Dahlia - Dinnerplate in pink...
One of the most familiar flowers
of summer is the dahlia. Planted in spring, these flowers bloom in mid to late summer. Dahlias have always
been my Dad's favorite flowers. This spring I planted a dahlia garden
in front of our house so that we can enjoy these lovely flowers
throughout the summer season. Some of our dahlias were purchased
locally - others we had shipped here from Breck's in the Netherlands.
With names like 'Dinnerplate', 'Grand Prix' and 'Wild Child' - its not hard to imagine the large, flamboyant blooms that will soon grace our front yard. My personal favorite Dahlias that we planted this year are the Dinnerplate (shown above) and the Addison June - a lovely deep purple-magenta dahlia shown below.
Addison June Dahlia
In the Garden this month, I wanted to share with you the information I've gleaned about growing dahlias, in the hopes that all of you may enjoy your own dahlia gardens as well.
Did you know....
Although Dahlias are now grown for the beauty of their flowers, they were first cultivated for food because of the edible tubers they produce. Some people say they taste like a cross between a carrot, celery and a potato.
Dahlias were named after the Swedish botanist Anders Dahl. Anders Dahl was the pupil of Carolus Linnaeus, the famous scientist who came up with the modern classification system for living things called binomial nomenclature - or taxonomy.
Dahlias are also sometimes called ‘valley flowers’ because the name ‘Dahl’ sounds very much like the word ‘dal’ - meaning ‘valley’ - in Swedish.
Dahlias are in the Aster (Asteraceae) family - the same family as daisies, sunflowers, zinnias and chrysanthemums.
Most varieties of Dahlias are shorter - growing less than 4 feet tall. But Dahlia imperialis, also known as the ‘tree dahlia’ can grow up to 20 feet tall! Tree dahlias are now cultivated, but they still grow wild in Guatemala and Colombia.
Dahlias originated in Mexico. For that reason, the dahlia is Mexico’s National Flower.
Dinnerplate Dahlia in red...
Growing dahlias is a fun and simple activity the whole family can participate in. Dahlias are easy growers. Here are some guidelines for growing dahlias...
Soil and Sunlight Requirements
Dahlias require at least 8 hours of sunlight per day. Soil should be well draining, but it needs not to be topsoil or an expensive garden mix. These flowers prefer just plain dirt, provided it is well draining. Planting dahlia bulbs in rich topsoil and manure can burn up your dahlia sprouts and cause them not to grow properly. A small portion of topsoil or compost can be added later on when your plants are at flowering stage but it's not necessary.
Planting and Maintenance
In most cases, dahlias are planted in the spring, between April and May. Plant your dahlias according to the package or pamphlet directions for spacing and depth. I planted our dahlia bulbs with 2 ft. spacing and a 1 inch depth.
As for general maintenance, hand weeding is required - no herbicides can be used in growing dahlias. Slug bait is usually needed since slugs may consume dahlia leaves and stems.
Deadheading & Cut Flowers
Dahlia - Wild Child...
Dahlias need to be deadheaded in order to continue flowering throughout the season. Deadheading is of course, the removal of spent flowers. However, petal less, spent dahlia flowers often look like a new bud attempting to form. The difference between a new flower bud and a spent flower head is in their shape. New buds will be a round shape and look swollen, while spent flowers have a cone shape.
When deadheading, be sure to cut off not just the flower head, but also the stem. Cut the stem off at the point where the flower stem joins the main stem of the dahlia.
Dahlia flowers can also be used for cut flower arrangements. This is another way to encourage more flower growth. The more you cut dahlias, the more flowers you will have!
To Dig or Not to Dig...
Dahlias are a perennial plant if they are overwintered properly. Some people have had success leaving their dahlia bulbs in the ground over the winter and simply applying a large amount of mulch. We plan to dig ours out of the ground both for dividing and storing purposes, just to ensure they will come back next year.
Most people recommend digging out your dahlia tubers after the first frost has killed off the plants (i.e. the leaves are dark and wilted) but before the ground freezes hard. Cut the plant away from the bulb - leaving only about 4 inches of stem above the dirt, just so you can see where the bulbs are located. You’ll remove this stem later. Dig the tubers out of the soil with a pitchfork. This will help prevent accidental scarring and slicing of the bulb that could happen when using a shovel. If you don't have a pitchfork, a shovel will suffice, as long as you’re careful not to cut into the tubers. Dig into the soil at least one foot away from the dahlia stem and gently lift up with your pitchfork or shovel - this should cause the dahlia tubers to surface.
Dahlias can be divided in the fall or the spring. Most people recommend cutting each clump in half or in quarters. For storage, any dirt clinging to the dahlia bulbs should be brushed off with a stiff hand broom or natural bristle brush. I don't recommend rinsing before storage because doing so can introduce unwanted moisture to your dahlia bulbs, causing them to rot.
If the dirt is too damp and clings to the dahlias, let the bulbs dry for a day or two in a dry airy place before brushing them off. This will make for easier soil removal. Cut the rest of the stem off each dahlia bulb before storage. Store your bulbs on sheets of newspaper in a well ventilated area for at least two weeks before putting them in storage.. Storing partially dirty or damp bulbs or storing them in an air tight container can increase their chances of rotting. For that reason, I would not recommend using plastic containers or storage tubs for storing dahlias. These kinds of containers are just too air tight. After two weeks, you may transfer them to a well ventilated cardboard box filled with newspaper.
Keep your dahlias in a cool dry place, but one that won’t reach freezing temperatures. It’s a good idea to check on your tubers every once in a while to make sure they aren't too damp. If you do discover a decomposing bulb in your bulb box, simply remove it with any damp or moldy newspaper present. Replace with dry newspaper. Removing the bad bulb will keep it from affecting the other tubers in your bulb box. Because bulbs may also be susceptible to rodents, its important to check on your stored bulbs frequently for that reason as well. Some people place mouse traps around the area where their tubers are stored.
Digging Deeper: Species Profile
Dahlia - Arabian Night - The droplets of recent rain make this dahlia simmer like a ruby.
There are many different varieties of dahlias - garden dahlias and tree dahlias, tall dahlias and short ones in various colors. Dahlias are a genus for plants with at least 42 individual species and many different hybrids. As mentioned, all dahlias belong to the Asteraceae family. Flower heads are 2 inches to 1 ft. in diameter, depending on the variety. Dahlias produce multiple flowers at a time and throughout the season, but each stem branching off the main stem has only one flower head. These lovely plants come in just about any color except for blue. They range in height from 1 - 8 feet for garden dahlias and up to 20 feet for tree dahlias. Dahlias are not fragrant - they have no scent.
Dahlias are fun and easy to grow. They just one of the beautiful examples of the many flowers God created for us to enjoy. I hope that this overview of dahlias has given you the inspiration to create your very own dahlia garden! Happy Gardening and see you next time!
By, Jessi Wasell
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