If you’ve never grown dahlias before and want to give it a try, watch out, it’s addictive. But what a brilliant addiction!
The plant was named after the Swedish botanist Anders Dahl, who lived in the mid-1700’s, although it is originally from Mexico. It is the national flower of that country, which you may find surprising - its natural habitat is on moist mountain slopes, not the more arid desert landscapes that we normally associate with Mexico. It is closely related to the daisy and the sunflower, no surprise really, given its distinctive appearance - numerous delicate petals circling around a central core.
There are few plants that give the gardener so much reward, with its endless rainbow colours, sizes and shapes - a hint perhaps as to why it is so very popular with competitive growers. Also, its blooms normally flourish from midsummer onwards and then continue, often when many other plants are well past their best.
If this is the first time for you … never fear. We’ll go step by step together and see how easy it can be to produce such a vibrant plant in all its many guises. You won’t regret it.
Where to Plant
Dahlias love sunshine, which equates to larger blooms, so try to choose a place in your garden that has at least eight hours of sunshine a day. Of course, they will still grow with less sunshine, but the stems will be longer and the blooms smaller.
How to Plant
Start indoors if you are using seed. Gently press the seeds into the compost, label and cover with a propagator lid. Soon they will be ready to be transported into their individual pots and then into the real growing garden space. Keep them moist but do not soak the soil. Get them ready to plant outside by the end of May. If it’s your first time growing dahlias there are seed companies who sell a big range. Of course, next year you will be able to use your own seeds harvested from your very own dahlias.
Planting by tuber or bulb is easy too. You should see signs of life from the tuber within the week. Remember to plant your larger dahlias about 3 feet apart, whilst smaller plants can be planted at 12 inch intervals. As soon as they reach about a foot in height you can tie them to a stake to promote vertical growth.
Yes, of course! Choose dwarf or low-growing dahlias for container growing. The main difference between growing in a container and growing in the ground is that more water is required to get them going – a daily watering routine is essential. More fertilizer is required also, to be topped up twice a month.
This is where you are literally spoilt for choice. Flower shapes, colours and heights - so many combinations, it’s impossible to list them all. A few of my jaw-dropping favourites: ‘Fascination’ has deep bronze foliage and a bright violet-rose flower with a dark centre - it is beautiful in both borders and containers; ‘Twyning’s After Eight’, another dark-leaved dahlia with a large crisp white flower around an orange centre; ‘China Doll’ is a dwarf dahlia, delicate like porcelain, growing only to 18 inches but producing a 4 inch bloom, mainly yellow, tinged with pink; lastly, perfect for hedges or borders, is ‘Border Choice’, which is 2 foot tall with a 3 inch wide bright red bloom. So much beauty and so many varieties to choose from. Look them up for yourself and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
Great Stems for Cutting
The best! You can promote shorter stems and bushier plants by snipping out the centre shoot. First- time growers - this may be a step too far for you. Let’s see how your first growing season goes without any intervention. Second season may be different.
To have a vase (or two or three) ready to accept your beautiful dahlia blooms is a must. Best time to cut is while it’s still cool in the mornings. Place the cut stems into hot (not boiling) water and leave for approximately an hour. You can expect 4 to 6 days of beauty that will enhance any room in your home. Remember to remove old blooms (dead-heading) which will keep your plants strong right up to the end of the season.
What to Do Over Winter
By mid-November it’s safe to dig the tubers up. Dahlias are tender perennials, which means that they keep coming back, but only if they can find shelter in the winter months. This would be in a shed, a garage or a thick eiderdown of mulch. Cool and dry. Then the magic happens! In spring, the tubers can be divided and hey presto - more dahlias to plant!
So, if you have never seriously considered the thought of entertaining this wondrous plant let me leave you with recent words from gardener Carol Klein: ‘Their big blatant flowers strike up a carnival of colour that nobody can turn a blind eye to. Nothing is more vivacious. Their vivid flowers bring the sound of the mariachi band right into the flower bed and fill the whole garden with energy.’
To make the most of your garden with this fabulous flowering plant and other design ideas contact Leeds Garden Design today to discuss your ideas.