By Debbie Bosworth
If you ask me, Dahlias are the Grande Dame of flowers. You can grow them by seed or buy tubers. I prefer planting tubers because I know I’m going to get full height and maximum blooms from each plant, which is important when you’re growing large quantities for cutting purposes.
Dahlias originated from the mountainous regions of Mexico and Central America and Colombia. For more history on the beautiful Dahlia, go here.
I started growing Dahlias in raised beds three years ago and I was hooked instantly. I’ll admit I had a hard time telling which side was up when I opened the bag. Plants are smart and even the ones I planted upside down (I’m sure there were at least a few) found their way to the light. Dahlias like rich, well-draining soil and don’t need much care other than the occasional watering on very hot summer days once established. For the first week or two you want to give them a drink every couple of days. If you soak them you risk rotting the tubers so be careful not to overdo it!
For New England Garden Zones 7-7A Dahlias can be planted April-June. I planted most of mine this week. The packets come with easy to follow planting instructions and a planting guide for every planting region in the US.
It’s natural for dahlias to start sprouting while still in the bag. They are anxious to get in the ground by now! A healthy tuber has no signs of mold, moistness, or soft to the touch tubers attached. Your tuber should be dry, firm to the touch before planting.
In this photo you can see the blunt, round, cut off stem from the previous year just to the left of the new sprout. You want this end facing the sky. Here’s an easy rule to follow for planting tubers: tubers point down, stem faces up!
Always stake your dahlias when you plant them. If you wait until after they get about a foot high or more you risk damaging the tuber when you insert it into the ground. I use plastic, bamboo and wooden stakes. I like to lay out the picture cards right on top of the soil for reference as I plant. When I’m finished with one section I make some notes marking where I planted what in the bed and how many of them. I also keep the photo cards for reference if I need it later.
Dahlias come in dozens of dozens of colors and petal variation but only a few basic sizes.
Dinner Plate Dahlia blooms can reach as much as 10 inches across. They are glorious in the garden, in backyard bouquets or as a single stem in a vase. They have also become all the rage in wedding flowers!
Decorative Dahlias are smaller in size ranging from 3- 6 inches across. They really light up the garden and provide a plethora of plant material for creating bouquets.
The petals on Cactus Dahlias present themselves in varied ways and often look like day-time fireworks against a bright blue sky.
The Single Petal Dahlia is one of my favorites. I love the simplicity of this beautiful flower.
In the northern regional planting zone, Dahlia tubers must be dug up in late fall before they have a chance to get too wet and freeze.
• Shake off the loose soil and let them dry out on a rack or table top before placing them in a box or bin.
• Pretend you’re making lasagna. Lay a couple of inches of peat on the bottom of your box then a layer of tubers.
• Add another layer of peat and another layer of tubers until you have a few layers.
• Make sure your box is vented and store it away some place where the temperature doesn’t get much below 50 degrees.
• Check your box monthly through the winter for moistness or mold. If you find any quickly remove that tuber from the box and toss it out.
Dahlias are really quite simple to grow and one of the most rewarding cut garden flowers to have in your garden. They’ll provide garden drama and armloads of beautiful blooms summer thru first frost.
I hope you’ll give them a try this year! Did I mention Bees love them too?
Feel free to email me any dahlia growing questions @ firstname.lastname@example.org
PS. I’m happy to be an ad partner in the Spring 2015 issue of Edible South Shore & South Coast! Look for Dandelion House ~ Fresh ~Local ~ Flowers.
Debbie Bosworth writes from Dandelion House in Plymouth MA. She lives with her sweet husband, a teenaged son and daughter, and her mother. Max, the Corgi is her constant garden companion (and chief cherry tomato thief) and also watches over his small flock of backyard chickens. Debbie is a contributing writer for MaryJanesFarm Magazine and Community Chickens and you can visit her on Facebook.