Unraveling the Mystery of Dreamy Garden Dahlias

As the national flower of Mexico, dahlias are the perfect flower to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Growing these big beautiful blooms might seem like a mystery, but with a bit of extra love, gardeners of all skill levels will be rewarded with a summer of endless color.

Benefits of Dahlias

Dahlias have a rich history but have recently grown in popularity because of their “Instagram-worthy” blooms. Their flowers come in a rainbow of colors that range in size and texture from 2-inch pompoms to 15-inch monster blooms. Most varieties can grow up to 5 feet tall. Single-flowered varieties attract pollinators to the garden and were recently recognized by European bulb growers as the Bulb of the Year.

When and Where to Plant Dahlias

Order and purchase dahlia tubers in early spring, but wait until the last frost has passed before planting. Give them a head start by planting them in containers indoors, then establishing them in the ground after frost. Choose a location with well-draining, slightly acidic soil and plenty of sunlight.

How to Plant and Care for Dahlias

Dahlias grow from bulb-like structures called tubers. Small pink or green “eyes” or growth are good signs that the tuber is healthy. Avoid planting tubers that look overly dry, wrinkled, or rotten. Plant just below the soil surface, about 5 inches apart for smaller varieties or up to 12 inches apart for larger varieties. Once planted, cover with soil and water, so the soil is moist but not overly saturated. There should be no need to water again until plants emerge.

Pinching, Disbudding, and Staking

Most small dahlia varieties do not need additional staking, pinching, or disbudding, but larger varieties benefit from extra support. When plants are about 1 foot tall, pinching the top 4-inches of growth on the center branch will encourage bushier plants. Focus the plant’s energy on larger flowers by disbudding – removing the two adjacent smaller buds to the central bud in a flower cluster. Insert stakes at the time of planting and adjust as the plant grows.

Digging Up and Storing Tubers

While most dahlia varieties are winter hardy in USDA zones 8 and warmer, many gardeners remove the tubers and store them for the winter.

  • After the first frost, cut the stems down to about 3-inches.
  • Use a garden spade or hand rake to gently loosen the soil.
  • Carefully remove the tubers from the ground.
  • Wash away soil and debris.

Allow tubers time to cure or dry in a well-ventilated area with temperatures between 60?-70? for 24-48 hours.

Once cured, place in a cardboard box or a dry paper bag, fill with dry sand or small wood shavings to maintain moisture and allow airflow. Check on them regularly through the winter and remove any tuber that has begun to rot to avoid spreading.

In the spring, remove from storage and plant in the garden for another year of epic dahlia blooms. Each year spent in the ground, the tubers will get bigger, too!

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