Alliums

Here, Joe Lamp'l introduces a flowering ornamental member of the onion family -- alliums. Their large single blooms add interest around a garden fence or in a flowerbed.
alliums are ornamental onions with colorful blooms

alliums are ornamental onions with colorful blooms

The onion family is so diverse that there are actually types you grow for their looks rather than their taste. Called ornamental alliums, they grow from bulbs, and many come back year after year like other perennials. They range from a few inches high to more than 3' tall; there are many colors and shapes to pick from.

  • Ornamental alliums, also know as allium bulbs, are a great addition to your garden or flowerbed. Most pests don't like the smell of alliums, so they have few natural enemies. They're also disease resistant, and many are hardy in colder zones. Allium bulbs produce showy flowers at the top of a long stalk. Most bulbs produce a single flower per year, but what they do grow is very eye catching.
  • Many gardens have an abundance of wildlife nearby, such as rabbits and deer, so gardeners have a hard time finding plants that won't get eaten. Since they taste like onions, alliums aren't high on the menu for many four-legged pests. That makes them a good choice for adding color and interest to the border landscape. You can plant them in other beds, not just the garden.
  • Like their edible cousins, alliums need loose, fertile soil. Because they can naturalize, or spread to come back year after year, you want soil that's healthy enough to feed them and soft enough for them to multiply. Add blood meal and dried bone meal to the bed to encourage growth. Since the bulbs may be in this bed for years, the extra nutrients will help them spread and stay healthy longer.
  • Since you don't replant alliums year after year, you can choose a spot that's out of the way. Along a fence is perfect: they'll also be protected from wind that could blow over the long stalks. Because they spread, be sure to leave plenty of room between the bulbs: you don't want to be back next year thinning them out.
  • In a border garden, where there will be several sizes and shapes of plants together, place the largest alliums near the back so they won't block the sun or the view of smaller plants. To protect the alliums, cover the bed with shredded bark mulch; this will keep them from drying out or getting too hot. Water each plant thoroughly. Once the alliums start to send out new roots, you can water them once a week; until then, water every other day to give them a good start.

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