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All about Alliums

Updated on January 21, 2016
LisaRoppolo profile image

Lisa is a writer and gardener with extensive knowledge of plants and plant care. Her articles focus on easy-care tips for home gardeners.

Allium History

The word "Allium" is the Latin word for Garlic and all ornamental Alliums are generally part of the Onion family. This family includes edibles such as the common Onion, Leeks, Chives, Shallots and Garlic. All Alliums are edible, but species that are bred specifically as ornamentals may be less palatable.

The majority of all Alliums are native to North America (although there are some cultivars that are tropical in nature). They are deer and rodent resistant due to their pungent nature.

*Warning* anything in the Onion family, including ornamental Alliums are toxic to both Dogs and Cats.

Several species of Moth use Alliums as a host plant to feed off of at the larval stage of development. Both Butterflies and Bees enjoy feeding off the pollen.

Globemaster Allium
Globemaster Allium | Source

Globemaster Allium

Also known as Ornamental Onion, this variety grows 32 inches tall with large 8 inch across blooms and bright green foliage. It flowers May through June. Can also be grown from seed as most Allium can. Prefers full sun to perform best.

Drumstick Allium (Allium Sphaerocephalon)

Also known as Round-Headed Garlic, this wispy, yet graceful Allium has egg-shaped flowers atop chive-like stems. It blooms in early summer from bulbs that should be planted in the fall like other spring flowers. The blooms start out green and eventually turn a rich purple-red. Plant them between other plants; the real show is from the blooms themselves. It naturalizes well and grows 1 to 3 feet high. It can be grown from seed, but may take a second growing season to fully develop.

Drumstick Allium
Drumstick Allium | Source

Allium Poll

Which of the featured Allium do you like the best?

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Allium Bulgaricum
Allium Bulgaricum | Source

Allium Bulgaricum (Nectaroscordum)

This unique variety is often call Sicilian Honey Lily. It grows in full sun to a height of 3 feet and blooms May through June. The bell-shaped blooms are pink and green and hang from the large flower heads that are often 6 inches across. The leaves are broad with a grey green hue. It will self-sow if left to seed.

Allium Purple Sensation

Lollypop shaped heads form on stalks that grow 2 to 3 feet tall. Likes full sun and blooms late spring through early summer. Looks great among other spring bloomers like Tulips. Same care as Globemaster, but not as large. This variety is one of the deeper purple shades available today.

Allium Purple Sensation
Allium Purple Sensation | Source
Allium Roseum
Allium Roseum | Source

Allium Roseum

One of the smaller varieties of Allium, delicate lavender-pink flowers bloom on tiny, chive-like stalks. It prefers full sun to part shade and is a good cut flower to include in arrangements. It blooms late spring through early summer on 18 inch high stalks. Best if grown in Zones 4 to 9 as most Alliums.

Allium Christophii

A later-blooming variety, the Christophii doesn't get going until mid-June. It produces large heads with cross-like florets and comes in both white (shown in photo) and amethyst. It has large, broad grey-green leaves and prefers full sun to part shade. I have mine growing in a mostly shady spot and they still bloom reliably. This variety can get up to 24 inches tall and does best in Zones 4 to 8.

Allium Christophii in White
Allium Christophii in White | Source

Alliums in Your Garden

Alliums can be placed in even the tightest spots because they do not require much space. Plant bulbs in the fall for spring blooms. They do great with other spring blooming bulbs such as Tulips and Daffodils.

Once established, they are drought tolerant and prefer the soil to be on the drier side. They will multiply, but not aggressively, so you can keep them in the same spot for years if you want to. They don't require staking (although the Drumstick variety can benefit from being planted in between other plants to help with their support).

Alliums are a great choice for adding interest as well as color to your garden.


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