WHEN ARE WE SUPPOSED TO MOVE BULBS that are simply in the wrong place, or have grown overcrowded? Elizabethsflowers asked specifically about her ornamental onions today on the forums, and it got me thinking.
“I planted 3 A. giganteum bulbs in an area where a large spruce had recently been removed,” Elizabethsflowers wrote. “They came up last year, but didn’t seem happy—the leaves quickly turned brown, and the flowers weren’t too impressive. I think they might have been unhappy in that acidic soil. I meant to move them last fall, but forgot! Can I carefully move them now, before they bloom, or should I wait?” So what’s is the answer for alliums, and for other bulbs?
MOVING ‘IN THE GREEN,’ OR NOT?
I would not try to move alliums “in the green” (meaning when they are up and growing), I told Elizabethsflowers. The risk of breaking off the stem/foliage—which is what will feed the underlying bulb as it grows and also as it withers naturally while still connected to the bulb—is too great. The architecture of tall alliums (like the ones in the photo’s background, and their botanical cousin Nectaroscordum siculum, foreground) just makes this operation too risky, and they will be even more unhappy if severed from their foodsource. Narcissus and tulips are more forgiving, and so are many of the minor bulbs. But lilies…forget it. They are even more temperamental than alliums.
As for the browning foliage, this is typical of many of the big alliums…the leaves don’t even look great by bloom time, in some cases. That’s why alliums are best grown with a good companion plant “at their feet.” I like the perennial geraniums (like G. macrorrhizum, for example) as a concealer of this allium handicap.
It is probably very dry where Elizabethsflower’s tree used to be, and bulbs need moisture in their active growing phases to plump up (and then need to be drier late in the season when ripening) so perhaps she can help them along with a good, deep drink this spring and until they start to die back. Bulbs can also benefit from being fed when the green get up and growing—I feed my garlic (itself an Allium) when the greens are getting started in the spring.
Bottom line for Elizabethsflowers: Best to carefully mark any alliums and move them in fall, I think, or very early before they have much topgrowth next spring. I prefer fall, when the list of must to-do’s is a little bit shorter and I’m more likely to get it done. Now I have to get outside and replant all those Narcissus I dug up to move to new homes…