Fall is prime bulb planting time. And in that spirit, I encourage you to consider adding some onion to the flower garden. Ornamental onion, aka allium, that is.
I’m nuts for alliums. Have been since I discovered them on a garden walk many years ago. Maybe it’s because of the Dr. Seuss appeal they add. Like an orange on a toothpick (forgive the So I Married An Axe Murderer reference but it’s a fitting description of their growth habit). All kidding aside, alliums have some serious chutzpah. Deer despise them, rabbits won’t go near them and they return bigger and better every year without fail. What’s not to like?
With autumn on our doorsteps, it’s a perfect time to think about what varieties you’ll be adding to your garden. Hardy to zone 4, alliums come in an assortment of heights and take up little space in the garden. They’re drought tolerant and prefer a sunny site a bit on the dry side.
The hottest, driest site in my garden is home to a variety of alliums including Gladiator (in bloom here) and Drumstick that weave through the Moonshine Yarrow. I find it’s best to plant Drumstick among other supportive plants as it tends to lean without it.
I love how the tissue paper-like skin on the Drumstick pulls away to reveal the immature bud.
Drumsticks tend to lean as the egg-shaped flowers swell, making it all the more important to intersperse them with supportive perennials like these Siloam Double Classic daylilies and Becky shasta daisies. This is one of my favorite early summer combinations.
Here I mixed two different types of alliums, Sicilian Honey Garlic (Allium siculum) and Gladiator with a bearded iris called Wench.
Strange, isn’t it? Umbels of bell-shaped flower clusters of Sicilian Honey Garlic droop gracefully from the long stems of this eye catching bulb. I found these at Chicago Botanic Garden’s annual fall bulb festival two years ago. Of all the alliums in my garden, this one has the strongest oniony smell when it’s bruised. It’s been in my garden for two years and I have to admit that the first year I was lukewarm on it. I guess it grew on me.
The garden on the north side of my home contains a mixture of white Mount Everest, Purple Sensation and Christophii alliums. They tend to bloom here a week or two later than the alliums in other locations due to their shadier exposure. These bulbs were planted last fall among giant blue hostas that will do double duty as camouflage for the declining foliage of the daffodils and alliums that populate the space.
The lower stature of Christophii alliums, at 18 inches, makes them a perfect choice along my front walk. The blooms remind me of fireworks. When they’ve finished flowering, I give them to the neighbor kids who pretend they’re magic wands.
Alliums bloom in late spring/summer and need to be planted in the fall. Pay particular attention to bloom times especially if you want to create vignettes of bulbs and perennials with similar bloom schedules. Locate bulbs in a well-draining area that receives a full day of sun. Alliums hate soggy sites, so the drier the better. Add some organic matter to the site before planting. I use a generous amount of my homemade compost and work it into the soil.
If you’re able to hand-select, look for firm bulbs without mushy spots.
At planting time, a good rule of thumb for planting depth is 2-3 times the diameter of the bulb. For instance, a two-inch bulb would be planted at 4-6 inches deep. Water them in, wish them well, cross your fingers, eyes and toes and wait.
While in flower, water them regularly if it’s dry. Because my soil is less than ideal, I sprinkle a little balanced fertilizer like Osmocote when the flowers begin to set. With alliums, the foliage will begin to die even before the flower has fully popped. All the more reason to plant camouflaging perennials around their bases to hide the leaves. Resist removing them however, until they’ve turned completely yellow as the leaves help feed the bulb for next year.
When flowering is finished, you can cut back the stalk. I like their spiny silhouettes even when not in flower so I leave them in place. It’s entirely up to you. After all, it’s your garden.
Where To Buy Alliums
If you’re a Costco member, check out their bulb offerings. I’ve bought bags and bags of all kinds of bulbs supplied by Longfield Gardens with excellent results.
Chicago Botanic Garden Fall Bulb Festival
Do you have alliums in your garden? Which ones?
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