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What Can Alliums Do For Your Garden?

As fall approaches, you might be thinking about planting bulbs that will provide you with a beautiful display in the spring. In this article, Marjory Blare explains why you should consider planting Alliums for that purpose. You may be familiar with varieties of allium used for cooking (for example, onion, garlic, scallion). But there are many ornamental alliums with many different features and colors. Read this article to learn more about the virtues of alliums.

By Marjory Blare, Master Gardener

What Can Alliums Do For Your Garden?

As fall approaches, you might be thinking about planting bulbs that will provide you with a beautiful display in the spring. You might consider planting Alliums for that purpose.  You’ll be surprised at the range and variety of these members of the onion family.  

Alliums are plants that are in the onion family. Included in that family are the cultivated onion, garlic, scallion, shallot, leek, and chives. But, in addition to these tasty varieties there are many ornamental alliums. Alliums are a valuable addition to any garden because they are attractive to pollinators and they are close to pest-free. Rabbits, squirrels and deer don’t like them. They occasionally get downy mildew and allium leaf miners, but that’s about it for disease problems.

Alliums are drought, heat and cold tolerant. They do need well-drained soil because if they sit in soggy soil, they will rot. They need full to part sun, and aren’t too picky about pH, although slightly acid is preferable. Some varieties are hardy to USDA zone 3! Various species can bloom every season except winter. You’ll find many varieties in on-line catalogs. For more about growing Alliums look at this article in The Spruce.

Allium foliage will yellow and die, (sometimes before the blossoms are done), but you can plant them in a ground cover or among Hostas to hide them. Plant bulbous varieties in the fall, the shallow-rooted varieties such as chives (A. schoenoprasum) can be divided any time. Plant Alliums as surprise ‘pops’ of color throughout the garden, or in rows for a formal effect. Alliums grow well in container gardens – plant them in the fall, leave them out all winter, and they grow in the spring! Unlike some perennials, most Allium will bloom the first year. When planting, don’t let the bulbs touch each other. Plant at a depth that is three times the diameter of the bulb, and a bit of bone meal in the planting hole helps. Leaves of Allium can range from slender round blades to broad and flat, and they can be green to blue-green.

Flowers range in color from yellow (A. moly) and white (A. karativiense ‘Ivory Queen’ which has broad flat blue green leaves) and on through the spectrum of pink to deep violet. There is even a blue one (A. caeruleum). The shapes of the flowers can be ball-shaped (Allium aflatunense), or egg-shaped (A. sphaerocephalon), nodding (A. cernum), or a display that looks like fireworks (A. schubertii)! Sizes range from the inches-tall fairy/alpine-garden sized (A. oreophilum), all the way up to the giant ‘Globe Master’ (A. giganteum) which can get up to 4 feet tall!

In addition to all of the above, there are many Alliums native to Minnesota:

1)    A. canadense (Wild Garlic, Meadow Garlic)

2)    A. cernum (Nodding Wild Onion)

3)    A. schoenprasum (Chinese chives)

4)    A. stellatum (Wild Prairie Onion)

5)    A. textile (White Wild Onion)

6)    A. tricoccum (Wild Leek, aka Ramps or Three Seeded Leek)

7)    A. tubersoum (Garlic Chives)

8)     A. ursinum (Bear Garlic)

Allium have many virtues, interesting traits and colors; play around with them when you design or update your garden. Have Fun!


Photo Credits: Marjory Blare (1, 2, 3), Dreamstime (4)

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