Large balls of purple flowers bring the last of spring into the summer garden. Giant Alliums are these globes of color that delight young and old alike.
They draw children into the garden with their unusual shape and color. Children frequently pose in pictures with these flowers; they are just as tall as a young child, which adds to their appeal.
There are some who think the Lorax’s trees in Dr. Seuss’s environmental masterpiece look like these flowers, or vice versa. Speculations aside, these balls of color are a novelty anyone in temperate climates can grow and appreciate.
There are other Alliums to consider adding to the garden as well as the Giant Allium known officially as Allium giganteum.
Sure, the Giant Allium is an eye-catcher, but many of the other related Alliums are just as interesting. There is one that has a larger flower though shorter in stature that makes a great accent plant a bit later in the season.
History of Alliums
Onions, garlic, and chives are Alliums along with the Giant Allium. There is quite a bit of controversy about the number of species; there are some who believe there are fewer than 300 while others believe there are close to 1000. Since botanists placed Allium in the family of Amaryllis, understanding how to grow a Giant Allium may just help you understand how to grow an Amaryllis as well.
People have grown and eaten members of the onion family for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians loved this vegetable. Onions were a daily component of their diet. Garlic is a staple of Italian and other Mediterranean cuisine. Chinese, Indian, Southern Asia and all parts of Europe cultures chose these various Alliums to eat fresh or cooked in soups and casseroles for thousands of years.
We have Russian horticultural businesses to thank for introducing the world to Giant Allium flowers. They began to collect native examples on the Russian Steppes. This collection and marketing strategy coincided with Victorian England. These wealthy people formalized gardening as a component of home life.
It was the English who fell in love with these ornamental flowers from Russia next. The best examples are found when the Royal Horticultural Society awarded some Alliums with their highest awards.
Culture and Concerns
Xeriscaping designers – those who design landscapes that don’t need to be watered – love this plant, which is extremely drought-tolerant. In fact, over-watering is perhaps the single most destructive activity an enthusiastic gardener can do to harm this flower.
Foliage growth tends to occur during the cool and moist times of the year in the spring and fall. That is the time when water is naturally present and a benefit. Most cultivars flower just as the season changes from cool/wet to hot/dry. The flowers at this time are the last hurrah of spring in preparation of the long hot summer dry period.
Bulb rot and sometimes an Allium fly are about the only problems a gardener will encounter in these slowly dividing clumps. Bulb rot is normally controlled by reducing water. It is best to dig and remove rotting bulbs if they are found. Reducing the bacteria that cause the rot can help keep the spread under control.
An application of a Mycorrhizal product containing Tricoderma is beneficial. The Tricoderma genus of fungi feed on pathological fungi that cause damage to living plants such as bulb rot.
The same is true with the Allium fly. If you discover a bulb with larva, it’s best to remove the bulb and destroy it completely. Urban gardeners simply seal up the infested bulb and send out with the weekly trash. Don’t compost the infected bulb. This only allows the larva to mature. Adults that result from the larva quickly infest other Allium bulbs with eggs. The larva feed on the bulb. Remember that Onions are Alliums so your whole garden can become infected should you procrastinate.
Cultivation and Propagation
A well-drained location rich in organic matter will annually reward the gardener with attention-gathering appreciation. All Alliums are heavy feeders. Full sun to only slightly shaded locations is best– that’s it. These are so easy to grow that all gardeners – even kids – should consider planting them. If you can grow onions, then you can grow these unusual flowers. Giant Alliums grown for flowers are not used as a food plant.
Many sites list Giant Allium with plant hardiness zones of 6 – 10. The natural habitat for the Giant Allium is the Russian Steppes which is Central Asia. A period of cold really benefits the culture of the bulb. A better range might be 5 to 7. This zonal refinement means the long cold period is around long enough to benefit the bulb quality. Rely on your experience growing edible onions and how well they grow in your garden as a guide.
Propagation is easy because these bulbs will naturally divide. Late summer to fall division of these slowly clumping perennials is best. Carefully dig the clump out of the garden while the bulb is dormant. Dig well away from a marked bulb location to avoid cutting directly into a bulb. A bulb is a bit larger than a man’s closed fist or two women’s fists together.
Mark each spot where a flower spike came up and measure carefully. That should help you to know that you need to dig farther away from the marked locations to avoid cutting into the bulbs. Upturn a 6 inch clay container over each spent flower scape if you need a visual aide.
Bulbs vs. Seeds
Plant seed in the spring and expect flowering the next year with even better bloom the early summer after. Because these require at least a year’s growth, most prefer planting bulbs for faster bloom.
Most gardeners prefer purchasing bulbs. You can find the Giant Allium in garden centers along with other fall-planted bulbs like daffodil and tulips. Alliums are just a bit unusual. They quickly sell out if they are even part of the fall bulb planting displays in large box stores. You should post a note on your phone calendar now for late August if you worry about availability or desire those that are rare. Specialty fall bulb companies will ship directly to your front door in plenty of time for planting. Mail order companies will have the best selections, too.
Alliums Are Fantastic Garden Plants
Young children love these flowers. A couple of the more spectacular cultivars produce flowers close to 3 feet tall and easily 6 inches in diameter. I have yet to find even the most reserved child not willing to pose for a picture next to one of these flowers as tall as they are. The bright colors and round form draw children like iron filings to a magnet.
Few natural predators bother these flowers. Deer and chipmunks leave them alone. They don’t like the onion smell. Those gardeners that don’t like the foliage tuck these plants in the middle of the garden bed where their presence helps reduce predator damage around them. This is good advice because the flower stalks of Giant Allium are so tall. The flower has a chance to add height to a border.
Plant other varieties of Allium for different purposes such as edging a path. Chives make a superb edger that award the gardener with small bright purple balls of color. Some bloom later in the summer adding pastel colors and spherical shape for interest. Don’t forget to dry some of the spent bloom. Carefully hang these so that they are not touching otherwise the delicate flower will dry in a less than desirable shape. Consider spray painting the dried flowers for an unusual dried arrangement.
Giant Alliums: Truffula Trees or Garden Decoration, Colorful Blooms Always Attract Attention
As you can see these colorful blooms will easily attract attention to your garden. Growing the Giant Allium will greatly improve other’s opinion of your gardening skill. Just don’t let anyone know how easy they are to grow.
Have you set that alert reminding you to order some bulbs near the end of August on your phone calendar yet?