Success with Onion Plants
Aqualand info about Crinums (Thaianum mostly)
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Onion plants (Crinums). Not impressive when starting out.
Origin. With a name like Crinum thaianum, you might suspect (correctly) that these guys originally came from Thailand (Siam to you folks that didn’t get Anna’s memo).
Incredibly Tough. You usually find crinums bobbing on the surface like corks. We’ve seen them bob about for six weeks or so before seeing them deteriorate. In fact, they deteriorate much less floating than when planted incorrectly. We have the most problems with onion plants when we get a 100-pack and get sloppy in planting them.
Start out Like Onions. Just like an onion, shuck off that brownish “skin.” Get out your underwater garden shears. Trim off all those short, misshapen, or ratty looking leaves. Snip off all those long roots. If you leave them, you encourage them (and the bulb) to rot.
Root Comments. It’s really tempting to leave those long (eight-inch) roots -- especially if they’re a nice healthy white color. If you can spread them out in a nice “fluffy” substrate (see below), keep them. Otherwise, snip them off. They grow back fast.
Excellent Substrate. Smaller gravel mixed with lots and lots of vermiculite makes a perfect substrate. Soak the vermiculite about a week or it floats like a cork. Onion plants really root into this mixture. They do fine in this substrate without fertilizer.
Planting Depth. Plant your bulbs shallow. You want to be able to tell they’re onion bulbs by looking at them. But the main reason is to discourage bulb rot. Rotting bulbs are nasty and smell nastier.
Long Leaves. If you have a 10-gallon tank, step away from the onion plants. They grow to the top of a 55 fairly fast. Then they arch across the top and make an attractive frame that shows off your fish.
Strong Threat. We made the mistake of tossing a half-dozen rhino plecos in a tank of 20 or so onion plants. We couldn’t figure out why these guys never seemed to grow. Then we pulled one out and saw very good root growth with curled over leaves. By then it dawned on us about the plecos -- the rhinos plus an atabapo pleco, plus a red cactus pleco. Duh. We scissored off all the curly leaves, cut their roots in half, and re-planted them in a shallow tank.
Fertilizer? When you mix in vermiculite, you’ll find onion plants grow like a weed. Otherwise, you probably want to add a good leaf fertilizer. Any leaf that grows two yards long needs extra nourishment.
Lighting? Standard aquarium bulbs grow your onion plants like a weed -- up to the top and across. Unfortunately, when they grow across the top, their long leaves get very close to your lights. You guessed it. As the bumper stickers say: Algae Happens. Add otocinclus and algae-eating shrimps to control it. Severe algae? Get out those underwater shears again. Cut off the algae covered leaves. New leaves will grow to replace them.
Background Plant. You know you cannot put your onion plants out front unless you’re striving for an impenetrable jungle. Some of us love jungles. But on the whole, onions look best in back. They grow thick enough to hide filter stems and heaters. And they grow taller than any other plant -- unless you include anacharis, hornwort, and vallisneria and bog plants and ... well, let’s say longer than most aquarium plants.
Unusual Crinum. Same bulb style, totally different leaves. Everyone who sees Crinum calamistratum remarks on their appearance. They are expensive, hard to find, tough as nails, and take up a lot of room for such a small plant. See below.
Propagation. John Deere has yet to build a commercial planter, cultivator, or harvester for any of these onion plant species (yet). It’s pretty much still a hand process. By the way, you may find a Crinum natans out there. Treat them like the Thai guys. Their leaves are wrinkled looking, like they’re made out of green seersucker. LA.
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