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Dahlias come in an endless array of sizes, shapes, and astonishingly vivid colors. Dahlia stems are especially susceptible to clogging in dirty water, so change the water and give them a fresh cut every day.
- 10 dahlias, various colors and sizes
- 6 assorted vintage bottles
36 Dreamy Dahlia Wedding Bouquets
Like roses, peonies, and hydrangeas, dahlias are a sophisticated bloom that will bring an air of elegance to your wedding floral arrangements. If you're considering adding them to your wedding bouquet, you have our support! Especially since their dynamic shape&mdashround petals with points&mdashmeshes well with so many other varieties of flowers and greenery. The bushy blooms come in a wide range of shades, so you can find dahlias that are vibrant and saturated orsoft and subdued. When it comes to these pretty flowers, you can absolutely take your pick.
Even better? They're arguably one of the more versatile types of buds on the bridal flower scene. One large, oversized stem (these beauties get giant!) can be the focal point of your bouquet while smaller dahlias simply add pretty pops of texture and color. Either way, the flower is worth considering. And you don't have to worry about adjusting your wedding's perfectly curated color palette since there's a variety out there (think neutral pastels, deep moody darks, and poppy brights) that's destined to match. Best of all, these summer blooms are about to be in season, which makes now the best time of all to find spots for dahlias in your big day.
That's why we've rounded up the following bouquets from real weddings to inspire your search. Here, a few of our favorite bridal arrangements with dahlias, all plucked straight from actual brides' celebrations. Whatever your wedding style&mdashbright and bohemian or polished and classic&mdashthere's a way to make this seasonal bud work for you.
Grow dahlias for gorgeous, colorful flowers that bloom from midsummer through autumn, when many plants are past their best! The tubers are planted in the ground in late spring. In colder zones, you do need to dig up and store the tubers in the fall if you wish to grow them as perennials (or, treat as annuals). Here’s how to plant, grow, and store dahlias.
Dahlia is a genus of tuberous plants that are members of the Asteraceae family related species include the sunflower, daisy, chrysanthemum, and zinnia. They grow from small tubers planted in the spring. Picking a favorite dahlia is like going through a button box. As well as coming in a rainbow of colors, dahlia flowers can range in size from petite 2-inch lollipop-style pompoms to giant 15-inch “dinner plate” blooms. Most varieties grow 4 to 5 feet tall.
They are considered a tender perennial in cold regions of North America. They are only winter hardy in planting zones 8 to 11. Gardeners in zones 2 to 7 can simply plant dahlia tubers in the spring and either treat them as annuals or dig them up and store for winter. Dahlias love moist, moderate climates. Though not well suited to extremely hot climates (southern Florida or Texas), dahlias brighten up any sunny garden with a growing season that’s at least 120 days long.
When to Plant Dahlias
- Don’t be in a hurry to plant dahlias will struggle in cold soil. Ground temperature should reach 60°F. Wait until all danger of spring frost is past before planting. (We plant them a little after the tomato plants go in.)
- Some gardeners start tubers indoors in containers a month ahead to get a jump on the season. Medium to dwarf-size dahlias will do well in containers.
- Order dahlia tubers in early spring. This gives gardeners in colder zones time to get them growing in a sunny window. Or, skip the potting and simply plant the tubers in the ground after the spring weather has settled and the soil has warmed.
Choosing and Preparing a Planting Site
- Select a planting site with full sun. Dahlias grow more blooms with 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight. They love the morning sunlight best. Choose a location with a bit of protection from the wind.
- Dahlias thrive in rich, well-drained soil. The pH level of your soil should be 6.5-7.0, slightly acidic.
- If you have a heavier (clay) soil, add in sand, peat moss, or aged manure to lighten and loosen the soil texture for better drainage.
- Large dahlias and those grown solely for cut flowers are best grown in a dedicated plot in rows on their own, free from competition from other plants. Dahlias of medium to low height mix well with other summer flowers. If you only have a vegetable garden, it’s the perfect place to put a row of dahlias for cutting (and something to look at while you’re weeding!).
How to Plant Dahlias
- Avoid dahlia tubers that appear wrinkled or rotten. Pink “eyes” (buds) or a little bit of green growth are good signs. Don’t break or cut individual dahlia tubers as you would potatoes.
- Bedding dahlias can be planted 9 to 12 inches apart. The smaller flowering types, which are usually about 3 feet tall, should be spaced 2 feet apart. The taller, larger-flowered dahlias should be spaced 3 feet apart. If you plant dahlias about 1 foot apart, they make a nice flowering hedge and will support each other.
- The planting hole should be slightly larger than the root ball of the plant and incorporate some compost or sphagnum peat moss into the soil. It also helps to mix a handful of bonemeal into the planting hole. Otherwise, do not fertilize at planting.
- Dig a hole that’s about 6 to 8 inches deep. Set the tubers into it, with the growing points, or “eyes,” facing up, and cover with 2 to 3 inches of soil (some say 1 inch is adequate). As the stem sprouts, fill in with soil until it is at ground level.
- Tall, large-flowered cultivars will require support. Place stakes (five to six feet tall) around plants at planting time and tie stems to them as the plants grow.
- Dahlias start blooming about 8 weeks after planting, starting in mid-July.
- Do not water the tubers right after planting this encourages rot. Wait until the sprouts have appeared above the soil to water.
- Do not bother mulching the plants. The mulch harbors slugs and dahlias like the sun on their roots.
Check out our video to learn more about growing dahlias in your garden.
How to Grow Dahlias
- There’s no need to water the soil until the dahlia plants appear in fact, overwatering can cause tubers to rot. After dahlias are established, provide a deep watering 2 to 3 times a week for at least 30 minutes with a sprinkler (and more in dry, hot climates).
- Like many large-flower hybrid plants, the big dahlias may need extra attention before or after rain, when open blooms tend to fill up with water or take a beating from the wind.
- Dahlias benefit from a low-nitrogen liquid fertilizer (similar to what you would use for vegetables) such as a 5-10-10 or 10-20-20. Fertilize after sprouting and then every 3 to 4 weeks from mid-summer until early Autumn. Do NOT overfertilize, especially with nitrogen, or you risk small/no blooms, weak tubers, or rot.
Pinching, Disbudding, and Staking
- When plants are about 1 foot tall, pinch out 3-4 inches of the growing center branch to encourage bushier plants and to increase stem count and stem length.
- If you want to grow large flowers try disbudding—removing the 2 smaller buds next to the central one in the flower cluster. This allows the plant to put all of its energy into fewer but considerably larger flowers.
- Bedding dahlias need no staking or disbudding simply pinch out the growing point to encourage bushiness, and deadhead as the flowers fade. Pinch the center shoot just above the third set of leaves.
- For the taller dahlias, insert stakes at planting time. Moderately pinch, disbranch, and disbud, and deadhead to produce a showy display for 3 months or more.
- Dahlia foliage dies back with the first light frost in fall. In colder regions, the tubers should be dug up before the first hard freeze and stored indoors.
- Dahlias are hardy in USDA Hardiness Zone 8 and warmer and can simply be cut back and left in the ground to overwinter cover with a deep, dry mulch. Further north, the tuberous roots should be lifted and stored during the winter. (Some readers find, however, that dahlias will survive in Zone 7 if the winter isn’t too severe.)
- See Harvest/Storage (below) for more information.
- Slugs and snails: Bait 2 weeks after planting and continue to bait throughout the season.
- Mites: To avoid spider mites, spray beginning in late July and continue to spray through September. Speak to your garden center about recommended sprays for your area.
- Earwigs and Cucumber Beetle: They can eat the petals though they do not hurt the plant itself.
- Deer: Find a list of deer-resistant plants to grow around your dahlias.
- Powdery Mildew: This commonly shows up in the fall. You can preventatively spray before this issue arises from late July to August.
Dahlias are beautiful in a vase. Plus, the more you cut them the more they will bloom. To gather flowers for a bouquet, cut the stems in the morning before the heat of the day and put them into a bucket with cool water. Remove bottom leaves from the stems and place the dahlias in a vase. Put the vase in a cool spot and check the water daily. The bouquet should last about a week.
Digging and Storing Dahlias for Winter
Unless you live in a warmer region, you have to dig up dahlias in late fall before there is a hard frost in your area. Native to Mexico, Dahlias won’t survive freezing temperatures. Digging and storing dahlias is extremely easy and simple, and will save you the money that would otherwise go into buying new ones each year.
If you live in an area where your ground doesn’t freeze, you don’t need to dig up your tubers. The general rule is: If you live in USDA Hardiness Zone 8 or warmer, you can leave dahlias in the ground. In Zone 6 or colder, dig them up. In Zone 7, you may be able to get away with just covering the plants with a thick layer of leaf or straw mulch, but if a freeze hits, you may lose them.
When to Dig Up Tubers
Dig up dahlias before the first hard freeze. A light freeze (32°F / 0°C) will kill the foliage, but a hard freeze (28°F / -4°C) will kill the tubers, too. See your fall frost dates.
A good indication of when to dig your tubers up is when the plant starts to turn brown and die back.
How to Dig Up Tubers
Digging up tubers is easy:
- After fall frost has killed back the foliage, cut the stems down to 2 to 4 inches.
- Carefully dig around tubers with a pitchfork (or shovel) without damaging them.
- Lift and gently shake the soil off the tubers.
That’s it! Cut rotten tubers off the clump and leave the clumps outside in the sun upside down to dry naturally.
How to Store Dahlia Tubers
- Pack in a loose, fluffy material (vermiculite, dry sand, Styrofoam peanuts).
- Store in a well-ventilated, frost-free place at around 45°F (7°C).
Re-planting Tubers in Spring
- In the spring, remove the tubers from their storage containers, separate healthy tubers from the parent clump, and plant in the garden. Each tuber must have at least one “eye” or a piece of the crown attached or it will not develop into a blooming plant. The eyes are located at the base of the stem and look like little pink bumps.
If this all seems like too much bother or you do not have the right storage place, skip digging and storing, and just start over by buying new tubers in the spring.
There are about 60,000 named varieties and 18 official flower forms including cactus, peony, anemone, stellar, collarette, and waterlily. The American Dahlia Society recognizes 15 different colors and color combinations. Here are some popular choices:
- ‘Bishop of Llandaff’: small, scarlet, intense flowers with handsome, dark-burgundy foliage
- ‘Miss Rose Fletcher’: an elegant, spiky, pink cactus plant with 6-inch globes of long, quilled, shell-pink petals
- ‘Bonne Esperance’, aka ‘Good Hope’: a foot-tall dwarf that bears 1-½-inch, rosy-pink flowers all summer that are reminiscent of Victorian bedding dahlias (though it debuted in 1948)
- ‘Kidd’s Climax’: the ultimate in irrational beauty with 10-inch “dinnerplate” flowers with hundreds of pink petals suffused with gold
- ‘Jersey’s Beauty’: a 7-foot tall pink plant with hand-size flowers that brings great energy to the fall garden.
Image: Kidd’s Climax. Longwood Gardens
Wit & Wisdom
- The dahlia was named for Anders Dahl (Swedish botanist), born on March 17, 1751.
- In the 16th century, dahlias grew wild on the hillsides in parts of Mexico. There, they were “discovered” by the Spanish, who remarked on the plant’s beauty.
- Both dahlia flowers and tubers are edible. The tubers taste like a cross between a potato and a radish.
The Dahlia you brought to our isle
Your praises forever shall speak
‘Mid gardens as sweet as your smile
And colour as bright as your cheek.
–Lord Holland (1773–1840)
10 of 12
Use Geraniums as Accent Plants
Because their big heads of colorful flowers are so dramatic, we usually think of geraniums as the star of a container garden. But they also make great supporting cast members when you have bigger, bolder varieties such as canna and sweet potato vine.
A: Geranium (Pelargonium &lsquoSavannah Hot Pink Sizzle&rsquo) &mdash 2
B: Sweet potato vine (Ipomoea &lsquoSidekick Black&rsquo) &mdash 1
C: Sweet potato vine (Ipomoea &lsquoSidekick Lime&rsquo) &mdash 1
Dahlia flowers are a wonderful addition to cakes and cupcakes, and they?re beautiful in almost any color. Use specialty decorating tip 81 to create stand-up petals that make it look like your flower is blooming.
Holly leaves build on the basic leaf technique. Use a decorator brush to pull out the tiny points that give them their festive shape.
Get a nice smooth finish to your roof with this simple technique. Leave it plain or add candy for a colorful touch.
There's no need to have a plain gingerbread house roof if you have a spatula on hand. Many different textures can be created by using a spatula to make a look of fallen snow, shingles and stucco.
Hold bag at a 45? angle and touch tip to the surface. Squeeze at starting point so that icing sticks to surface. Now raise tip slightly, and as you squeeze, guide tip slightly above surface. To end outline, stop squeezing, touch tip to surface and pull tip away. After outline, fill in using a zigzag motion to fill area. Pat smooth using finger dipped in cornstarch.
The Zigzag is a popular way to fill in outlined areas, perfect for ribbed sweater and cuff effects. You can also use tight zigzags to cover the entire side of your cake?they look great!
Characters or designs are often outlined first, then piped in with stars or zigzags. Outlines can also be used for facial features.
Perfect for classic borders or cloudlike decorations, dots are a versatile technique that can be piped in a range of sizes. The dot technique can be used as a simple border for cakes and cookies, as well as for icing cupcakes or piping meringues.
Striking drama and great dimension can be added to gingerbread with the creative touches of zigzags. Just a simple back and forth motion can form beautiful drifts of snow on roofs, eaves, windowsills, and borders for doors.
An architectural flair and welcoming appeal can be achieved by adding artistic windowpanes to a gingerbread house. Beautiful small paned windows, front bay windows and even cathedral windows can be made in a few easy steps.
The bead shape makes impressive borders outlines and accents on letters and designs also a cute trim on clothing and gingerbread houses. The basis for making piped hearts and figure piping.
Icicles capture the magical moment of snow falling and gracefully trailing down a winter cottage. Add this magical look effect to roof edges, windowsills and trees.
Growing Dahlias in Containers
When I first started to grow dahlias in containers, I was frustrated because I could not find anything written in the general gardening magazines or books on this subject. The first years I grew only those dahlias listed as “dwarf” or “low growing.” One year I realized that if I could grow a dwarf tree or bush in a tub, I could cultivate any height of dahlia in a container. A dwarf variety may be a bit easier to handle, but raising 4 feet or taller dahlia bushes is just as easy, and could make a nice privacy hedge on a patio or balcony. Different heights of dahlias also add variations of elevations to a deck garden as well as adding different colors and textures from the flowers’ different forms and sizes.
Over the years I’ve had to deal with a short summer growing season with gentle-or monsoon- type rains summers of heat and drought with or without muggy humidity or the coolest, wettest foggiest conditions still air to refreshing breezes to wind gusts of 50-60+ MPH cool days with cumulus clouded skies or bright sunny hot days thunderstorms electrical storms or hailstorms. Through these schizophrenic weather conditions I’ve experimented with different potting soils, fertilizers, staking, how to start the tubers without having them rot, etc. It’s been a challenge, but I’ve developed a method of planting dahlias in containers which has been successful for me.
By starting the tubers indoors during the first week in April, I have had some early varieties start to flower by the last week in June. Because of weather conditions, most dahlia suppliers don’t send the tubers until at least the first week in April. I probably could start my over wintered tubers earlier than April, but I am usually too busy sowing seeds and transplanting seedlings of other annuals and perennials.
When I get the tubers out of storage or when they arrive in the mail, I inspect them for rot and look for good eyes. As I check each one against its invoice and write down any bonus tuber I may have been sent, the tuber is laid horizontally in trays with the eyes (or any growth which has already begun) facing up. I make sure that each tuber is identified either by having its name written on it or making a plant label for it and laying the tuber on the label. Tubers which look like they have no eyes or damaged eyes(sometimes stems break off in shipment) are placed in individual small trays on moist potting soil. This way I can watch them closely for any signs of sprouting and don’t waste time and energy planting a tuber which won’t sprout a new stem.
The tubers should be planted before the roots start to grow and get entangled in the flats. Separating the roots damages them. While they are forming new root hairs, it delays the plants’ upward growth and first bloom date.
I use heavy-weight, sturdy, plastic pots in which I can drill holes for the later described stake inserting procedure. The diameters of pots I usually use are 8 1/2-inches and 10 1/2-inches. I have a few 11-inch and 12-inch pots for planting really long tubers. For base stability, I prefer the azalea style of pot, meaning that a pot has a short height in relation to its diameter which makes it look short and squat, as opposed to a tall, skinny looking container. I do not match pot size to the final bloom size, because miniature flowers could be on a tall bush and giant blooms could be on a short plant. I match the pot to how tall the plant could be or the length of the tuber.
Use a clean container! A dirty pot could spread a disease to the plant or have unseen insect eggs in it. Before placing the potting mix in the container, I remove the saucer from the base of the pot. This will allow the excess water to drain and keep the soil from becoming water-logged from the daily drenching rains we can receive. If there are not enough holes or the holes are too small for fast drainage in the base of the container, drill another hole or two in the bottom to enhance drainage.
In the container, if the tuber is placed in the bottom of the pot and then the potting soil is immediately filled in up to 1-inch below the rim and then is thoroughly watered, the tuber could very likely rot. Planted higher up to prevent rotting, the tuber would become exposed to the surface and the base of the stalk would be sitting on the surface of the soil. Then the stalk could the be easily broken off from the tuber. When planted in the ground, directions usually state to dig a hole about five to six inches deep and fill in the hole with soil as the plant grows. I learned the best way to plant the container grown dahlia is to plant the tuber by following the same method: plant the tuber deeply and slowly add more potting soil as the plant grows.
The potting mix I use is a coarse soilless mix, Ball’s Growing Mix #2. It is a nice loose blend of fine bark, vermiculite, peat, and perlite. I use it for all of my container plants. Grace Sierra has a soilless mix which is like the Ball’s Mix #2 called Metro-Mix 700. I have noticed that garden centers are selling other brands of coarse soilless mixes which dahlias should like. Whatever potting mix you want to use, make sure it is very loose whether wet or dry. Make sure the potting soil does not have clay in it. Dahlias do not like to grow in clay soil. The clay turns the soil into mud when wet or into a block of cement if allowed to dry out.
An important “secret” ingredient I stir into the potting soil when I plant the tuber is a product made of acrylic copolymer crystals. The copolymer crystals absorb water and release it to the roots of the plant when the soil dries out. They protect the plant from being overwatered or dying in dry soil. The products I have used are TerraSorb™ and Soil Moist™. They provide the added benefit of keeping the roots cool during a hot day, and from keeping the soil (and tubers) from freezing when the frost kills the top of the plants in the fall. I use the copolymer crystals in all my containers of non-cactus plants. What’s nice is that if I don’t have time to water on a hot day, I don’t have to worry about the plant dying.
The copolymer crystals are easier to work with in their reconstituted form (slurry). Use the amounts for each pot diameter as directed on the label. To turn Soil Moist™ crystals into slurry, add 1 cup of warm water to 1 teaspoon of the crystals and wait about 5 minutes. The slurry looks like little gelatin-looking globs. I like to make a batch at time in a 3 quart container. Left over slurry can be covered and stored for later use or allowed to dry out and be stored for reconstituting at a later time. Please watch out when used around children or pets! It is also very slippery when wet!
Planting the tuber: Place an inexpensive, biodegradable drip-coffee filter, or two if necessary, over the holes on the bottom of the flower container in order to keep the soil in and the sow(or other) bugs out. The roots will appreciate the extra space that pot shards or rocks would have used.
Fill the flower pot 1/3 full with pre-moistened potting soil. In that bottom layer, mix in an amount of copolymer slurry as recommended by the package directions for the pot’s diameter. Try not to pull the coffee filters off the bottom pot holes.(The soil and slurry can be combined outside of the pot and then put back in) Lay the tuber horizontally on top of that layer of mix and slurry. If at all possible, place the tuber so that the eye end will be in the center of the pot. It is okay if this can’t be done. Many times I’ve had to place a 6″inch tuber in an 8 1/2-inch pot. Just be sure to leave about 1/4-inch space between the root (non-eye) end of the tuber and the side of the pot to allow for roots to grow. If a sprout is already growing out of an eye, place the tuber so that the sprout is pointing upwards. Write the variety of plant and what other information you want on a plant label, and insert it in the soil next to the eye end of the tuber. This marks the spot where the stake will go. It also keeps roots from growing in that spot.
Cover the tuber with more pre-moistened soil, but just enough soil to hide it. The eyes may be exposed, if desired, to watch for growth. Using a spray bottle filled with warm water, mist the tuber until the surface is damp. Do NOT fill the container to the top with potting soil at this time. By just covering the tuber, the plant’s growth can be easily watched and prevents overwatering of the awakening tuber.
As the stalk grows, carefully add more potting soil to the container, so as to not break the stalk from the eye of the tuber. Do not cover the upper set of leaves. Do NOT add any more of the copolymer slurry. The gel rises. If it’s put in at higher soil levels, lots of little globs of gel will be sitting on the top of the soil after a heavy rain. Believe me, I know!
If started inside, place the containers under plant lights. The dahlias should have light from above to keep them from bending towards the light of a window and to grow compactly. Set the lights about six inches from the tops of the pots of newly planted tubers. Raise the lights as the plants grow. Suspending the lamps from chains on hooks makes them easier to raise and lower. I use plant gro lights or a combination of two fluorescent lamps: one cool white and one warm white fluorescent tube in a 48-inch two-lamp shop fixture. This provides the proper light spectrum to raise plants without having to pay for the expensive grow lights. I learned this from the Floralight Company when I bought some of their stands. The timers are set at sunrise to sunset times (12-14 hour days) The containers can be set near a south window. Be sure to turn the pots so that stalks will grow straight.
The stake should be inserted in the pot before the plant label is covered by soil additions. Stakes help to prevent the stalks and stems from breaking off in the wind or if/when the pot falls over. Also, when uprighting or moving the pot, the stake can be grabbed onto instead of the plant. I prefer to use steel stakes which are covered in green plastic. Besides being strong and easy to work with, they can be cleaned and disinfected at the end of the growing season for use the next year. (If you can only find bamboo stakes, then try doing what I used to do: for added strength, tie three stakes together with tape, tie wire or string.)
If the average height of the variety is known use that length of stake. If not known, judge what length to use by the height of the trunk when the stake is inserted. Otherwise, use a 4 ft stake, because most dahlia plants seem to have an average height of 4 feet. To keep the stake upright, tie the stake to the container using plant tie-wire (or string, if preferred). Drill 4 holes in an “X” or “+” position (depending on the plant’s growth) in the sides of the pot near the rim. Cut a piece of plant tie-wire at least four inches longer than the diameter of the pot. Fold the wire in half and wrap the middle of the wire around the stake at the same level with the height of the pot’s rim and twist the tie wire to the stake. Remove the plant label which is near the eye end of the tuber and replace it with the stake. Next, thread one wire end through one of the pot’s holes and twist to secure it, then thread the other wire through the opposite hole and pull the wire taught until the stake stands upright next to the stalk of the plant. The base of the stake should touch the bottom of the container. Repeat with the other set of holes. Occasionally, two stakes may be needed if there are two main stalks growing from the tuber. Tie the stalk(s) to the stake(s). Return the plant label to its pot. (To keep the labels from becoming separated from their pots, mainly due to curious baby raccoons, I am going to experiment and use those aluminum name tags which have tie-wires thread through holes in them and attach them to the drilled holes in the pots.)
After being staked, when the plant has grown taller than the top of the container, add the rest of the potting mix to within one-inch of the top rim of the container. It is okay to cover the leaves below the soil line.
When the plants get at least three or four sets of leaves, pinch out the growth tip of the stalk. Pinching helps to make a bushier, sturdier plant. It does not delay the blooming time of the plant, but the plant does make more flowers. When I don’t pinch, I usually get tall, skinny plants. My husband and I like larger as opposed to more flowers so, the side buds get pinched when they start to develop. The miniature flowered buds don’t get pinched.
Watering: While the plant is developing roots, let the soil almost dry out before watering again. The copolymer crystals will prevent the tubers from drying out. If the soil is kept too wet before the roots and top growth get a good start, the tuber may rot. Water the plants after adding more soil to the pot. The city’s water here is hard with a pH about 7.4 and contains lots of calcium sulfate, magnesium, and other minerals. I understand that dahlias like a soil towards the alkaline side, so this water’s pH does not seem to bother them (they grow and bloom well!).
The indoor water goes through a water softener which replaces the calcium with a sodium salt. While they are inside, all my plants get watered with softened tap water. I use tepid water because the cold water that comes from our faucets is really cold. The softened water does not seem to harm any of my plants. While inside the pots will need to be placed on a saucer to protect the floor. But do not attach the saucer to the pot.
Outside, all the container plants get watered daily either from rain showers or the hard unsoftened city water directly from the garden hose. If the the soil is moist one inch down from the surface, do not give the plant any water. Because of the copolymer crystals, on cool days plants may not need to be watered. In August, the roots have usually filled the pots, so in the evening after a day in the 90’s or more, I check the soil in the containers to see if they need more water.
On hot, dry, sunny days, I will take the garden hose and mist the plants and the deck, so that the evaporation of the water will help cool the plants. I will do this in the hot mid-day sun if they look like they need it. Contrary to some people’s beliefs, the drops of water on the plants will not leave little magnification burn marks on them. Don’t you feel cooler after getting sprayed by a sprinkler? My fertilizer of choice is Ra·pid·Gro Bloom Builder (19-24-18 with micro nutrients). I’ve tried other formulas with the soilless mix, but so far, prefer this one. I like the foliage, blooms and good tuber production I get with this formula. The plants get fed every 7-10 days. I mix the fertilizer and water in a watering can and pour it into the individual containers until the liquid runs out of the bottoms. I stop feeding the plants at the end of August, because we usually get our first killing frost in the first weeks of September.
I spray the combination fungicide and pesticide, Orthene III, in the early evening (if the air is still and cool) at the first sign of powdery mildew, spider mites, or thrips. The first time I used it, I thought that I would wake up the next morning to find that all the plants’ leaves were burned or the plants dead. Instead, the plants looked happy and healthy!
The plants get hardened off to the outside weather conditions when the nighttime temperatures rise into the high 40’s F, usually in the first weeks of May. The containers are set on the southeast facing deck under the front porch stairs. At night I cover the plants with a reemay fabric blanket and/or a giant piece of bubble wrap which are both made for covering vegetable gardens. All the pots get taken back inside if there is a frost warning. The first week of June, the sun loving plants get hauled upstairs to the top deck.
Until the end of August, I add more potting soil to the container when the soil level looks like it has dropped, exposing the roots. When the lower leaves start dying, I cut them off. In August, outer green leaves get thinned out to allow the inner branches to receive light so they can grow and make more flowers.
Some dahlias are affected by sudden drops in temperature(within 20 minutes) from the 80’s into the 50’s(F) due to a thunderstorm (with rain or hail)or by an electrical storm (lightning and thunder only). These situations seem to trigger a winter season shut-down even though it’s the middle of the summer. The leaves droop as if the plant doesn’t have enough water, even though a check of the soil proves that it is moist. Let the soil in the pot dry out before watering again. Many times this will get the plant to regenerate and start growing again and flower nicely. Sometimes only the buds will continue to develop and bloom. Sometimes the plant will die.
Keeping a growth record of each dahlia and taking a photograph of the plant and flower is a good idea for future year’s reference. Besides the usual classification data such as bloom type, color and size, I include pot size, height, first bloom date, supplier, and how well it did. I also write a summary on what the season’s growing conditions were like, so that I can see why a plant may not have done very well that summer or did exceptionally well.
The best thing about container gardening is that the plants can be moved! The ones in flower can be turned around or moved to the front for the best flower show, the ones growing too tall go to the back, or the sun stressed ones can be moved to a shadier location. When there’s a hailstorm warning or dark thunderstorm clouds are seen moving in our direction, I move the plants next to the house, under the eaves, until the storm passes or until the next morning. In early September, when there is an early frost or snowfall warning, and we are home, my husband and I make a mad dash out and bring inside the dahlias which are in full bloom or have a lot of promising buds on them. After that first frigid spell, the temperatures usually warm up again the plants go outside and give us another month of beautiful dahlia flowers.
This way of growing container dahlias is not written in stone. This is a starting point to help develop your own system of growing contained dahlias. I saw some very nicely grown container plants when I was at the ADS National Show in Kalispell, Montana, so if you have found a method which works for your dahlias, by all means continue to use it!
This article was originally published in the Bulletin of the American Dahlia Society
Author’s update:If you are growing potted dahlias on a cement patio, put the container in the shade during the hottest part of the day or the plant could get too hot and burn from the reflected heat of the cement. Morning sun is the best, especially, if you live in a hot summer area.
Check the label of ingredients on the potting mix. Some of today’s mixes already have the copolymer crystals added to the mix. If so, do not add any of the crystals to the pot.
Some mixes already have fertilizer added to the mix. While the roots are filling the pot, you do not need to add any more fertilizer, but once the plant starts really growing, it consumes fertilizer rapidly, so you will need to give it additional plant food.
Schultz brand potting mix with fertilizer for Roses is a nice potting mix for dahlias. If you have an Eagle Hardware Store, they have a Cole’s brand planting mix which grows dahlias well, too. I do not recommend Peter’s brand potting mix for dahlias, because it has too much water retaining peat moss and a wetting agent which keeps the soil too wet for the tubers.
PHOTO NO. 1: The potting mix just covered the dahlia tuber when it was placed on the bottom 1/3 mixture of soil and copolymer slurry. The eye of the root was left exposed. The plant has grown beyond the top of the pot and has been staked, so it is ready to be completely filled in with potting soil. The lower leaves will be covered with soil.
PHOTO NO 2: The staked dahlia’s pot has been filled in with potting mix. The top growing tip has been pinched off. The leaves below the soil line were covered over with the mix. The plant is ready to be tied to the stake and then watered.
Hot Springs is located in the southern Black Hills of South Dakota in the southwestern part of the state, and has an altitude of 3800 ft above sea level. Please refer to Barbara’s Letter to the Editor in the June, 1993, issue of the ADS The Bulletin. Photos of the deck gardens appear in that issue and the September, 1994, bulletin.
As the sun takes a step back, mornings dance in on a cool breeze and the trees begin to turn, showing the beauty that lies in letting things go.
The last of summer is bittersweet, but there is magic to be had where golden hour lasts all day and the ground gives the sunset a run for its money – blanketed in a rustling layer of leaves in blazing auburn and amber hues.
Warm knits, mulled wine, comfy nights, misty mornings… Autumn, your cosy old friend is at your door, ready to wrap you in a blanket, give you a hug and make the perfect cup of tea. Oh, and she brought flowers!
In celebration of the season where nature puts on its most spectacular show – rich burgundy dahlias, plum toned Easter daisies, clusters of snowberry and velvety magnolia foliage.
A note on dahlias: These big dramatic blooms are glorious styled en masse in a simple vase, or single stems popped into mismatched receptacles as an easy dinner party decoration. However, these short lived summery blooms are extremely delicate, and they can wilt quickly. They’ll look a little tired when you receive them, but not to fear! Take care not to bruise the petals and unpack, trim at an angle and get straight into slightly warm water. If they’re struggling, you can also wrap them in damp paper for an extra moisture boost!
Fundamentals of Growing Dahlias
Dahlias are easy plants to grow and yield beautiful blooms from mid-summer through fall. In many respects, “dahlia culture” is similar to “tomato culture.” If you can grow tomatoes in your garden, you can successfully grow dahlias. The following notes will help you to add spectacular blooms and brilliant color to your garden!
Choosing your plants
There is a huge range of colors and forms of dahlias. (fig 1, 2) You will find many examples on this website. You can make your choice from the pictures you see here or from the pictures on the bags or from a dahlia friend’s recommendations. Just pick a couple and get started! You will enjoy spectacular color, variety and abundance of blooms from mid-July through the end of the growing season.
Getting your plants
There are several ways to get your first plants. Most major garden centers now sell dahlia tubers that can be a very convenient way to get started (fig 3).
Virtually every dahlia society has tuber and plant sales they also welcome guests to those events. There are a number of advantages to this approach if there is a club near to you (see list on this site). Perhaps of greatest benefit of that source of tubers or plants is the availability of expert advice on your choices! That expert advice can continue through the season a regular feature of many of our local society meeting is a Q&A session! The tubers at a society auction will also likely be locally grown and of good quality.
Of course, there are also small businesses that specialize in selling dahlias and dahlia materials by mail order or internet (see supplier list on this site). These suppliers are real experts on dahlias and their products are reliable and of good quality.
When to plant
Your tubers can go directly into the ground in the spring when the ground has warmed and there is little chance of frost. One good guideline is to plant in the same time frame as you would a tomato. If you want blooms as early as possible, you can start the tubers indoors (fig 4) in good light about a month before planting time. You will then have a small plant ready at planting time. Dahlias can be planted as late as mid-June in most parts of the country.
Where to plant
Dahlias require a site with good drainage and partial to full sun. Pots are also increasingly popular way to grow dahlias. See other articles on this site for more information on growing dahlias in pots.
How to plant
Most dahlias need to be staked and you may want to plant a sturdy stake before you plant the dahlia. If you put the stake into the ground after the plant is growing, take care to avoid damaging the tuber or the root system. Tomato cages can also be a simple approach to staking.
Put the tuber in a hole several inches deep with the “eye” (fig 5) on the tuber facing up. The eye is the point on the shoulder, or crown, of the tuber from which the plant grows.
If you are planting a number of dahlias in the same location, they should be separated by about 2 feet to give each plant room to grow.
Protecting your plants from pests
Small dahlia plants are susceptible to slug damage. It is a good idea to manually remove slugs early each morning or to protect them with a commercial slug killer.
Japanese beetles seem to enjoy eating dahlia blooms just when they are ready for a bouquet. One of the best methods of control is to manually remove the beetles into a bucket of soapy water.
Other insects can become a problem if you would like your blooms to be “perfect!” If that is the case, you might want to consider using an insecticidal soap or a commercial pesticide. Follow label directions carefully if you choose to do that.
Dahlias take well to an organic approach to gardening. They are strong, robust growers with lots of blooms, including very large blooms. They do well in soil with lots of organic content even in the absence of chemical fertilizers. Pest control is not essential and can be reasonably well accomplished without resorting to chemical pesticides.
Our suburban shrubbery and gardens are increasingly susceptible to damage by deer. The good news for dahlias is that they are low on the deer’s list of favorite foods. While dahlias are not “deer proof,” they are considered to be so in some parts of the country – probably those areas where deer find enough other plants they prefer to eat!
Watering and fertilizing
Young dahlia plants do not need a lot of water in fact, excessive water can lead to rotting of the plant. For larger plants, a good rule of thumb is to water if the rainfall is less than one inch in seven days. Pots require more regular watering.
The best strategy for fertilizing is to begin with a soil test to determine pH and the specific soil needs. Lacking that information, the plants will generally benefit from regular treatments with a water soluble or granular fertilizer. Traditional wisdom for dahlias is to treat with a high nitrogen fertilizer through the middle of the season but minimize nitrogen at the end of the season.
Maintaining your plants
There is a substantial regimen that can be used for maintaining plants for show blooms. For the simple enjoyment of spectacular dahlias in your garden, there are two relatively simple actions that will enhance the appearance of the plant. First is tying the plant to the stake several times as it grows. The first tie should secure the lower portion of the plant’s stalk to the stake. Subsequent ties should secure the branches. A simple alternative to tying is to use a tomato cage to support the plant. Then, no tying may be required.
Second is disbudding. Remove the outer two buds from the three that develop at the end of each branch (fig 8). While that reduces the total number of flowers, many flowers remain and those show up well on the plant. If all three buds are left on the stem, the blooms will tend to be covered up and can be lost in the plant (fig 6). You can also remove some of the shoots that form along the branch to have stems that can be used in tall vases for elegant bouquets.
End of the season
Your dahlias will continue to bloom prolifically right up until frost (fig 7). A heavy frost will kill the plant and leave you with a decision on your next step. You can do nothing with the plant. You will then need to plan on a visit to the local auction in the spring for the following year’s plants. Or, you can dig and discover that the plant has produced a half a dozen or more tubers like the one with which you started. If you wish, those tubers can be stored and grown by you and a couple friends next spring! Go to Dahlia University for information on harvesting and storing your tubers.
How to Grow Dahlias
Plant dahlias in a spot that gets at least eight hours of direct sunlight a day. In dry, hot-summer climates, choose a spot that provides direct sun from the morning into midday, offering shade or filtered shade by the hottest part of the late afternoon.
Like potatoes, dahlias grow from tubers so good soil preparation is key. Loosen or dig soil to a depth of about 10 inches. Your soil should be easily worked and have good drainage. If you have heavy soil, amend with compost or aged cow manure.
Planting is a good time to incorporate an organic fertilizer with an N-P-K ratio of 5-10-15, 5-10-10, 10-20-20, or 0-20-20. The higher middle number, phosphorous, assists with bloom production, while the third number, potassium, helps root development. Any fertilizer recommended for vegetables can be used for dahlias.
Although you can start dahlias from seeds, it&aposs easiest to use tubers. After you prepare the soil, dig a hole 4-6 inches deep, lay the tuber horizontally, and cover with soil. If you&aposre planting several dahlias, grow the smaller varieties 9-12 inches apart. Taller dahlias can be spaced 2-3 feet apart, or half their final height (some can grow taller than 6 feet, so be prepared!).
Except in hot climates, don&apost water the tubers until the first shoots and leaves appear. Because the surface of the ground needs to stay warm (at least 60ଏ) for the tubers to sprout, avoid mulching until the plants are actively growing.
Once the plants are established, add mulch to conserve moisture and prevent weeds. Because dahlia roots are shallow, pulling large weeds can easily disrupt the roots, so pull weeds only by hand when they&aposre still small. Avoid using chemical weed controls and weeding instruments like hoes because they kill dahlia roots.
How to Stake Dahlias
Dahlia flowers can be 2-10 inches wide (the largest varieties are called dinner plate dahlias), so some will need extra support. Dahlias that reach 3 feet or taller should be staked to support the large, heavy flowers and keep plants upright in windy conditions. Position the stakes before planting so you don&apost accidentally drive them through the tubers.
You can use almost any sturdy material, such as bamboo or metal stakes or tomato cages, that will reach nearly the height of the grown plant. As the plants grow, tie them to the stakes using a soft material such as string, twine, or nylon stocking strips. Begin tying the dahlias when they reach 1 foot tall, and keep tying at 1-foot intervals.
Once established, dahlias love water. They need deep watering at least two or three times a week with a soaker hose. When the plants are nearly a foot tall, add a nitrogen-soluble fertilizer every three or four weeks, following package directions, to promote plants with strong stems.
Bracken Rose is quite possibly the most perfect pink dahlia out there. The colors are soft, muted and romantic, and the smaller petite size is perfect in bouquets and arrangements.
The plants are extremely productive. We couldn’t keep up with harvesting them last year!
Florists adore “Bracken Rose”, as she is the perfect compliment to “Cafe au Lait” and other dahlias commonly used in wedding work (she is the smaller dahlia featured in the table arrangement photo).
While “Bracken Rose” is extremely prolific with her flowers, she is a stingy tuber producer… hence the reason she is rare and hard to find!
LIMIT 3 TUBERS, PLEASE. Let’s spread the love.
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