible to quickly summarize allium flowers, a gigantic group of perennial, edible and ornamental plants with different sizes, shapes, colors and bloom times. But it’s easy to sing their praises.
Alliums, members of the onion family with about 1,000 species, grow in most climates and have bloom times from early spring through fall and later in mild climates. Most are drought resistant and grow best in full sun, although some tolerate shade. Their multiflowered blooms are paradise for pollinators, but critters turn up their noses.
“They’re durable, long-lived, trouble-free for the most part, and deer resistant,” says Brent Horvath, owner of Intrinsic Perennial Gardens in Hebron, Illinois, who selects and breeds alliums. “They’re up-and-coming in popularity, too.”
Two main types of alliums—bulbs and clump-forming—each have their own characteristics. If you plan carefully, it’s possible to have an allium blooming from early spring to late in the year.
Garden tip—you may need to learn to be comfortable with botanical Latin because many alliums don’t carry a consistent common name.
How to Plant Allium Bulbs
Many gardeners are familiar with spring-flowering allium bulbs, especially the attention-grabbing big ball types, such as Globemaster, Gladiator, Purple Sensation and the showstopping 8-inch-wide flower head of Allium giganteum.
Other bulb favorites include fireworks-shaped alliums such as tumbleweed allium (A. schubertii) or Star of Persia (A. cristophii); low-growing Turkestan onion, such as Ivory Queen (A. karataviense); and drumstick alliums with slender stalks and elongated small flower heads that resemble a drumstick.
Because allium bulbs need a cold dormant period to flower, they must be planted in the fall. They shoot up in spring, flower, dry up and then go dormant. Bulbs may rot in wet poor-draining soils, so consider planting them in rock gardens or soils that don’t retain water.
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Clump-Form Allium Flowers
This type of allium grows from tiny bulbs or fibrous roots attached to underground stems called rhizomes. These alliums, such as common chives, parade their blooms after spring and can be planted from spring to fall. They tolerate soils that retain more water.
Their lively foliage adds texture to a garden. Some have twisted or curly leaves while others are straplike. Leaf colors vary from bright Kelly green to gray-blue.
Millenium allium, selected as the 2018 Perennial Plant of the Year by the Perennial Plant Association, is a clumping type with 10-to-15-inch deep-green leaves. Each 2-inch-wide rosy purple spherical puff contains dozens of tiny individual flowers that become pollinator magnets.
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Landscaping Tips for Allium Flowers
Alliums work well in many garden settings. Brent is particularly fond of clump-forming alliums. “They’re increasing in popularity, and they’re great foliage plants,” he says. He mixes two or more types in different sizes and colors. His breeding produced 18-inch-tall Windy City, with violet-colored flowers, which he pairs with 10-inch-tall Summer Beauty, sporting lavender flowers on stems up to 20 inches tall.
The Lurie Garden in Chicago uses Summer Beauty in mass plantings. “It’s hard to beat for foliage, and it looks good from the time it emerges in April to the end of the year,” Brent says.
Clumping types easily fill spaces in the front or middle of a perennial and shrub border.
Allium bulb leaves often begin to die even before the blooms open, so interplant bulbs with other perennials to hide the unsightly foliage. Once the bloom fades, consider leaving the remaining brown stalk and flower head intact to add unusual texture.
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Unique Allium Flowers
Check out other alliums with unusual forms or colors. One of the weirdest is Hair, which has tiny frizzy green blooms that make it look as if it’s having a bad hair day; it reseeds readily. Allium bulgaricum, a Mediterranean native that goes by several botanical names, carries drooping florets that spray out attractively from the central stem. At over 3 feet tall, it makes a statement.
True blue, an unusual garden color, shows off with Allium caeruleum (also called A. azureum) and the delicate blue of Allium caesium.
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10 Allium Varieties We Love
Allium Growing Restrictions
Gardeners in parts of Idaho and Oregon cannot buy alliums grown outside of their quarantined regions because of a need to prevent a fungal onion disease known as white rot. The disease threatens the region’s extensive commercial onion crop because it can live in the soil for up to 30 years. Only seeds and locally produced bulbs can be grown in those areas.
Next, check out more early blooming flowers for spring.