Dahlia fever is running wild through the gardening world and there’s no sign of it stopping anytime soon. If you have caught the dahlia bug, here are eight tips for growing bigger, better flowers this summer.
Know Your Tubers
Dahlias sprout from buds that were formed at the end of the prior growing season. These buds are located on at the base of the stem, just above where the tubers are attached.
The tubers themselves do not produce sprouts — they are food storage vessels that will help fuel the plant’s early growth. Dahlia tubers are sold in two ways: as single tubers with a bud attached, or as a clump with a stem and several tubers.
Timing is Key
If you are planting your dahlias directly into the garden, wait until the soil has warmed up to 60°F. Dahlias will not grow in cold soil and their foliage is sensitive to frost.
In northern areas, dahlia tubers can be planted indoors 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost date. Fill 1 or 2 gallon pots with moist growing mix and plant the tuber(s) with the stem or sprouts facing up. Cover with 2” of soil and put the pots in a warm place with good light. Water sparingly at first, then regularly once the plants are several inches tall. Transplant outdoors after danger of frost has passed.
Where and How to Plant
Dahlias bloom best when they’re grown in full sun and fertile, well-drained soil. Plant border dahlia tubers 15” apart from center to center; standard types are usually spaced about 18” from center to center.
Prepare the planting area by loosening the soil to a depth of 12”. Add compost and an all-purpose granular fertilizer and mix well. Dig a hole and plant the tubers, keeping the stem(s) or sprouts upright. The top of the tuber should be 3-4” below the soil surface. Backfill the hole with soil.
The Value of Pinching and Staking
When your dahlias are about 12” tall and have at least 4 pairs of leaves, pinch out/off the top of the main stem. This will stimulate lateral branching and give you a stockier plant with more stems and more flowers. For details, see HERE.
Border dahlias are self-supporting, but full size dahlias can grow as tall as 3 to 4 feet. Staking your plants or surrounding them with a metal cage will support the flower heads and help protect the stems from breaking. Read about staking options HERE.
Watering and Fertilizing
Dahlias grow best when they receive a consistent supply of water. Drip irrigation is ideal, as it directs moisture down to the root zone while keeping the foliage dry. Mulching around the base of the plants will also help to reduce moisture loss.
Dahlias are hungry plants, and they produce more flowers when they are well fed. Apply a granular all-purpose fertilizer at planting time and a liquid fertilizer once a month throughout the growing season.
Controlling Insects and Disease
To discourage disease, keep the foliage as dry as possible. Water deeply about once a week (depending on the weather and your climate) and let the top inch of soil dry out in between. Keep the area around the bottom of the plants clear. You can also clip off the bottom 12” of foliage to encourage good air circulation.
Slugs and snails are attracted to dahlia foliage and can munch down a young plant overnight . Sluggo pellets are an effective organic control when applied early and refreshed often. Earwigs are another annoying dahlia pest. They eat dahlia buds, flowers and foliage. When you’re deadheading or trimming back your plants, clean up the area and remove any spent flowers or foliage. This will give earwigs fewer places to hide and breed.
Dahlias are among the world’s best cut flowers and it takes just a few stems to make an impressive bouquet. Harvesting flowers is good for the plants and encourages them to continue flowering month after month. Spread the joy and delight your family and friends, neighbors and coworkers with the beauty of your homegrown dahlias.
Removing flowers that have passed their prime will keep your plants looking neat, encourage them to produce new buds and help control pests and disease. If you’re in a hurry, simply nip off the flower heads. Otherwise, use scissors or pruning shears and cut back to a main stem. This will stimulate new growth and longer stems that are better for cutting.
Ready to learn more about growing dahlias? You might be interested in reading All About Dahlias, How to Grow Border Dahlias and Types of Dahlias. To shop our full line of dahlias, which may be pre-ordered January-March for shipping April and May, click HERE.