Nothing beats planting bulbs in the fall and being greeted with your work in the summer. What is extra fun is when you can plant bulbs that have unique names, such as those named after food. While I would not recommend trying your hand at eating any part of these plants, they are still beautiful way of adding some whimsy to your garden space.
Nodding Onions (Allium cernuum)
This is a fun bulb to plant in the fall that has a decorative flower head that consists of several pink flowers with “nodding” heads. While the big display comes from the flower, it can add that splash of unexpected color in odd places along as you live in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones four through eight. Now when I say unexpected I mean areas that seem not to support anything colorful. This includes hot areas that have a gravely-type of soil verses its ideal environment, which is full sun in well-draining soil.
Now, how do you plant the nodding onion bulb? Most garden centers carry them as a plug or seeds. The reason they are not sold as a bulb is the fact that they reseed easily and these seeds are used by nurseries by which to produce nodding onions.
While planting the plugs is easy and only requires you to plant it as deep as the plug soil level, the seed is another matter. Yes, it is just as easy but does take a few extra steps. First, they will need to be planted in a cold frame or sowed in a pot indoors several weeks prior to your last local frost. Keep in mind when planting the seeds that they just need to be sprinkled on the soil surface.
After your local frost free date has passed, do not forget to harden off the nodding onion before planting in the garden.
To allow this plant to put its best face forward, consider interplant it in clumps around other perennials verses letting them standout alone. The reason for this is the fact that after they bloom their beauty is spent. Planting them among other plants hides this fact among the other perennials’ vegetation.
If this does not meet your landscape taste, consider the nodding onion in rock gardens, borders, cottage gardens, and even in a wildflower bed. As diverse as the design choices are for this bulb, they can become a problem since they reseed easily. If you do not want anymore, simply cut off the flower stalk after it is spent.
Once planted, this bulb can be left alone but divide every three years and share the wealth.
Pineapple Lily (Eucomis)
If you are looking for a bulb that produces something a little different then the pineapple lily is for you. Now, the kicker is this if you do not live in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones six through nine then you could have a problem. This plant is not very cold tolerant, which means if it dips below 68 degrees Fahrenheit then you have an issue. But, you can still grow this bulb as an annual and dig it up before the temperature dips down. In this situation though, the bulb will need to be planted in the spring for summer bloom.
The pineapple lily likes a well-draining soil in a sunny location. Once you have your garden spot picked out, the next step is two-fold. First, you need to wait until the spring soil has warmed to around 60 degrees Fahrenheit and two, you will need to prepare the spot with some amendments. This includes incorporating well-seasoned compost and/or leaf litter into a depth of between six and 12 inches.
Once the soil has been prepared, the next step is to mark off the proper spacing for this bulb. In the pineapple lily’s case the spacing needs to be every six inches. While they do require this spacing, do not plant them like little soldiers. A better design is to plant them in clumps.
After you have the planned planting spots marked, dig each hole so that it is at least six inches deep. Now, keep in mind though that the larger the bulb the deeper the hole. In doing so, some of your bulbs may require a hole that is 12 inches deep.
As each bulb is planted, back fill and water in the soil to settle it. Now just wait for this bulb to greet you with a bloom that looks like a pineapple, which should occur in most areas from July to August.
If you are growing your pineapple lily as an annual, dig it before a frost. Lay the dug up bulbs on newspapers inside your home for at least a week so that the bulb can dry out along with any living foliage that may remain. Once the bulb is dry, wrap in newspaper and store in a labeled paper bag. Place in your basement until spring and then repeat the process.
Another technique you can use to have your garden cake and eat it too is to plant them in a pot. When using this approach, make sure you use a large container with a drainage hole. To get the most out of this type of planting, place three to five bulbs in a 12 inch pot. After the bulbs have been planted go around the edge of the container with annuals that will provide color while the bulb is growing. Once the lily is in full bloom, the annuals will take second stage but will still add some color and texture to the planting.
If you decide to use this technique, just move the container indoors and allow the foliage to dieback. After that has happened, you can simply move the pot down to the basement until spring.
Sicilian Honey Garlic (Nectaroscordum siculum)
Ok, where in the world did this name come from you may wonder? Well, there are three characteristics to this bulb that explains the name. First, this bulb is native to Sicily. Second, it does attract bees and three, when the plant is bruised it does smell like garlic so now you have it.
Now, if you want to grow this unique bulb you will need to live in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones four through eight. They will need to be planted in well-draining soils that are located in full sun to partial shade. Beyond this, the Sicilian honey garlic bulb will need to be space every four inches and at a depth of six inches. To really get the most from this bulb, make sure to plant in groups of five to seven. This will allow their height and width to really have a visual impact of texture before the flowers appear. Now, let’s talk about the flowers. These appear as bell-shaped flowers that are pink at the bottom. Moving up the bell-shaped you will find a cream color that is topped with a hint of green. The flowers form a cluster that is displayed on top of a blue-green, leafless stem.
As with the bulb before, you can grow this plant in a container and bring it indoors before a frost.