Browning Allium Foliage

Jun 6, 2016 | Gardens

As perennial plant gardeners, one of the things we learn over time is how each plant behaves. There are perennials that look great before and after flowering (Heuchera) and those that look terrible once they’ve finished blooming (Penstemon ‘Huskers Red’). There are plants that flop open, exposing woody centers in mid-summer (Artemisia silver mound) and those that keep their form from spring to fall (Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’). The gardener learns to work with each plants personality and habits.

One flower that draws my eye at this time of year are alliums. In 2015 I had the pleasure of being at Moss Mountain when Allen’s Allium were in flower, and I had an immediate attack of plant lust. I came home and immediately put in an order for several types from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs.

What's amazing about these lovely flowers is that they are equally interesting when they go to seed. And BTW, you too can visit Moss Mountain! Get information here:

What’s amazing about these lovely flowers is that they are equally interesting when they go to seed. And BTW, you too can visit Moss Mountain! Get information here:


But although the developing seeds on Allium plants are lovely, most of these plants have an unfortunate characteristic… their foliage begins to brown and die even as the flowers are just opening.

You can see the problem from this angle in my garden. Standing on my front porch and looking down from the "backside" of this garden, the declining foliage of these bulbs is clearly visible.

You can see the problem from this angle in my garden. Standing on my front porch and looking down from the “backside” of this garden, the declining foliage of these bulbs is clearly visible.


The key to using Allium in the garden successfully is to plant them in and among other perennials that are robustly growing when the bulbs bloom but not yet so tall as to obscure their flowers. So daylilies, for example, make the perfect garden companions for Allium bulbs.

From this angle the daylilies hide the browning Allium foliage. Perfect.

From this angle the daylilies almost hide the browning Allium foliage. I used white allium in this garden because I’m trying (with some success) to keep the flowers in this bed in the blue, coral, yellow and white range. 


  1. Vera Clifford

    I’ve just recently found your blog, books, wonderful info, etc.. by way of Lejardin blog. My dear hubby just gifted me A Garden Lover’s Martha’s Vineyard for my B-day!
    So happy to come upon such a wealth of gardening fodder for the soul. We are near P. Allen Smith but still haven’t been to Moss Mountain, hope to some day. Martha’s
    Vineyard has a such a fascinating charm …on my bucket list before I die, lol. Thank you for sharing your lovely photos and gardening advice.

    • CL Fornari

      How nice to meet you, virtually, Vera! I hope that sometime you get up to Cape Cod to see my garden on your way to Martha’s Vineyard. (Hint: come in July for the Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival or in August so you can go to Illumination in Oak Bluffs. These should be on everyone’s bucket list!) An get to Moss Mountain asap, of course. Allen Smith is a talented designer, interesting historian and a class act when it comes to promoting plants and gardening.

  2. Charlotte Connor

    Hi my gallium flowers have gone from a lovely purple colour to a more brownish colour. Do you know what the problem may be? Thank you

    • CL Fornari

      Allium flowers don’t last for long…if they were purple for about a week to 10 days, that is their normal time of flowering. But if not, they might have either dried out. The other things that can cause plants to brown quickly are fertilizer burn from too much synthetic fertilizer or getting hit with something such as an herbicide, hot water from a sun-heated hose, cleaning fluid from nearby house work etc. If you let them dry completely now on the plant, then pick them you can spray-paint them for indoor fun bouquets.

  3. Linda Foster

    The leaves from my alium plants are turning white.Could you tell me why please

    • CL Fornari

      Allium foliage naturally starts to die back even as the flowers start to bloom. Without seeing your plants I’d guess that this is what’s happening. It’s the reason that Allium are best planted in and among other perennials so that the emerging of the other plants hides the allium foliage as these bulbs come into bloom.

  4. Marlene Y Douphinett

    Found your site when looking for information on Allium. Love your info. I only have email so hopefully if I sign up and can follow your gardening endeavors.

  5. Nick Cavnar

    Want to thank you for providing such helpful information. I planted allium for the first time last fall, and have been very excited as first leaves and now the flower stocks have appeared. But then the foliage started turning brown, before the plants had even bloomed. I assumed there was a problem, but thanks to you, I now realize this is normal behavior. In fact, my plants look exactly like your photographs. It will be easy to fill in around the allium with some other plants to hide the foliage in the future.

    Again thanks for such a helpful blog.

  6. Debbie

    I’m so glad Google sent me to your blog today! I was so worried about my new alliums (planted in Oct in RI) as they look like they are dying. I will reduce the watering and let them be! Thank you so much!

  7. Michele L

    I planted my Purple Passion allium bulbs at the back of my raised garden last fall because they were suppose to get tall. It is now May 3rd and some of the 9 bulbs I planted have leaves that the tips are turning brown and they are about 4-5 inches tall and 1 has bloomed at that height with the bloom the size of a quarter. I am zone 8 high desert 4800 elevation AZ outside of Tucson near Mexican border. They get full sun and dappled shade in afternoon. What’s happening? I did buy them at a local big box store. I was watering twice a week drip but just raised it to 3x because it is very windy and hot in the day cool at night. I used Epsoma plant tone recently this spring and a little fish fertilizer too.

    • CL Fornari

      It’s totally possible that what you are seeing is the result of last year’s dry condition. Spring flowering plants form their flower buds, and store their energy, in July, August and September of the previous year. Was the area where these are growing watered deeply once a week in those months? If they were planted the year before, were they fertilized when the foliage came up? Know that organic fertilizers such as Plant-tone and Fish take about 6 weeks to become available to plants, so you have to apply them 6 weeks before they start to grow.


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