Growing Dahlias. The King of the Summer Garden.

I love cutting dahlia blooms from my garden.  They always get a “wow” reaction from friends and family.  When all you see are roses, lilies, and the usual flower selection at the grocery store florist, dahlias are a stunning and unexpected floral display in the home.

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Dahlias are such a welcome sight in the summer garden when everything else is struggling in the heat.

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Dahlia flowers range from small flowers that look like little daisies, to medium sized blooms to giant blooms as large as a child’s face. Some of my favorite dahlia varieties are the cactus dahlias and the giant dinner-plate dahlias, called this because they are as huge as dinner plates.

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Another favorite dahlia variety of mine is the honeycomb dahlia, also known as the pompom dahlia. These dahlias look like little pompoms.

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Dahlia tubers are usually available in early spring at the nurseries.  They are sold in bags with a little soil to keep the tubers from drying out.  The best time to plant dahlia tubers is in early spring in April/May timeframe.  This gives them enough time to get established and develop stronger roots; so that by the time summer arrives they are sturdy tubers capable of holding the long and heavy stalks that provide support for the huge dahlia flowers.

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Over the years I have planted dahlias in various locations in my garden with different growing conditions.  But truth be told, dahlias really only do well when planted in full-sun.  Unlike roses and lilies that are more forgiving and can bloom in almost any conditions, dahlias need a full-sun location.  When planted in shade, I’ve noticed the dahlias will get big and leafy but they hardly produce any blooms.  You can plant tubers in pots if you like, just make sure it gets plenty of sun.

Dahlias like well-drained soil.  In areas where soil is heavy clay with stagnant water, the dahlia tubers rot, get mushy and die.  Once planted, tubers need regular watering.  In early May/June the tubers will start sprouting and send out green stalks.

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It is recommended that as these stalks become 12 inches tall, you pinch the tips of the plant. This encourages a healthier stalk and also encourages multiple stalks to grow so that the plant doesn’t get top heavy.  When I have pinched the stalks the plants have grown bushy and wide, and when I have forgotten my dahlias grew long and lanky.

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Dahlia plants can get so big and tall that you will find you have to stake them to prevent them from flopping all over the place.  That’s what happened to my gorgeous purple dinner plate dahlias.  I forgot to stake them and when I checked on them recently, the stalks were all over the floor.

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Once the dahlias become full grown plants, they like to be fertilized every 3 weeks.  They are heavy feeders, the more often you feed them the more flowers you will get.

When I first thought of growing dahlias it was intimidating. I didn’t know how to grow tubers that look like potatoes.  I was clueless as to how to plant them. Do the tubers stick out of the ground? Which side goes under the soil? It was all very confusing to me.  So here is a quick little tutorial on planting dahlia tubers.

  • Take the tubers out of the bag and dust off the soil that it comes in.
  • Place the tuber on a flat surface and examine it.  Make sure all the sausage like tubers are firm and healthy. If they are shriveled or mushy, tear those off and throw them away.
  • Now look at the tuber to see which side has small hair like roots coming out.

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The other side of the tuber bunch should have a thick dry stalk.

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The stalk side goes above the ground while the tuber with the sausage like links with the roots go under the soil.

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Cover with soil after planting and water. The stalk should be left above the ground.

Wait a couple of months and watch for a green stalk to appear from the tuber. At this point you know the tuber has taken and now it’s just a matter of time and heat before the plant starts producing flowers.

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Because dahlia tubers are such work-horse plants that provide a constant show of flowers all summer long, you will find that by the time early fall arrives – in September, the plants are exhausted. They have done their performance and they are ready to slow down.  The blooms are not as big and you wont get as many flowers at this time of year.  Leaves will start yellowing and the plants will slowly wilt.  At this point you can cut the stalks off the tuber and let the tuber rest in the soil until the next bloom cycle the following year.  If you live in the colder winter regions, it is recommended that you dig up the tubers in winter and store them in some mulch in a cool dry place until ready to plant them again the following spring.  Living in California, I find this is not necessary, as our winters tend to be on the milder side.

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Try growing dahlias in your summer garden.  If it’s too late to purchase tubers, you can buy full grown dahlia plants at the nursery.  All you do is plant them in the ground like you would any other plant, or just leave it in the nursery pot and enjoy the show. If the tuber survives the winter, you will get another fabulous dahlia show next summer.

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Dahlias. They truly are the King of the Summer Garden!

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