How to Care for Alliums

Allium Giganteum in Bloom
Allium Giganteum in Bloom (Image: Chris Galdis, June 17, 2006)

Alliums are a large species of perennial vegetables grown from bulbs. The most commonly seen alliums are onions, garlic, chives, leeks and shallots. Many are grown for food; some are grown for their highly decorative flowers, which can be used as cut fresh flowers in arrangements or dried for long-term decorative use or seed capture. Allium bulbs are dried after harvest and have a long shelf life if kept in cool and dry conditions. In the garden alliums are very low maintenance, growing in a range of soil conditions and naturally repelling most animals and pests with their onion odor.

Things You'll Need

  • Rich, well-drained soil
  • Hand weeder or cultivator
  • Water
  • Water-soluble, food-safe, general-purpose fertilizer
  • Sharp, clean secateurs

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Plant decorative and edible allium bulbs in rich, well-drained soil with a compost component in the fall so they can settle in and run roots well before winter. Water lightly at planting.

Begin watering your alliums consistently and evenly, providing at least a half-inch of water every week starting in early spring and continue through their flowering.

Fertilize alliums with organic compost, aged manure or a water-soluble, general-purpose fertilizer a few times in spring.

Be vigilant in monitoring and pulling weeds out by the root around your alliums to ensure all nutrients go into the bulb's development.

Harvest allium blooms from mid-spring through summer by cutting the flower stalk at its base with clean, sharp secateurs and placing the flower in a clean vase filled with cool water.

Harvest edible allium onion bulbs in the fall as their tops begin to brown and wither. Chives can be harvested as they mature by simply cutting them just above the soil level with clean secateurs or shears. Summer leeks should be pulled from their holes in season, and overwintering leeks can be left in the ground for use as needed. Harvest garlic in the summer when its leaves are half green and half brown and dying.


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