photograph of Dahlia Duet by Susan Law

Dahlias

By Susan Law

Do you want to stop traffic? Would you like a floral fantasy that becomes a neighbourhood landmark? Can you imagine fresh cut flowers gracing your dining table daily? You can enjoy the show-stopping flood of gigantic, breathtaking blooms by planting Dahlias.

A new garden at the front of my house was created with Dahlias in mind. The appearance of this site without the dahlias is quite different, as you will see below. The picture to the right displays the dramatic effect the Dahlias produce.

Dahlias have an interesting history. The first tubers arrived in Europe at the end of the 18th century, sent over to Madrid by the Spanish settlers in Mexico. Andreas Dahl (after whom the plant is named) regarded it as a vegetable rather than a garden flower, but interest switched from the edible tubers to the blooms when the first varieties with large, double flowers were bred in Belgium in 1815.

Within a few years nearly every colour we now admire had been introduced and Victorian catalogues listed hundreds of varieties. The favourites in those days were the Ball and Small Decorative Dahlias. Today it is the Large Decorative and Cactus varieties which capture the public fancy. Fashions change but the popularity of this late summer flower continues to increase.

The reasons for this devotion to the Dahlia are fairly obvious. First of all the skill of the breeders in England, Holland, Germany, Australia and America has produced a range of sizes and colours unmatched in the world of garden flowers. Plants ranging from dwarf bedders (twelve inches high) to giants taller than a man. Flowers range in size from an inch to the largest dinner plate.

Equally important is the time of flowering. From the end of July to the first frosts, Dahlias provide large orbs of colour when so many flowers are past their best. Above all the Dahlia is an accommodating plant. It likes a good loam, but will grow almost anywhere. It relishes sunshine, but can still do well in partial shade. A bed just for Dahlias is really the ideal way of growing them, but they are quite at home in the herbaceous border or even the rockery for dwarf bedding varieties.

The novice or casual gardener can grow dahlias. The simplicity of obtaining a magnificent display involves the tubers which were dug up and stored last year. This planting is carried out when the season of frosts is past and if no tubers are available then a trip to the garden centre offers a wide range of pot tubers or rooted cuttings.
With planting out of the way, it’s just a matter of staking when the stems threaten to fall over and the foliage is sprayed when blackfly becomes a nuisance. Even with such simple treatment a surprisingly good display can be obtained.

But it need not be an easy plant. For the enthusiast the growing of Dahlias is an exacting and absorbing hobby. There are soil mixtures and composts to prepare in winter, cuttings to raise from tubers, growing points to pinch out, fertilizer to apply, side shoots to remove, plants to disbud, roots to be kept moist and show blooms to stage.

There are many challenges for the enthusiast; there is the world record twenty one-inch bloom to beat, the elusive blue Dahlia to raise and a variety of show awards to win.

Dahlias are excellent for providing cut flowers and will bloom vigorously throughout the summer until the first frosts. Under the right conditions a single plant may produce up to one hundred blooms.

In colour Dahlias range from vibrant pinks and crimsons through rich hues of mauves and purples to the pastel shades of lilacs, pinks, and creams.

Dahlia Planting Material

Ground Tubers: are obtained from your own garden and dug up in previous autumn then stored over the winter. Every couple of years the tubers should be carefully divided. Make sure that each division has a piece of stem with swollen tubers attached.

Pot Tubers: are obtained from a garden shop or mail order nursery. Pot tubers are convenient and are an easy to handle planting material. It is more economical to use them to provide cuttings which are then rooted for planting out.

Rooted Cuttings: are obtained from a garden shop or mail order nursery. Home-grown tubers are planted in moist compost in March under glass to provide three inch shoots. These are severed and trimmed, then used as cuttings for potting up and then planting out.

Seeds: are obtained from a garden shop or mail order nursery. Sow in gentle heat (60 F.) in late March then plant out in late May. The flowering period is from late July to November.

Susan has written all there is to know about these lovely plants, so if you’re interested please visit her beautiful website: Susan’s Garden Patch

Or click HERE to go directly to her wonderful Dahlia pages and learn even more about these lovely daisies!