Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Plant Picks

Alliums All Season Long

Allium schubertii, Tumbleweed onion; Photo: Courtesy of Dutch Gardens

Deer resistant and dynamic, these bulbs provide color from the first showers of spring to the last leaves of fall.

Alliums are often overlooked as one of the best bulbs for constant color throughout the seasons. Part of the problem is their common name: ornamental onion, which conjures up images of supermarket onions in shades of lime green or red. Alliums actually come in oval, spherical, or globular flower shapes, blooming in magnificent colors atop tall stems.

Because good perennial-garden designs are often made up of contrasting shapes, alliums’ rounded blooms make them great components for interesting garden combinations (not to mention that deer generally avoid them—to escape onion breath). Pair them with spikes or other large-leaved perennials to hide any decaying foliage.

Allium spp. and cvs.

Hardiness: Alliums can be grown in Zones 3 to 9, depending upon the species and cultivar.

Alliums aren’t too picky: In most cases, alliums grow in average garden soil and need full sun and good drainage. The drainage is critical because so many of the bulbs are huge and will rot with too much moisture.

Aside from that, they are easy to grow and come back year after year with almost no maintenance. Occasionally, they need dividing after a few years, when you start to notice a decrease in flower production (usually this pertains to those with small bulbs). One of the best things about alliums is that most animals, especially deer, find the taste unappealing and won’t nibble on the leaves.

Plant them in fall: Alliums go in while leaves are falling. Average planting depth should be about three times the diameter of the bulb. I have planted alliums late in fall right up to Thanksgiving. Just be sure the ground hasn’t frozen yet so that the bulbs have time to take root.

Spring blooming...

Allium moly ‘Jeannine’, ‘Jeannine’ golden onion; Photo: David Cavagnaro

Allium karataviense, Turkestan onion; Photo: Bill Johnson

Summer blooming...

Allium cristophii, Stars of Persia; Photo: Michelle Gervais

Allium caeruleum, Blue globe onion; Photo: Steve Aitken

Fall blooming...

Drumstick allium, Allium sphaerocephalon, Drumstick allium; Photo: Michelle Gervais

Allium ‘Hair’, ‘Hair’ allium; Photo: Bill Johnson

Allium thunbergii ‘Ozawa’, ‘Ozawa’ Japanese onion; Photo: Jennifer Brown

from Fine Gardening 127, pp. 40-45

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