For the Love of Dahlias…

I guess the 20+ I have in my basement aren’t enough because I just ordered 20 more bulbs for this year 🙂

They are taking up a considerable dedicated space these days around a crabapple tree and have also expanded to be along the periphery of another sun bed.  It took me a few weekends to dig up all the pachysandra to create this space.  A secret to getting rid of pachysandra is to post and have others dig it up.  Garden centers charge dollars for one stem when they can lift mine in huge sheets for free!  Everyone is happy.

I surround them with other things so the space looks natural – here is a picture when they are just about a foot high- they are hard to see in front of all the daylillies.  After seeing a beautiful massive grouping of daylillies when walking Lake Superior in Duluth, MN, I realized how beautiful it is if you can group them.  This tells you how late in the summer they are ready – the phlox is tall in this picture and the daylillies are already blooming too.


Is it time to plant? (courtesy of Swan Island Dahlias)

  1. Is my ground temperature around 60 degrees?
  2. Is it time to put the vegetables in my garden?
  3. Is the weather warm and dry enough to allow me to work in my yard on a daily basis?
  4. Is my soil workable, not too soggy?
If you can answer yes to those questions, then your dahlias are ready to be planted. It is important to remember that dahlias DON’T like cold and/or wet feet. So, if you get one beautiful day and the rest are wet and cold, don’t plant. Dahlias for the Northern half of the United States can be planted anytime from late April through early June.
I take them out of basement where where haphazardly thrown in late fall in paper cartons, milk crates, old cat litter boxes and the plastic garden trays some garden centers put plants in:
dahlia storage

I haven’t split mine very much yet because they have been growing a few years getting bigger but note that each “tuber” is not a plant.  They need to have an “eye”, which are hard to find.  My strategy will be to just hack one in two when I am ready.  Any plant that requires too much delicate handling is just not for me!

I throw them in the ground around mid/late April with a small stake to note where they are and put them about a foot apart.  Is it worth trying to plant them earlier in pots?  NO.  I tried it vs. just putting them in the ground and didn’t see a huge difference and it was a lot more work.  Just throw them in the ground – don’t water them in!  Throw some slug bait down and give them a few weeks to come up.  Once you start seeing a few sets of leaves, pinch them back – even if they have a bud on them!  This will give you a bushier plant.


They take your breath away.  They require patience as once planted, you won’t see a flower for a few months.  But when they flower, wow!!!  And then you realize you need to stake because they grow so fast.  Last year, I started/made little cages out of garden fencing and used those in place of staking which was less work.  I need another year of this to decide the right mix.  You can see below a cage vs. my typical staking on the right.  Note that one plant needs several stakes because some get so big and wide….Stakes become a huge mess and some plants needed 4-5.

Although the caging method looks funny for a while, they soon disappear as you can see below and contain some pretty big plants.


I’m growing into getting bigger ones every year… here are a few of my new ones

The dahlia is also a mystery….who knows what you will find in one!  Spiders, FROGS!….. I cut mine and leave them outside for a few hours so the creatures inhabiting them may leave.  These are a few I cut so my husband could take them and give them to all his work wives.  He walks proudly into his office with several bouquets in hand taking care of those who take care of him.

dahlia bouquet
Here is my favorite (“Fluffles”) of all the ones I grew last year:
Unfortunately, it didn’t grow that big or give me many so let’s hope it does better/is bigger this year!
When to cut
You MUST wait 2 weeks after a hard frost before digging them up.  You will read it is OK sooner but I lost all of mine one year by being “proactive.”  A hard frost will immediately turn all the leaves black.  Then wait…wait….and cut off the top stalks, dig them out and take off what dirt you can.  I let them dry NO LONGER THAN A WEEK in the garage before shaking off even more dirt and putting them downstairs.  If you leave them too long, they will start getting moldy.
They really do require full sun and I keep expanding one of my beds to give them the best conditions.  Here is “Cafe au Lait” which is a big one, loving the sun spot I moved it to this year.
Pots vs. In Ground
One year I tried planting a bunch in pots and it didn’t go so well.  I am throwing them in the ground from now on reserving a pot only for a short, bushier variety like: Bishop of Llandaff:
bishop of llandaff dark leaf dahlia
So here’s to an ever expanding dahlia collection and to all the mornings I walk out in my pajamas getting my feet wet to cut some and make someone smile at work!
dahlia quoe

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