How to Grow and Use

Alberta Gardener Magazine - - Gardening with Kids -

The most widely planted or­na­men­tal al­lium is also the ear­li­est bloomer: A. aflatunense ‘Pur­ple Sen­sa­tion’. The three-inch di­am­e­ter, rasp­berry-pur­ple flower heads are dis­played on 24 to 30-inch stems. The flow­ers last for up to two weeks and are ex­cel­lent cut flow­ers.

Blooming just af­ter Pur­ple Sen­sa­tion are ‘Glad­i­a­tor’, ‘His Ex­cel­lency’ and ‘Globe­mas­ter’. With blos­soms that mea­sure five to 10 inches across on three- to four-foot stems, these al­li­ums are al­ways im­pres­sive and their big seed heads are at­trac­tive long af­ter the color is gone.

Sev­eral other fall-planted al­li­ums de­serve men­tion. El­e­gant ‘Mount Ever­est’ has pure white, five-inch di­am­e­ter flow­ers. Along with the mis­lead­ingly named A. ni­grum (black onion) they are must-haves for any all-white gar­den. Pos­si­bly the most un­usual-look­ing al­lium is A. schu­ber­tii (tum­ble­weed onion), with flower heads that look like they were caught mid-ex­plo­sion. Three equally ap­peal­ing species are ma­roon A. at­rop­ur­pureum (pur­ple-flow­ered onion) starry-eyed A. christophii (Star of Per­sia) and the two-toned drum­stick al­lium, A. sphae­ro­cephalon.

Or­na­men­tal al­li­ums that grow from bulbs may pro­duce the most dra­matic flow­ers, but small-headed al­li­ums have their own ap­peal. The flow­ers of these plants emerge from a dense clump of roots and have fo­liage that stays green and lush all sea­son long. Bloom time for these non-bulb al­li­ums starts in early sum­mer and, de­pend­ing on the species, can ex­tend right through Oc­to­ber.

One of the best of these clump-form­ing al­l­li­ums is ‘Mil­le­nium’, a hy­brid of A. nu­tans (Siberian chives). The pur­ple, two-inch di­am­e­ter flow­ers bloom in mid­sum­mer on stiff, 15-inch stems that rise above a tidy clump of fo­liage. The blos­soms last for weeks and are ex­cel­lent for cut­ting. Two other sum­mer bloomers are ‘Sugar Melt’, with light pink flow­ers and ‘Sum­mer Beauty’, with laven­der-pink flow­ers.

Two oth­ers in this group are worth not­ing. Al­lium tubero­sum is both ed­i­ble and very or­na­men­tal. In herb gar­dens it’s known as gar­lic chives, but in the flower gar­dens it’s a late sum­mer star, with pure white flow­ers on 20-inch stems. A. thun­bergii ‘Ozawa’ (Ja­panese onion) is the last al­lium of the sea­son, and its orchid pink flow­ers are an im­por­tant nec­tar source for pol­li­na­tors who are still foraging in late fall.

In ad­di­tion to this list of gar­den-wor­thy al­li­ums, there are also about 100 more species that are na­tive to North Amer­ica. The most com­monly avail­able are Al­lium cer­nuum, also known as the nod­ding onion, A. stel­la­tum (prairie onion), A. uni­folium (Amer­i­can gar­lic) and A. am­plectens (nar­rowleaf onion).

Note that some types of al­li­ums have made their way onto nox­ious weed lists as they can self-sow pro­lif­i­cally. Species to keep your eye on in­clude A. tri­quetrum, A. moly, A. neapoli­tanum and A. flavum.

Al­li­ums are tough, cold tol­er­ant plants and most will grow in har­di­ness zones 3 to 9. As a gen­eral rule, they are not fussy about soil, though the ones with large bulbs re­quire good drainage. They are also prac­ti­cally im­mune to dis­ease and in­sect prob­lems, and are rarely both­ered by ro­dents or deer.

Al­li­ums of­fer so many dif­fer­ent flower sizes, heights and bloom times, that it’s easy to in­cor­po­rate them into al­most any sort of gar­den or land­scape. Plant a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent species to en­joy a suc­ces­sion of blooms all sea­son long.

For or­na­men­tal al­li­ums that grow from bulbs, fall is the proper plant­ing time. Like other fall-planted flower bulbs such as tulips, these al­li­ums look best planted in groups; the smaller the bulb, the more you should plant in each group. The bulbs can be tucked in al­most any­where, be­cause their fo­liage will die back a cou­ple weeks af­ter they flower. In fact, it’s best to have other plants nearby to help cover the fad­ing fo­liage.

The clump-form­ing al­li­ums can be planted any­time dur­ing the grow­ing sea­son. They are easy to di­vide and don’t mind be­ing trans­planted, so make good pass-along plants. You can keep these plants look­ing tidy and min­i­mize re-seed­ing, by cut­ting off the flower stalks af­ter they fin­ish blooming.

Want to join the Mil­lion Pol­li­na­tor Gar­den Chal­lenge to sup­port pol­li­na­tors? Plant al­li­ums! Their nec­tar-rich flow­ers are highly at­trac­tive to hon­ey­bees, bum­ble­bees and many other na­tive bees. From May-blooming Al­lium karataviense

(Kaza­khsa­tan onion) to Oc­to­ber-blooming Al­lium thun­bergii

‘Ozawa’, al­li­ums will keep your yard blooming and buzzing all sea­son long.

Story writ­ten by Kath­leen Lal­ib­erte from Long­field Gar­dens, for Na­tional Gar­den Bureau. Ar­ti­cle pro­vided by Na­tional Gar­den Bureau.

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