Allium uniforlium from seed

I've got a bulb fascination this year.  Other people are going crazy for bulbs too.  Country Mouse has discussed bulbs recently.

I'm purchasing a number of bulbs, but I thought I'd first try to make use of the stock I have on hand.  I have some Allium unifolium (wild onion, Pink Meadow Onion, One-leaf Onion) seed from a couple plants at my previous house.  They must be two years old (Normally I'd put the date that I harvested the seed, but for some reason I didn't.  Why do I think I'll remember this stuff?) and there's not a lot after separating the chaff from the seed.  I'm a crummy seed saver, often putting whole seed heads in bags until I need them  These looked OK, despite the less than optimum treatment.

I sowed all of these. There's about 35.  Since they aren't fresh seed, I expect some mortality.
The recipe for germination is straight forward according to several web sites. If you think government is authoritative, then the most authoritative seems to a be http://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cs_alun.pdf which writes:

 If establishing the plant by seed, plant the seeds in the fall in pots in partial shade. Scatter the seeds on top of a well-drained soil. Sprinkle a thin layer of dirt over the top and place quarter-inch gravel over the soil. Water the pots and keep them slightly moist. Stop watering when the leaves shrivel in the early summer. Out-Plant the two-year-old seedlings in the garden or wildlands during the summer or fall. Let the rains do the watering. (Emphasis added)

 The only other advice that I found elsewhere was to use a deep pot since they will be spending two years, which is implied above but not explicitly stated.

But so much is left unsaid.

I intuit that "deep" in this case means 8" or more of soil depth below the seeds. For one year of bloom with a horticultural bulb various web resources say 3" of soil under the bulb is enough.  For two years of growing with potentially 35 bulbs, I figured more was better.  I ended up with a depth of 11" of soil in a tapered 12" diameter flower pot.  I wonder about those seeds near the edge and what their apparent soil depth is - surely less than 11". But this is all about using resources at hand, and that's what I had at hand.

Authorities also differ on how to top the Allium seeds. Some say a little soil followed by a specific type of crushed rock or sand. Others just soil or just sand. I ended up using builders roadbed gravel with the largest pieces removed, about 1/4" thick, again because that's what I had at hand.

What about fertilizer or bulb food? Again, authorities differ. There are specialized bulb foods, but once more this is about using things at hand, so I used a light scattering of time release granules on top of the crushed rock. They are visible in this photo:

Light. While editing, I realized that I had placed it in an area with intense sun for half a day.  That's probably not what they mean by "part shade".  This is easily remedied.

Finally, soil.  I used cactus mix potting soil - a well draining mixture that many California native plant growers use in pots. I'm not feeling uncertain about that choice, at least.  Still, the success of an venture is built on the success of its many parts, so there's ample room for failure here.

Here's to the start of a two year project.  No wonder bulbs cost a pretty penny compared to seed. 


  1. I planted allium unifolium bulbs once but did not get back to water them enough - too far from a hose bib, and they didn't make it. Or something ate them. Maybe open chaparral is not the right spot anyway! We all make mistakes and learn. I've planted plenty of "mystery seeds" to be sure! Sounds like you're giving these a good start. Thanks for the nod to my post. It helps people find info when we make these connections. I'm going to do a post where I'll point to Curbstone Valley, who gave me a start on my misting system. Good luck with your project!

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Country Mouse. I've been reading your blog for a while and you have a more disciplined approach to propagation than I do, for certain.