Dahlia addiction leads to a lot of planting

Erin Schanen

I don’t know when my fascination with dahlias started, but by May I knew it had gone too far.

I was arranging pots of dahlias in the temporary greenhouse erected in the back yard every year to give annuals get a jump on the season and curiosity got the better of me. I started counting. When the number reached well in to the 80s I realized that, including the tubers that I had in storage to plant directly into the ground, I’d be planting triple-digit numbers of dahlias this year.

Where does a gardener plant that many dahlias? Pretty much everywhere.

In a skinny bed between the house and the patio I stack tall, so-called dinnerplate varieties (named for their almost absurdly large flowers) cheek by jowl where the house provides a means of support on one side. I also pepper them in clusters throughout the rest of the garden, tucking them in any sunny spot.    

Dahlias have a reputation for being fussy, but I don’t find that to be the case, or maybe I’m blind to it now that I’ve fallen under their spell. It is truly unfortunately that most need staking, a job I only sometimes do when I should, which is when they are planted. With that many dahlias in the garden, stakes come in every form and several miles of garden twine are used in the process of corralling them into a generally upright position.

Some of the best advice I’ve heard about growing dahlias is to treat them like tomatoes. Resist the urge to plant them out until the soil is warm, at least 60 degrees. They don’t need a lot of water, but they appreciate consistent watering. However, it’s important to resist the urge to water much at the time of planting because tubers are prone to rotting. Once they start growing, a balanced fertilizer is helpful, followed by a low-nitrogen fertilizer.

I don’t follow a strict fertilizing schedule, a luxury afforded by growing them in soil that’s full of organic material from years of tending it.

I start many dahlias in pots in mid-April to help them get an early start, which will lead to flowers a couple weeks earlier than if I plant the tubers directly in the ground. Once they start blooming in mid to late July, they will bloom until frost, as long as the spent flowers are regularly removed. The tubers can be lifted and stored in fall or grown as annuals.

There are advantages to growing absurd numbers of dahlias. By mid summer when a lot of gardens are looking a little tired, mine is just starting to burst into color, and there are always flowers available for bouquets.

The good news is that there’s still time to plant dahlias. I know because I still have plenty more to plant. It’s just a matter of finding some space in the garden.


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