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Ornamental onion: flower bulb of the year

Did you know that onions aren't just good to eat but that the ornamental ones are pretty as well? The large onion family has established itself not only in the kitchen. Some of them – the ornamental onions – are impressive features in the garden.

The origins of ornamental onions

Ornamental onions are endemic to Europe, Asia and the Middle East where they are found growing in the wild. The botanical name given to all onions is Allium; literally, this name means ‘sharp’, which also describes the flavor they add to foods prepared with them. Over the centuries, members of the Allium family have acquired several associations. The Victorians believed them to bring happiness and prosperity. The ancient Egyptians saw the scales of the onion as a symbol of eternity, so they used images of them on graves. The Romans named them ‘onions’ and ‘leeks’.

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The onion family

The onions make up one big happy family. There are hundreds of species including the edible ones like onions, shallots, garlic, ramson and leeks. Nice to have such a big family – and they’re tasty, too! In addition to the edible onions, a much larger group steals the show in the garden. You’ll be amazed at their many different looks. They include some real giants as well as tiny cousins bearing delicate little flowers. Here is a list of them.

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How to plant ornamental onions

You can plant ornamental onions from the middle of September to the middle of December. But what is the best time during these three months? When the temperature drops below 50 degrees, this is the time to start. That’s when you can plant as many ornamental onions in your garden as you want. Make sure, however, that the temperature is not below freezing; flower bulbs have to be planted before the soil freezes. Planting ornamental onions is not difficult. Just five steps are all it takes.

Step 1

Dig one hole for a group of flower bulbs or make individual holes for planting single flower bulbs or smaller groups. The size of the flower bulb determines how deep it should be planted. Large ornamental onions (2 inches or larger in diameter) should be planted 6 inches deep and small ornamental onions (1 i – 2 inches cm) 3 to 4 inches deep.

Step 2

Remove weeds and small stones and then work some garden mold into the soil to add nutrients and improve drainage.

Step 3

Press the flower bulbs gently into the soil with the point on top. Be careful not to press down too hard on the flower bulb, because this could damage it. Large flower bulbs should be planted 7 to 20 cm apart and small bulbs 1.5 to 3 inches apart.

Step 4

Cover the flower bulbs with the soil dug from the hole.

Step 5

If the soil is dry, give the ornamental onions some water. 

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