What to do with alliums after they finish flowering 

You have two choices: cut them back or let them dry and go to seed.

Are the impressive pom-pom blooms of your ornamental allium plants past their best? Before you reach for the secateurs at the first sight of frazzled petals, it’s useful to know what to do with alliums after they finish flowering. 

When daffodils finish flowering, for example, it’s better to leave them be for a while so that the bulb below ground can get enough nutrients to survive the winter and return triumphant next year. But not all bulbs are the same.

Alliums are a hero plant for beginner and expert gardeners alike. They’re one of the best low-maintenance garden flowers for your patch – rewarding minimal effort with generous plumage. In fact, alliums are so easy-going that it’s really up to you if you want to cut the flowers back or not.  

Saga Exceptional has spoken to gardening experts to explain what to do with alliums after they finish flowering, so you can make the best decision based on your garden’s needs.  

A group of purple alliums being visited by bees in the gardenCredit: Shutterstock / Alex Manders
When in flower, alliums’ globe-shaped blooms attract many pollinators

You can cut alliums after they finish flowering

Alliums aren’t like most bulbs, according to Monty Don

Some people can’t bear the sight of crispy, withering leaves and petals. Those keen to clear any raised beds of spent flowers, including alliums, will be pleased to hear that they can wield their scissors in confidence. 

“Unlike most bulbs, the foliage of alliums can be cut back immediately after flowering,” writes Monty Don. “In a border this will create space for planting tender annuals such as cosmos, zinnias, tithonia or sunflowers.”  

Small garden owners may want to switch up flower displays as much as possible – in which case you can cut alliums back. Though it’s best to give the bulb some time to absorb nutrients through its faltering leaves. 

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Allium after flowering, starting to turn yellow and wiltingCredit: Shutterstock / Irina Kvyatkovskaya
Even after flowering, an allium’s leaves are still providing energy to the bulb

Wait for foliage to turn yellow 

“If you’re keen to tidy alliums up more immediately, wait for the foliage to shrivel and turn yellow, then snip the stem at the base with clean, sharp secateurs,” says Sarah Veniard, garden designer and founder of Discovering Gardens 

“It’s important to be patient and wait for the foliage to die back as, even after flowering, the leaves are still photosynthesising and sending valuable energy into the bulb. This will allow the bulb to over-winter successfully and provide you with a magnificent display again the following year.” 

Don’t cut back an allium with dying leaves 

Writing for the Daily Mail’s Weekend Magazine, Monty Don explains that allium leaves can often look like they’re starting to die even before flowering. It’s important not to mistake this as a dud plant and cut it back, as it’s just a quirk affecting many alliums.  

“The leaves, which fold halfway up and droop in an idiosyncratic manner, have a tendency to start to die back at the tips before they come into flower,” he says. 

“This is not due to any illness or problem; it is simply a common feature of early alliums that the foliage dies back before the flowers fully open.” 

It’s also a good idea to mark where you’ve planted the allium bulbs, so that you don’t damage them with future planting projects.  

Leave alliums alone when they finish flowering

“Just let them do their thing”

Group of alliums in garden left alone to go to seedCredit: Shutterstock / Tracy Immordino
Alliums still look impressive even after flowering

Even though alliums are tremendously hardy perennials, not touching them after flowering is the best way to ensure they return in the best health.  

“Just let spent alliums do their thing, Guy Barter, chief horticulturist at the Royal Horticultural Society, tells us. “The leaves die back to nourish the bulb and the seedheads dry out gradually to look very architectural, particularly when frosted.”  

Veniard agrees that alliums can be valuable in the bleaker winter months. 

“If left in the garden, the spent flower heads will continue to provide their gorgeous sculptural form to your borders into winter, providing interest when your other plants may be going dormant,” she says. 

Don’t water spent plants and leave potted ones to get a good bake but not become totally desiccated,” Barter adds. He notes that autumn rain and winds will cause some alliums to collapse. “Consign them to the compost bin,” is his advice. 

Other uses for alliums after they finish flowering

Feed the birds and fill your vases

Dried allium flowers gone to seed in a vaseCredit: Shutterstock / IrenaStar
The dried seedheads look good as indoor arrangements

Calling all flower arrangers: dried alliums are a wonderful addition to a vase. 

“You can cut the seedheads and dry them inside,” says Veniard. “They make a fantastic decoration in a vase; particularly beautiful when accompanied by the soft, wispy stems of dried grasses.” 

Barter agrees that the dried seedheads look good as indoor arrangements. 

You can cut the flowers in bloom and dry them indoors,” he adds. “Some colour is often retained, but it seems a waste.” 

Leaving the seedheads to dry on the flower in the garden has another use. Birds will enjoy snacking on the dried seeds. You can also collect the seeds yourself to grow more alliums from scratch yourself. 

“But given the low price of bulbs and the time and space needed to raise plants to flowering size [often a couple of years], few gardeners bother,” explains Barter. 

If you’re keen to learn more… 

Interested in planting alliums and other low-maintenance flowers in your garden but not sure where to start? Sarah Veniard is a garden designer and founder of Discovering Gardens. Bookings are open for her Planting Advice Consultations and her Garden Design Starter Pack for beginners.

You can find her on Instagram @discovering_gardens or contact her via her website.

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Rosanna Spence

Written by Rosanna Spence she/her

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Rosanna Spence has been a journalist for nearly 10 years, reporting on a huge array of topics – from microwaves to cocktails, sustainable buildings, the Caribbean islands and beyond. She’s interviewed chefs at the helm of Michelin-starred restaurants and chatted to countless CEOs about their businesses, as well as created travel guides for experienced travellers seeking life-changing adventures. Throughout her career, she has created content for Business Traveller, i-escape.com, Pub & Bar, BRITA, Dine Out and many more leading titles and brands.

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