More than 1,000 plant varieties are found in the allium family, which includes garlic, onions, leeks, chives and several decorative flowers. Alliums have been cultivated for decorative and edible uses as far back as 1594, and wild varieties have been foraged for millennia. The allium family provides at least one of the staple foods in nearly every culture, as onions, garlic and their relatives often provide depth to nearly any savory (and some sweet) dish. Check out our guide on amazing alliums to learn more about the different plant types and how to grown and use them!
Alliums are a fairly easy-to-grow plant variety that do well in most climates as they are hardy and the underground bulbs can take over-winter freezes. They like well-drained and slightly fertile soil, but can take clay soil quite well. Most alliums can be planted in the spring (May is still doable) for fall harvest/blooms in the later summer or early fall. Full sun is best for all allium varieties, so make sure to plant them in open, south-facing areas of the garden.
Aside from keeping your beds weed free, alliums are fairly low maintenance, although light fertilization and mulching will give you greener stalks and larger flowers. Garlic is very easy to plant – just let your garlic cloves or shallots sprout, plant them in the garden and you’ll have beautiful cooking ingredients in six-months time! Garlic planting should ideally happen in the early fall, several weeks before the first frost, but can also be planted in the spring. If heavy overwinter frosts are anticipated, the garlic should be mulched with straw or low acidity wood shavings.
If you are growing onions or garlic, make sure to fully clear the entire bed at harvest time, otherwise you will have new plants popping up for the next season (not good in terms of crop rotation and pest/disease elimination). If you are planting allium flowers, choose spots where you want them to stay, as they are perennials and will come back year after year. Removing dead plant stalks and flowers in the fall is good for reducing risk of disease and pests. You wont have to worry much about animals eating the bulbs, as the onion flavor will turn them off.
Allium flowers tend to take on a spherical shape, as you’ve probably noticed when the top of an onion or garlic stalk pops open to reveal several tendrils branching out from the center. The formation of these flowers or buds is often the sign of harvest ready onions and garlic. The white, pink, purple and yellow orbs of decorative alliums add a unique touch to a flowerbed and can be saved and dried for flower arrangements. These flowers are also wonderful and tasty food for wildlife like bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Even something as simple as a cluster of chives is great for adding a useful and beautiful herb to your garden or windowsill.
Some of our favorite allium varieties are listed below – try them in your vegetable or flower garden!
Allium Christophii / Star of Persia: This gorgeous orb of flowers is made up of tiny, light purple or pink, star-shaped flowers that grow 2-3 feet tall. Perfect for flower gardens or large outdoor planters!
Allium Moly / Lily Leek: This flower grows 6-12 inches tall and blossoms into a small cluster of dainty yellow flowers. Makes a nice border and adds a splash of color to a summer garden.
Allium Ampeloprasum / Elephant Garlic: This edible but mild garlic variety can grow up to 6 feet tall, producing cloves the size of a normal head of garlic. Try it slow-roasted or grilled and spread on a piece of bread. Yum!
Allium Karataviense / Turkestan Onion: This unique allium grows about a foot tall, producing a beautiful cluster of white blossoms from its lush, broad leaves. Ideal for rock gardens and drier conditions.
Allium Schubertii / Tumbleweed Onion: This two-foot tall allium looks like a relative of the porcupine, but with a closer look you’ll see its actually made up of long, tiny, pink flowers. Plant for an exotic looking addition to your garden.