DELIGHTFUL DAHLIAS – A sea of color for your garden
It’s confession time! I never used to like dahlias. I felt they were somewhat old-fashioned and a bit ‘stuffy’.
Fast forward a while, and I’m now one of their biggest fans. Sure, it could be that my taste has changed – a little like I used to loathe the avocados I now adore. I’m pretty certain though that it’s more down to the incredible range of new varieties bred over the past few years. There are over 30,000 to pick from!
And I, for one, am utterly smitten with these vibrant, late-summer bloomers.
If you know me a little, you’ll also know that I’m usually one for low-maintenance plants. The ‘once-planted-forever-happy’ types. Well, the dahlia isn’t quite such an easygoing lady because she likes it warm. That means you have to plant them, dig them up in the fall, store them safely over winter and then re-plant them in the spring.
And yet, none of that stops me from going through those motions in exchange for my glorious, late-summer sea of colors.
Paired with asters, Japanese anemones, rosehips, and blackberries, they charm my cottage garden socks off every year, especially when fall starts peeking around the corner.
Depending on the variety, dahlias will blossom from June to the first frost. You can start planting the tubers in pots inside from March onwards or straight outside in the ground from end of April/beginning of May – whenever there shouldn’t be any more frosts that freeze the ground completely. If you start them inside, make sure they get enough daylight as soon as the first shoots start to show.
Having said that, starting tubers in pots does have some compelling advantages:
1. They blossom sooner, therefore longer.
2. If they’re a little bigger already, they stand a better chance against ravenous snails that never give up an opportunity to munch on a delicious dahlia.
3. If you do get a surprise late frost you can move the pots into the garage, shed or the house.
To pot or not
If you have started off in pots, you can either leave them in there (provided they're big enough) or move your youngster into the flower bed. I sometimes ‘plonk’ a pot into a flower bed – definitely makes digging them up in the fall easier. But: if you leave them in the pot, you have to give them a little extra love and feed them. In fact, even if they’re in the ground they will be grateful for a little fertilizer. The more organic the better.
If you plant them straight into the soil, make sure that the cut-off stem from the previous year points upwards and then cover with about 2 to 3 (0.8" to 1.2”) of soil. If you like, you can mix some compost or horn shavings into the hole you’ve dug.
Dahlias & snails
I’m afraid dahlias are one of the top items on our slippery garden-mates’ gourmet menu, which means they need some extra protection. This year, I’ve wrapped untreated sheep wool around the stems of my freshly planted dahlias (which also happens to be an excellent fertilizer). Snail protection rings (some swear by the copper kind) can help keep the little gluttons off until your dahlias had the chance to grow big & strong. If you’ve got voles in your garden, place the tubers in wire cages or they risk being part of the little menaces’ supper.
Pick a sunny spot. Dahlias are sun worshippers and won’t take kindly to shade. They’ll just about tolerate half-shade but will most likely not blossom with quite such abundance. Some varieties can grow pretty tall, so make sure to support their long legs. Tie them to something solid, a cane or similar. Deadheading wilted blooms will send energy back into the bulbs and means they’ll blossom more often, stronger and longer.
Dahlias don’t have any particular demands in terms of soil – any standard garden ground should do. It should be permeable though to let water drain off, otherwise your tubers will rot.
I’ve mentioned this at the start but here’s a little more about dahlias and winter care. These beauties aren’t able to survive cold winters so they need to be dug up after the first frost. It’s definitely enough to do that AFTER the first frost though – dig them up too soon and you might miss out on some last blooms. Cut the shoot about 5cm (2”) above ground and gently remove the tuber from the soil. I put mine into wooden boxes lined with newspaper, then raid my boys’ sandpit to cover them, which stops them from going moldy or drying out. Store them in a cool but non-frosty place – mine make themselves at home in our cellar.
Dahlias & friends
My favorite combination is dahlias with asters and Japanes anemones. Curious why I believe that Japanese anemones are a staple of every garden? Head over here and find out! Verbena (bonariensis) is another match made in heaven, and they look particularly pretty next to blackberries and rose hips.
In my raised beds, I’ve planted cosmos and zinnias in between. There’s a whole post just about cosmos coming up but, for now, head over here for a little bit more about these simply enchanting plants. Oh so very lovely too!
And then there’s another perfect pairing: Wild carrot (Daucus carota) and/or Bishop’s Weed (Ammi majus).
Dahlias in a vase
Dahlias make excellent cut flowers! So much so that, this year, I’ve created a raised bed purely for cutting flowers. Most importantly: cut them in the morning with a properly sharp knife (careful though!) and then put them into water immediately.
Growing the family
It’s genuinely pretty easy to propagate dahlias. Come spring, split older and bigger tubers (if they’re seriously big, you can even split them into more than two) and plant on their own. Please make sure to keep the cut areas as small and clean as possible and sprinkle with coal dust (just rummage in last summer’s BBQ coal sacks) – it helps to disinfect the cut. Allegedly, it’s possible to grow them from shoots, but that’s something I haven’t tried yet. And you can grow them from seeds too.
Whether pink, orange, purple or white, two-tone, in pom-pom or cactus shape – you're spoilt for choice. The only thing missing now is scented varieties. Maybe one day?
These are some of my favorites:
Love from the Cottage Garden & Happy Weekend!
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