Glamorous Onions ?


Alliums photo: gardening prof.


Yes glamorous onions, well okay , ornamental onions or officially known as alliums.

They can be quite the spectacle in the garden. But you’ll need to get moving, because most alliums are only planted during the fall, right before the ground freezes.



flame-50-pc-newAllium is a genus of monocotyledonous (huh !) flowering plants that includes the cultivated onion, garlic, scallion, shallot and leek as well as chives and hundreds of other wild species. The generic name Allium is the Latin word for garlic,

Since the name doesn’t conjure up thoughts of beauty or benefits to the garden, they do come with some surprises. Some of the highlights of this plant…there are no serious diseases or insect pests that bother them. And you won’t ever have to worry about rodents or deer, since they seem to have no appreciation for the taste of onions — ornamental or otherwise. Yes onions, who knew !


allium millenium
Allium Millennium via Sugar Creek Gardens

flame-50-pc-newIf you have roses in the garden, try planting the shorter versions such as Allium “Millenium” nearby, they’ll help keep the roses healthy by detracting insects and disease.

Blooms: Summer to late summer. Height: 15-20 Inches Spread: 10-20 inches



allium purple sensation
Allium Purple Sensations via American Meadows


To really add some WOW to the garden, try the taller versions like those below. Be sure to plant them among your other perennials, since their foliage remains low and is not very attractive.

Allium “Purple Sensation” or Persian Onion , with purple globe flowers about 4 inches across. Blooms: Late spring to early summer Mature size: 28-34 inches tall




allium globemaster
Allium Globemaster via American Meadows


Allium “Globe Master” (on the left) blooms in a globe made up of tiny star-shaped flowers that measures up to 8 inches across! These huge purple globes appear in early summer atop tall, sturdy stems. And couldn’t be any easier to grow. Alliums attract butterflies and are sure to turn heads.





Allium Mount Everest via American Meadows


Allium “Mount Everest” (on the right) both of these share the same characteristics. Blooms: Late spring to early summer. Mature Size: 36-40″ tall





flame-50-pc-newAnother bonus, when the blooms have faded, leave them in the garden and simply paint the flower spires with spray paint in your choice of color (s)… yes spray paint! Your neighbors will most likely think you’ve really gone over the edge, but don’t let that stop you, onions can be glamourous too !

We painted our Allium “Globemaster” in bold purple, and the Allium “Purple Sensations” in bright yellow. Our local nursery did theirs in red, white & blue this year and they looked beautiful. So many options…express yourself.



Ornamental alliums are hardy to zone 4 and they really have very few demands:

Close-up of our Alliums painted purple & gold this year .
Close-up of our Alliums painted purple & yellow this year .
  • They will grow in most any soil, but prefer rich, well-drained soil.
  • They adore sunlight and perform best when they can bask in it all day long.
  • Since most of them multiply naturally, they can be left in the same area for years. Occasionally, they need dividing after a few years, when you start to notice a decrease in flower production (usually this applies to those with small bulbs).
  • Alliums are drought-tolerant plants that prefer to be grown on the dry side.
  • They must be planted in late fall, they need the brisk days, nice chilly evenings and a long winter nap.

See…no big deal, there just so easy it would be a shame not to try them at least once, I doubt you’ll be disappointed.


Alliums at Chanticleer Gardens via Mooseys Country Garden

How to grow Alliums

To get a nice display, plant at least a dozen bulbs. since their blooms are the wow and their foliage is underwhelming, you’ll need this many to make some impact in the garden.

They grow and perform at their best in a hot and dry location.

Do not plant your bulbs in an area that stays soggy, too much moisture will cause the bulbs to rot. If necessary build up the area with more soil and compost to provide good drainage.

  • Plant in mid to late fall, while leaves are falling, or even up till Thanksgiving. Just be sure the ground isn’t frozen, because the bulbs need to have time to take root.
  • Average planting depth should be about three times the diameter of the bulb
  • Dig the hole as indicated on the directions for the type of bulb your planting, and make sure to loosen the soil around where you will place your bulb.
  • Moisten the soil just a bit, add your fertilizer then place the bulb in the hole. If possible, add new soil over your bulb and gently pat down once bulb is completely covered.
  • Now you can give your bulb one more drink of water, don’t saturate, just enough so soil is slightly damp.
  • Mark the spot where you planted them so you won’t forget next spring! You can use sticks or twigs to mark them, so not to disturb them when doing fall & spring cleanup & plantings.



Tips for year round display

To keep over for winter display:

  • Once the blooms have faded, leave them standing in the garden for a few more weeks until they look and feel dried out.
  • When their dry they can be gently plucked, the stem will be dried and will break off at the ground level, you want the whole stem, but leave the bulb in the ground. Don’t yank it out of the ground, leave the bulb for next years’ bloom.
  • Now you can spray the flower spire with hairspray, to stop the spires from shedding. When dry, wrap each spire with the stem still attached, in tissue paper and store them in a dry place until ready to dress them up for a holiday display , or cut the stems to the desired length, for display in a vase.

Holiday Dress Up

For winter holidays – spray the dried spires with silver or gold metallic paints, let the paint dry completely. You can place them in a vase, cut the stems & use the spires on wreaths, in Christmas trees or anywhere you want the WOW factor.


Every garden should have at least one new addition each year, so give them a try, and you’ll be pleasantly amazed at their beauty. Until then…..



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