2010-06-10 / Family

The Potting Shed

Dazzle Your Garden With Dahlias
By Carole McCray

Carole McCray Carole McCray Mention “bulbs” and most people think spring flowering bulbs. But the show can go on beyond tulips and daffodils. From summer through frost, dahlias can be the stars in your garden. They can be showy in a perennial bed, planted with annuals or in a bed by themselves. Dahlias take on the look of other flowers and because of that distinction, they can be a garden unto themselves.

They can be single flowered like a daisy; round as a ball and clustered; frilly and classified as decorative or having the appearance of an anemone or resembling that of a flowering cactus.

Dahlias are often put in the category of a bulb, but it is actually a tuberous root or a swollen root and has part of a stem with a bud attached to it in order to produce a plant. Their color range is large—white, yellow, red, lilac, maroon and dark purple.

In Mexico and Central America dahlias grew to a height of 5 feet and so like many flowers discovered on exploration voyages, dahlias were seen by the Cortez expedition in 1519. It was not long before dahlias were growing in Spanish monastery gardens. Dahlia seeds prompted great rivalry by one famous empress. Josephine obtained stolen seed from her Spanish rival and was determined not to share them with anyone. The empress refused to have them in her garden after she discovered a member of her court had stolen dahlia tubers.

Pictured is one of many varieties of dahlias. Pictured is one of many varieties of dahlias. The dahlia was named in honor of Anders Dahl, a Swedish botanist who bred dahlias. Celebrating the flower by honoring Dahl can be credited to the King of Spain in 1789 when he changed the name to dahlia from the Aztec name, cocoxchitl, given by Cortez.

Planting from bare roots:

Plant after the danger of a hard frost has passed and soil temperature is between 60 to 65 degrees.

Bare roots should be laid horizontally in a hole 6 to 8 inches deep.

Planting tall varieties means staking firmly into the ground next to the root.

Cover the root with a few inches of soil.

When stems grow tall, tie them to the stakes. For the tall varieties, pinching them when they reach 10 to 12 inches will give you shorter, bushier plants.

Once a few frosts have occurred, gently dig up the roots with a digging fork. Cut the stems back to a few inches. Storage in a cool basement or garage where temperature is about 35 to 34 degrees is ideal. Place roots in bag of lightly moistened peat. If mice present a problem, cover roots in the peat with wire mesh.

Dahlias make gorgeous cut flowers. They can last up to a week or longer in a bouquet. If you want them for arrangements and also to enjoy and not be missed in your garden, then plant some just intended for cutting.

You might want to have an area designated as your cutting garden. The best spots are out of the way places – at the rear of the vegetable garden, hidden behind a row of shrubs or at the side of the house or garden shed. This way you won’t feel badly cutting dahlias or any flowers from your main perennial garden.

Wherever you choose to plant dahlias, in the garden proper, solely in the cutting garden or both locations, dahlias are colorful blooms lasting long into the season.

Carole McCray lives, writes and gardens in the scenic Laurel Highlands east of Ligonier, Pa. She is an award-winning writer; her most recent award was the Garden Writers Association Award for her article on Native Seeds that appeared in The Christian Science Monitor newspaper. She can be reached at mountain26@verizon.net.

Photo courtesy of Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center/North America.

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