Blooming Onions! Time to Plant Alliums

September 26, 2009 | By | Comments (21)

This is the story of an onion that will bring you to tears, but not for the reason you probably think. It’s called an allium, a bonafide member of the onion family, that you’ll crave for your garden, not for your plate. Each spring, it explodes in fireworks of blooms, rivaling anything you’d blast into the sky onFourth of July and accidentally set fire to your neighbor’s lawn.



So why do so few people plant it?

Grumpy guesses it’s either because they can’t slice it for burgers or they find it so beautiful, they surmise it must be a pain-in-the-tush to grow. Neither is true. Most alliums are easier to grow than those big, gaudy tulips that disappoint you every year. They thrive from the Upper South (Zone 6) to the Coastal South (Zone 9A). They come back year after year and those stinking deer and voles won’t touch them.


Although some alliums bloom in summer, most bloom in spring. Of the spring-bloomers, three types make up the lion’s share of what Grumpians plant every year — Allium aflatuenense, A. giganteum, and A. ‘Globemaster’ (pictured above and right). They’re all about the same purple color, but the blooms vary in size. The first sports rounded blooms the size of tennis balls; the second, the size of softballs; and the third, the size of Mars (not really — more like volleyballs). The blooms stand tall on sturdy stems from 2 to 5 feet tall and make spectabulous cut flowers.

But hey — what if you one of those weirdo people who just can’t stand the color purple? Then complain to Oprah Winfrey, not the Grump.

Oh — wait a minute. We’re talking actual colors here, not movies. Well, fortunately, you can find alliums that are various shades of pink, rose, red, blue, and yellow. White too. Of course, not all are the size of Mars or even Kanye West’s ego.

Here is one I like — Allium stipatatum ‘White Giant.’ This late spring bloomer stands 36 to 48 inches tall and produces blossoms 6 to 8 inches wide. Each little floret making up the ball has a tiny black eye (probably from an argument with Kanye West).

White Giant allium

Time to Plant

Now is the time to get these bulbs into the ground. Look for them at your local garden or home center. If you can’t find them, two excellent mail-order sources are Van Engelen (who generously donated these photos) and John Scheepers.

Plant the bulbs 6 to 8 inches deep and 8 to 10 inches apart in fertile, well-drained soil. Give them full sun. Combining them with later-blooming perennials helps hide the foliage that often starts to die back before blooming finishes.

Don’t cut down the spent flowers of these mega-bloomers! Let the flowers dry on the stems for several weeks until they turn brown. The star-shaped seedheads look like sparklers and are perfect for dried flower arrangements.


  1. Steve Bender


    The farther north you live, the later they bloom. So you may have to wait a bit longer.

    May 30, 2016 at 9:24 am
  2. sandra nicholas

    I transplanted some last year and they haven’t bloomed yet. Can I still save them?

    May 27, 2016 at 7:37 am
  3. Steve Bender


    Individual flowers probably last a week or so before fading, but don’t cut them down after they do. the dried seed heads and stems are excellent for use in dried flower arrangement. The dried blooms look like fireworks exploding. You can also extend the bloom by planting several different types of alliums.

    January 11, 2016 at 4:18 pm
  4. Shelly

    I would like to plant some of these as well. I’m trying to find out how long they bloom for. I know they bloom sometimes in early spring and sometimes in summer. But once they bloom, how long do they stay in bloom. What period of time can I expect to look into my garden and see these blooms. Do they bloom until fall? Thanks so much.

    January 5, 2016 at 10:25 am
  5. Steve Bender


    Yes. Tips must go up.

    September 30, 2014 at 10:37 am
  6. John McGrath

    Does it make any difference if I plant the onion pointed tip down or up?

    September 29, 2014 at 2:42 pm
  7. Steve Bender


    The time to plant alliums is the fall, like with other spring bulbs. I’m surprised that anyone would ship them now, as they won’t bloom. Keep track of that $55.

    April 29, 2013 at 1:41 pm
  8. Claude

    I planted a bunch last week. I ordered them online not knowing when to plant these beauties. Even though I won’t get blooms, will they sprout from the soil? Will they die? Hope I didn’t just waste $55.00:-( Zone 8B

    April 25, 2013 at 11:34 am
  9. Steve Bender


    Sorry, but you must plant them in the fall to get blooms. And that’s the only time garden centers sell the bulbs anyway.

    April 8, 2013 at 12:45 pm
  10. Jennifer

    Similar Q as Wendy’s. I want to plant them now! (April in MD). Why do they have to be planted in the fall? And what else perennial-wise can I plant with them to compliment them, and so there will be something blooming all summer long? Looking forward to this plant! Thanks.

    April 7, 2013 at 2:16 pm
  11. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    You can try planting them now, but if the bulbs are dried up and shriveled, you probably won’t get anything.

    April 7, 2012 at 7:57 am
  12. Wendy

    I love allium and have a few in my garden, (tennis ball purples) but keep forgetting to plant in the fall. Can I plant them now, especially since I can better see where they’ll go? Zone 5/6 in Pittsburgh.Thanks!

    April 4, 2012 at 10:37 pm
  13. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Spray-painting flowers is an underappreciated art. Grumpy loves it.

    October 4, 2010 at 7:38 am
  14. Mary

    I planted giant Ambassadors from John Sheepers last fall and got the most spectacular huge blossoms. Even the foliage was gargantuan. After they faded I spray-painted the heads gold. They looked cool close up but just brown from a distance. So then I spray-painted them white and they were spectacular all summer!

    October 3, 2010 at 10:40 am
  15. Grumpy Gardener (aka His Excellency)

    Thanks for posting, Charlotte. Just knowing that people in the UK read this blog makes the Grump feel goose-pimply all over!

    September 29, 2009 at 12:39 pm
  16. Charlotte

    Just love alliums and we have our fair share of gardens with them in the UK. They make for wonderful colour!!

    September 29, 2009 at 11:00 am
  17. Grumpy Gardener (aka His Excellency)

    the foliage of alliums dies down pretty quick in spring, so it’s not that unsightly. You can try planting them with daylilies if you want.
    Just roasted some elephant garlic on the grill 2-nite. Wouldn’t try that with alliums. So more power to you.

    September 28, 2009 at 8:21 pm
  18. Linda

    Tried these several times and they never came back. I now grow elephant garlic instead. Big balls of bloom and delicious garlic.

    September 28, 2009 at 10:35 am
  19. Claire

    I love these! Hopefully my soil is deep enough in my front bed for them…I am going to check it out and give it a try. What are some good “late-blooming” perennials to plant with them?

    September 28, 2009 at 9:44 am
  20. Grumpy Gardener aka His Excellency

    So deer don’t like blooming onions, eh? No wonder you never see deer at Outback.

    September 27, 2009 at 5:59 am
  21. Cameron (Defining Your Home Garden)

    I planted ‘Purple Sensation’ last fall with geranium ‘Rozanne’ to cover the feet. However, I found the foliage to disappear very quickly and not be a problem at all with this variety.
    The stems and the bald green globes (after the purple blooms were gone) remained quite strong and attractive for several weeks. I’m ready to step up from tennis balls to softballs and volleyballs.
    I ordered my bulbs from the source you mentioned (and have been getting Dutch irises, daffodils and Spanish bluebells from them for years). None of these bulbs/flowers are bothered by deer in my garden.

    September 26, 2009 at 11:10 pm

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