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Most of us don’t think of onions as beautiful plants, but onions have some very close cousins that definitely deserve a place in your flower garden. Fast-growing ornamental alliums grow tall and have round flower heads composed of dozens of star-shaped flowers. While these plants are not edible, their leaves do have a slight onion-like scent when crushed.Ornamental alliums won’t spice up your cooking, but their cheerful spherical flowers will enliven your garden. These are extremely tough plants that are both drought-resistant and cold tolerant. They’re not even bothered by deer or rodents, and there are plenty to choose from for any garden. Allium bulbs should be planted in the fall.
Some alliums (Allium roseum, A. sphaerocephalon and A. vineale) produce aerial bulbils (small young bulbs produced instead of flowers) in the flower head. These bulbils can be carefully removed and separated. The bulbils can be planted in moist free-draining compost about 2.5cm (1in) apart and covered with 1cm (3/8in) layer of compost. It will take several years for them to reach flowering size.You can propagate alliums by seed, however hybrids will not ‘come true’ (i.e. they may vary in colour and shape from the parents) by this method. It is best to sow ripe seeds as soon as possible. Sow into trays of gritty compost and and cover the seeds with 5mm of grit. Place the containers outside in a shady spot. Alternatively store seeds in a fridge and sow in spring at about 13°C (55°F). Most should germinate within 12 weeks. It will take several years to reach the flowering size.You might know the allium family from the chives in your herb garden: little fluffy purple balls much beloved by bees and butterflies. But ornamental alliums are anything but little.
These gigantic globes on tall stems are all about bringing big drama to your garden. If you grow bulbs with children, be sure to include some alliums, as children love the fact that once in bloom these flowers will often tower over them.Alliums will need to be planted deep enough that they won’t be affected by temperature variations above ground, either too warm or too cold. Unfortunately containers can’t protect bulbs as well as mother earth can, so when you live in hardiness zones 3-7 it might be better to let your containers spend the winter indoors, in a cool, dark, well-aired spot that won’t get warmer than 60 degrees Fahrenheit, like an unheated basement or garage.If you like things neat and tidy or want to maximize the wow-factor alliums can bring to your garden or container, you can opt for the super regimented approach. Grow your alliums in very neat rows of about 10 bulbs planted quite closely together (you might want to add some fertilizer to the soil to make sure they still get all the nutrients they need). An even greater effect can be achieved by growing a row of 10 taller alliums such as Purple Sensation behind a row of 10 slightly smaller ones like Azureum. (Source: www.dutchgrown.com)