All About Dahlias
By: Brent and Becky
If you’re looking for an understated or modest flower for your garden, you’ll have to find it elsewhere. Dahlia’s are radiant and bold and were once a treasured flower in Empress Josephine’s famous gardens. Now, they bring their enthusiastic blooms to our yards.
These stunning flowers have been given a bad reputation as being too difficult to grow. No matter what zone you are living in, even up to zone 3 in the far north, you can still enjoy the glow of dahlias in your garden in the summer. These flowers aren’t as tricky as their reputation would have you believe, as long as you know the right tricks to make them thrive.
Dahlias Over Winter
It is true that these flowers adore warm days and cool nights but won’t tolerate any freezing temperatures. Depending on where you live, that could make the difference between planting them as a bulb and leaving them in your garden year-round, or taking your tubers inside over the winter to protect them. No matter what zone you live in, the benefit of keeping your Dahlias season after season is clear - with each year that you grow the same plant, it will grow and bloom with more impressive enthusiasm. Some things do just get better with age, and Dahlias are one of them.
If you live in zones 3-6, you’ll need to take your Dahlia inside during the colder months so that it is protected from freezing. If you’re in zones 8-10 you can safely leave your Dahlia in the ground all year. For those planting Dahlias in zone 7, overwintering your Dahlia could depend on how much of a gambler you are. Most years, your tuber will be fine if you insulate with a thick layer of mulch and have good Winter drainage because they prefer to sleep in dry beds, just like us! But sudden deep freezes are still a risk you will be taking. If you are planting in zone 7, it wouldn’t hurt to take the tuber inside over the winter, it’ll just take a little extra effort.
Growing Season - Getting Started
These tubers are hard to miss in the spring, as they crowd the shelves of stores. If you’re choosing tubers for yourself in a store, make sure to stay picky! Large, plump tubers will be most likely to have the best blooms. If the tuber is small, shrivelled, or has soft spots, keep looking. And if you can’t make it into our garden centres, all tubers ordered from our online store are all hand selected to ensure you receive the highest quality, ready-to-be-planted tubers.
With so many different cultivars available, make sure to read your labels very carefully! Every Dahlia we’ve encountered is absolutely gorgeous, but if you’ve got your heart set on a big dinner plate dahlia, it’ll be disappointing to find a smaller variety blooming instead.
If you live in a zone cold enough to warrant taking your Dahlias inside for the winter, you’ll want to give your plant a head start in the spring to make the most of a short growing season. Frost will be fatal for your young Dahlia, so don’t make the move outdoors until after the danger of frost.
Layer the bottom of your starter pot with a few inches of pebbles, underneath some well draining soil, to mimic the Dahlia’s native soils in Mexico. This drainage boost will ensure that your roots never become waterlogged. Mixing in some compost will help keep the pH of the soil low, in the comfort zone of your plant.
Plant your Dahlia so the crown of the tuber is just below the surface. Ideally, you should be looking to transplant once your Dahlia is about 6” to 12” high, weather permitting. You’ll want to trim back the central branch when you plant outside, to encourage a bushy and well-branched Dahlia.
If your garden has heavy servings of clay, a dose of horticultural sand or compost will give your Dahlia the drainage and acidity it needs before planting. Let it dry out a little between waterings, but water heavily when you do.
If you’re looking for big and beautiful flowers, also mix in some rich, black compost before you plant.
These flowers are a favorite of slugs, especially if you have an established garden with some leaf debris around. If slugs start to move in, a small tray of beer will have them drowning to a drunken demise.
Enjoying Dahlia Blooms
How you treat your Dahlia’s buds depends on what kind of show you are looking for from your plant. If you want the giant 10” wide flowers, snip off all the buds on the side branches so the plant can invest more energy and resources to the few selected buds. If you want a sustained show of colour instead of a few statement pieces, let your plant develop its buds naturally. Pinch them off as soon as the blossoms fade, so new buds will continue to develop all season.
These flowers are a classic decor statement, and their cut flowers last for a week or more indoors. We call them “Cut and Come Again” plants, because when you deadhead them (remove expired blooms) you can get even more blooms.
Overwintering Your Dahlia
Once the season comes to a close, it’s time to take care of your tuber. For those of you in warmer zones, your dahlia can stay in the ground safely all winter! Simply trim back the foliage in the fall after frost and enjoy new growth in the spring when temperatures climb again.
For those of you gardening in colder zones, it’s time to take your dahlia inside once frost is a possibility. Cut the plant down to about 4” above ground before the first freeze - you may even get some beautiful cut flowers from this. Dig around the tuber in a wide circle and gently lift it up, removing some soil as you go. Don’t remove or wash off ALL of the soil as it will help protect your tubers during their rest. Another option is to grow them in a pot that is easily picked up stored with the tubers still in the pot. Store your tuber in a cool, dark, dry place all winter, and next spring you’ll start with a bulb even more impressive than last year!
These statement-makers don’t have to be the garden diva that they are made out to be! Simply putting in the effort to keep your tuber year after year, will come with all of the rewards of a more impressive, mature flower each season.
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