Dahlias Are the Flower Garden's Divas

These gorgeous flowers unfurl one of the widest-ranging color palettes.

Dinnerplate Dahlia

Dinnerplate Dahlia

For pure summer flower power, it’s tough to beat dinnerplate dahlias. These over-sized blooms open to 8 or 9 inches across in a rainbow of colors. This pretty pairing features red ‘Alex Mingus’ and yellow and red ‘Lady Darlene.’ Dahlias are hardy in Zone 9 to 11. In colder zones dig tubers and store over winter.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Longfield Gardens

Image courtesy of Longfield Gardens

Just as the dog days of August set in, Labor Day looms, and days begin to grow a bit shorter comes an explosion of flower power that reassures gardeners summer’s show is not over.

Not by a long shot.

Consider the dahlia the season’s “fat lady,” and this girlfriend’s ready to sing!

From August until frost, dahlias unfurl one of the widest-ranging palettes of flower color, forms and sizes of any plant. They bloom in nearly every flower color except true blue, and bloom size ranges from 12-inch-wide dinner plates to anemone-like forms to small button-like pompons.

Native to central Mexico, dahlias are easy to grow if given adequate sunlight and rich well-drained soil. These shrubby plants grow from bulb-like tuberous roots, or tubers – which often present two challenges for gardeners. The tubers, sold in garden centers and mail-order nurseries, often rot.  And depending on how cold your winters get, they may require digging and storing indoors until planting time next spring. But more about this later.

Sunlight

Select a spot that gets at least six hours of sunlight a day, preferably more.

Soil

Prepare soil by digging out 12 to 18 inches and adding lots of compost or organic matter because dahlias are heavy feeders and demand well-drained soil.

Planting

Plant tubers in spring when soil has warmed by digging a hole three to six inches deep and laying the tuber in it with the growing tip up. Cover with soil but don’t water until well after growth emerges. Plant the tubers about 18 to 24 inches apart because they produce bush-like plants.

Watering

Once established, dahlias like lots of water — but not wet feet — so make sure you plant in well-drained soil.

Mulching

Dahlias are used to Mexico’s warms days and cool nights, so mulching is crucial when growing them in warm climates like the Southeast.

Feeding

Fertilize each plant with a spoonful of Osmocote at planting and in late summer with a water-soluble feeder, such as Miracle-Gro Rose Food.

Now, back to those challenges . . .

Tubers often rot because gardeners water them right after planting when they haven’t yet grown roots for absorbing the moisture. Wait until after new foliage emerges and the plant is about six inches tall before watering.

And then there’s that big question of to dig or not to dig? If the ground where you live normally doesn’t get cold enough to freeze in winter leave the tubers in the ground and cover with several inches of mulch or pine straw. But in colder climates, play it safe by digging up the tubers in fall. Clip off their stems, dust the cuts with garden sulfur, and store them in a box in a cool spot indoors until planting time next May.

If that sounds like a lot of trouble, just remember that that bold wave of late-summer color is more than worth it.

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