Create Your Garden

Allium (Ornamental Onion)

Ornamental Onion

Alliums

Alliums are plants of exquisite beauty that deserve a place in perennial gardens. Easy to grow and undemanding, these very ornamental bulbs distinguish themselves by their great diversity in color, inflorescence, flowering height, and bloom times.

What is Allium?

Allium, commonly known as ornamental onion, is a genus of flowering plants with hundreds of species, including cultivated onion, garlic, scallion, shallot, and chives. However, “ornamental onion” refers to the non-culinary species grown for their showy flower heads.

Native and Description: Native to the Northern Hemisphere, Alliums have been cultivated for centuries for their distinctive beauty and hearty disposition. These bulbous perennials sport tall, leafless stalks, rising above clusters of slender, grass-like leaves.

Size: Depending on the species, the height can range from 6 inches (15 cm) to 4 feet (120 cm) or more.

Flowers: The blooms form a spherical or bell-shaped umbel composed of many small, star-shaped flowers that create a stunning visual impact when massed together. Flower colors can include shades of blue, pink, purple, white, and yellow.

Foliage: The foliage is typically basal, meaning it emerges from the base of the plant and can vary in color from bright green to blue-green.

Blooming Season: The blooming period usually occurs in late spring to early summer, just after the spring-flowering period and just before the exuberant full bloom of summer.

Hardiness: Most ornamental onions are hardy and can withstand freezing winter temperatures, with many species hardy in USDA zones 4-10.

Uses: Alliums are often used in borders, rock gardens, containers, or naturalized in meadows. They are popular for their geometric forms and vibrant colors that can punctuate and add vertical elements to the garden. They create a transition bridging the flowering periods of the spring flowering bulbs with that of the summer flowering bulbs. Moreover, the earliest-flowering alliums can be combined with tulips, hyacinths, and narcissi, while the latest flowering can be planted with gladioli and dahlias. These later-flowering alliums are, therefore, quite useful for combining with the frequently brightly-colored annual plants. Alliums make excellent cut flowers for fresh or dried bouquets.

Pollinators: the flowers are attractive to bees and butterflies, providing valuable nectar.

Toxicity: All parts of the plant are toxic to dogs and cats.

Deer and Rabbit: Alliums are deer and rabbit resistant due to their strong onion/garlic scent.

Drought: Once established, most plants are drought-tolerant.

Invasiveness: Some species can self-seed prolifically under favorable conditions and may become invasive, so it’s a good idea to check with your local Extension Service or public garden to find out which ones might show aggressive tendencies in your region. luckily, several outstanding selections produce sterile or semi-sterile seeds.

Despite their beauty, Alliums have a very pungent smell when their leaves are crushed. This odor, however, is a boon for gardeners looking to deter pests such as deer, rabbits, and some insects. Also, many species have been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit for their outstanding performance in the garden.

Guide Information

Hardiness 4 - 10
Heat Zones 1 - 9
Climate Zones 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24
Plant Type Bulbs
Genus Allium
Exposure Full Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Late)
Summer (Early)
Height 6" - 4'
(15cm - 120cm)
Spread 6" - 2'
(15cm - 60cm)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Type Chalk, Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Alkaline, Neutral
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained, Well-Drained
Characteristics Dried Arrangements, Cut Flowers, Fragrant, Showy
Tolerance Drought, Deer, Rabbit
Attracts Bees, Butterflies
Landscaping Ideas Beds And Borders, Patio And Containers
Garden Styles Formal Garden, Gravel and Rock Garden, Informal and Cottage
Allium ‘Ambassador’ (Ornamental Onion)
Allium ‘Mount Everest’ (Ornamental Onion)
Allium amethystinum ‘Red Mohican’ (Ornamental Onion)

Why Should I Grow Allium?

Growing Allium offers many benefits, making it a compelling choice for many gardeners.

Visual Appeal: Alliums provide an impressive display of large, spherical blooms that are unique and visually striking. The variety of colors, from deep purples to soft pinks and bright yellows, adds a vibrant touch to any garden.

Low Maintenance: Ornamental onions are easy to care for and can grow well in a variety of conditions. They are tolerant of poor soil, needing only well-drained soil and full sun to thrive. Once planted, they can be left in the ground year after year, naturalizing over time and providing annual displays with minimal effort.

Pollinator Attraction: These plants attract bees, butterflies, and other beneficial pollinators to your garden, promoting biodiversity.

Pest Resistant: Due to their strong onion-like smell, alliums are resistant to deer, rabbits, and many garden pests, making them an excellent choice for a low-fuss garden.

Versatility: They can be planted in borders, rock gardens, containers, or naturalized in meadows. Tall varieties can provide height in the garden and act as focal points.

Long Bloom Time: Alliums have a long bloom time, often in late spring or early summer when many other plants are just beginning to grow. This can help to fill gaps in the flowering calendar, providing consistent color in the garden.

Drought Tolerance: Once established, most alliums are drought-tolerant, making them suitable for xeriscaping or for gardens in drier climates.

Overall, alliums can be an excellent addition to your garden with their unique shape, bright colors, and low-maintenance care requirements. They can bring life and beauty to your garden while also providing valuable benefits to local pollinators.

Allium caeruleum (Ornamental Onion)
Allium cernuum (Lady’s Leek)
Allium cristophii (Star of Persia)

Garden Design with Allium

When designing a garden with Alliums, their striking visual appeal and unique shapes can create several effects.

Dramatic Focus: Use taller varieties like ‘Globemaster‘ or ‘Purple Sensation‘ as dramatic focal points in your garden. They can provide vertical interest and act as exclamation points in the landscape.

Mass Planting: Alliums look stunning when planted in large groups or drifts. The ‘Sea of Allium’ effect can be very striking when they’re in full bloom.

Border Planting: They can be used in borders with other perennials, adding a layer of color and height. Shorter varieties, such as Allium karataviense, work well in border fronts, while taller varieties can be placed mid-border to rise above lower-growing plants.

Naturalistic Design: Allow ornamental onions to naturalize in a meadow or prairie-like setting, where they can freely self-seed and spread.

Container Gardening: Smaller varieties can be grown in containers and pots for a beautiful patio display.

Companion Planting: Alliums pair well with other perennials that can help conceal their foliage as it dies back. Plants such as Salvia, Roses, Peonies, and late-emerging perennials like Sedum, can be perfect companions.

Mixed with Grasses: Ornamental grasses can provide a beautiful textural contrast to the bold, spherical blooms of Alliums.

Rock Gardens: Smaller alliums are well-suited to the nooks and crannies of rock gardens, where they can enjoy the well-drained conditions they prefer.

Remember, the key to garden design with Alliums is variety. Mix different types, sizes, and colors for an intriguing, multi-dimensional display. Their structural elegance and vibrant colors can provide striking interest from late spring to early summer, making them a versatile addition to any garden design.

Allium caesium (Ornamental Onion)
Allium flavum (Yellow-Flowered Garlic)
Allium giganteum (Ornamental Onion)

Companion Plants

Alliums are very versatile and pair well with a variety of other plants. Here are some companion plant suggestions:

Peonies: They bloom at the same time as many Alliums, and their large, billowing blooms make a great contrast to Allium’s spherical flowers.

Sedum: The succulent foliage and late-season blooms of Sedum help cover Allium foliage as it fades, and their flowers extend the interest in the area after Alliums have finished blooming.

Perennial Geraniums (Cranesbill Geraniums): These low-growing plants have a long blooming season that matches well with ornamental onions. Their spreading habit can help to cover the lower parts of Alliums, which can become a bit untidy as the season progresses.

Roses: Alliums and roses can make a classic combination. Alliums’ onion-like scent can help deter pests from roses.

Irises: Bearded or Siberian irises pair well with ornamental onions. Their strappy leaves contrast well with Alliums’ strap-like foliage, and their blooms make a nice contrast in form to the spherical Allium flowers.

Hostas: The broad, lush foliage of hostas can provide a nice contrast to the tall, slender stalks and round blooms of Alliums. This is especially effective with larger Allium species.

Grasses: Many ornamental grasses, like Miscanthus or Pennisetum, pair well with Alliums. Their wispy, movement-filled growth forms a beautiful contrast to the solid, spherical Allium blooms.

Salvias: The upright spires of Salvia flowers contrast beautifully with Alliums’ spherical blooms. Salvias’ extended blooming season also matches well with that of many Allium species.

Lupines: Alliums and lupines make excellent companion plants as they both thrive in similar growing conditions and their contrasting flower colors create a beautiful visual combination in the garden.

Poppies: Alliums and poppies (Papaver) complement each other well in the garden. The tall, structural blooms of alliums provide a stunning backdrop for the vibrant, delicate flowers of poppies, creating a visually striking and harmonious combination.

Euphorbia: The bracts of Euphorbia can provide a contrasting color to Alliums, and their long-lasting nature matches well with the extended interest of Allium blooms.

Nepeta (Catmint): The mounding habit and small, delicate flowers of Nepeta contrast nicely with the tall, dramatic Alliums.

Achillea (Yarrow): The flat-topped clusters of yarrow create an interesting contrast with the round heads of Alliums.

These are just a few examples, and the best companions for your Alliums will depend on your specific garden conditions and the particular Allium species you’re growing.

Companion plants for Allium

Hardy Geraniums (Cranesbill)
Rosa (Rose)
Salvia (Sage)
Paeonia (Peonies)
Iris germanica (Bearded Iris)
Nepeta (Catmint)
Sedum (Stonecrop)
Iris sibirica (Siberian Iris)
Achillea (Yarrow)
Lupinus (Lupine)
Papaver orientale (Oriental Poppy)
Hosta (Plantain Lily)

Growing Tips

Alliums are relatively easy to grow. Here’s a general guide on how to grow Alliums:

Sunlight: Alliums prefer full sun but can tolerate part-shade conditions. They’ll produce the best blooms in a bright location.

Soil: Plant in well-draining soil. They prefer slightly acidic to neutral pH. If your soil is heavy clay, you may want to amend it with compost or grit to improve drainage.

Planting: Plant Allium bulbs in the fall, about 2-3 times as deep as the height of the bulb. Space them about 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) apart, depending on the size of the bulb. Pointy side should be up.

Water: After planting, water well to settle the soil around the bulbs. In general, Alliums don’t need a lot of water, but they do appreciate it during dry spells. However, avoid overwatering, as this can cause the bulbs to rot.

Fertilizer: You can feed with a slow-release granular or liquid fertilizer in early spring when the new growth begins to emerge. Alliums aren’t heavy feeders, so they don’t need much.

Maintenance: Leave the foliage until it turns yellow and dies down. This will help the bulb store energy for the next growing season. The flower heads of Alliums can be left even after they have gone over, as they offer a striking architectural interest.

Pests/Diseases: Alliums are relatively pest-free. The strong oniony scent is often enough to deter many pests. However, they can be prone to fungal diseases, such as downy mildew and rot, if the soil is not well-draining.

Propagation: Ornamental onions can be propagated through division or by planting offsets. Dividing mature bulbs in early spring or fall and replanting them in well-draining soil will help establish new plants. Some Allium species self-seed readily, but hybrids may not come true from seed.

Remember, different Allium species may have slightly different care requirements, so it’s always a good idea to check the specific needs of your chosen variety.

Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ (Ornamental Onion)
Allium moly (Lily Leek)
Allium oreophilum (Pink Lily Leek)

Garden Examples

A Pretty Border Idea with Alliums and Persicaria
An Eye-Catching Border Idea with Alliums and Lupines
An Eye-Catching Border Idea with colorful Allium and Euphorbia
A Low Maintenance Summer Idea for your Borders with Alliums and Grasses
An Impressive Planting Combination with Alliums, Poppies and Sage
A Pretty Planting Combination with Alliums, Poppies and Columbines
A Pretty Spring Border with Allium, Poppies and Wedding Cake Tree
A Pretty Spring Border with Allium, Eryngium and Grasses
An Eye-Catching Spring Border with Allium, Sword-Lilies and Grasses
Compare All Allium (Onion, Garlic, Chives, Shallot, Scallion, Leek)
Compare Now
Explore Great Plant Combination Ideas
Allium (Onion, Garlic, Chives, Shallot, Scallion, Leek)
While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.

Guide Information

Hardiness 4 - 10
Heat Zones 1 - 9
Climate Zones 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24
Plant Type Bulbs
Genus Allium
Exposure Full Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Late)
Summer (Early)
Height 6" - 4'
(15cm - 120cm)
Spread 6" - 2'
(15cm - 60cm)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Type Chalk, Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Alkaline, Neutral
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained, Well-Drained
Characteristics Dried Arrangements, Cut Flowers, Fragrant, Showy
Tolerance Drought, Deer, Rabbit
Attracts Bees, Butterflies
Landscaping Ideas Beds And Borders, Patio And Containers
Garden Styles Formal Garden, Gravel and Rock Garden, Informal and Cottage
Compare All Allium (Onion, Garlic, Chives, Shallot, Scallion, Leek)
Compare Now
Explore Great Plant Combination Ideas
Allium (Onion, Garlic, Chives, Shallot, Scallion, Leek)

Related Items

Please Login to Proceed

You Have Reached The Free Limit, Please Subscribe to Proceed

Subscribe to Gardenia

To create additional collections, you must be a paid member of Gardenia
  • Add as many plants as you wish
  • Create and save up to 25 garden collections
Become a Member

Plant Added Successfully

You have Reached Your Limit

To add more plants, you must be a paid member of our site Become a Member

Update Your Credit
Card Information

Cancel

Create a New Collection

Sign Up to Our Newsletter

    You have been subscribed successfully

    Join Gardenia.net

    Create a membership account to save your garden designs and to view them on any device.

    Becoming a contributing member of Gardenia is easy and can be done in just a few minutes. If you provide us with your name, email address and the payment of a modest $25 annual membership fee, you will become a full member, enabling you to design and save up to 25 of your garden design ideas.

    Join now and start creating your dream garden!

    Join Gardenia.net

    Create a membership account to save your garden designs and to view them on any device.

    Becoming a contributing member of Gardenia is easy and can be done in just a few minutes. If you provide us with your name, email address and the payment of a modest $25 annual membership fee, you will become a full member, enabling you to design and save up to 25 of your garden design ideas.

    Join now and start creating your dream garden!

    Find your Hardiness Zone

    Find your Heat Zone

    Find your Climate Zone