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Onions — Not just for cooking

CANFIELD — Flowers that take on a second life as the bloom begins to fade and dry out are a double bargain and a two-season wonder. My favorites are ornamental onions of the genus Allium.

I have a number of these orbs of color growing in my flower beds. As fall is the best time to plant bulbs, I intend to get a few new varieties in the ground in the next week.

As I was perusing fall catalogs in the interest of adding more of these sun loving perennial flower bulbs to my front flower bed, my soccer playing grandson Ty spotted one that promises to produce blooms the size of a small soccer ball. I was all over ordering that!

There are more than 700 species of “Oriental onions” — aka, alliums — and they come in all sizes of bloom, from 1 1/2 inches to 8 or more inches, various stem lengths from 6 inches to more than 5 feet tall and a wide range of glorious colors, deep purples to delicate pinks, whites or yellow.

A caution: These bulbs are not for eating like their distant culinary onion cousins.

Allium bloom later than other spring bulbs and do great in our growing area. They are pollinator attractors and are resistant to deer, voles, chipmunks and rabbits.

The bonus is they dry well and add unique interest to cut flower or fall dried arrangements.

What is not to like about these attention-grabbing late spring bloomers that can last two weeks to a month?

Allium bulbs are easy to plant. Like most flower bulbs, they prefer full sun, but will thrive in partially shaded locations. Given both sun and a good drainage, they will reappear year after year.

Follow the package directions and add bulb food to the bulb planting site to ensure that the bulbs are properly established. For best results, plant your allium bulbs just over twice as deep as the height of the bulb and about 5 or 6 inches apart. When planting, make sure the bulbs are planted with the pointy end up and water sufficiently after planting.

In case you are interested in trying one of the giant varieties you might consider adding Allium shubertii to your flower bed. The blooms look like “living Fourth of July volleyball-sized fireworks.” Now that should add a little drama to the landscape.

For information, visit go.osu.edu/allium.

Novotny is an Ohio State University Mahoning County Extension Master Gardener volunteer.

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