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Archive for May, 2022

All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small, All things wise and wonderful, Twas God that made them all.  (From a song by Cecil Frances Alexander)

Here is an interesting article for flower lovers. For those who will notice, this article is not written in my usual tone. That is because it is a republication of a story written long ago specifically for Yahoo Voices, of which complete rights were returned to me when that platform was taken down.

Beautiful Bi-colored Dahlia.
note the stakes

Dahlias are stunning, and they almost seem to know it. Tall and imposing, clad in bright colors, they dominate the landscape wherever you put them. In the categories of big, bold, bright, and beautiful they are rarely outdone. If your desire is for a steady supply of cut flowers, or if you need a tall specimen against a fence or wall, or if you just want a nice splash of color in your garden, let me tell you about dahlias.

I grew up with dahlias. My grandmother always planted a long row of them along the fence enclosing her vegetable garden. She traded dahlia bulbs (tubers) with her aunts, cousins, and neighbors. I think everyone in my world at that time grew dahlias. We were so enamored of dahlias that we photographed them, and framed the best shots to hang on the wall. I still love dahlias.

There are 30-some species of dahlias, and innumerable variations. They range in size from the tree dahlia, which can reach a height of 20 feet, to the dwarfs, small enough to grow in a terra cotta pot.  Dahlia colors can be quite striking. They go from white, through yellow, orange, and pink, to very dark red. Many dahlias are a mix of colors.  There are no blue dahlias, but some beautiful pinky lavender shades are available. There’s even a choice of petal types, Some are spoon shaped; others are pointed. The cactus dahlia is very attractive with its spiky looking petals.

Pompon Dahlia
Dwergenpaartje Wikimedia Commons

For plants with real pizazz, I recommend those that grow three to four feet tall and a little higher. At the upper end of this size range are the dinnerplate dahlias, between five and eight feet in height, with blossoms up to 12 inches in diameter. The smallest I can honestly recommend are the pompons. They stand at about three feet; their blooms are two to three inches across. Whether short or tall, dahlias come in a plethora of sizes and colors.

Dahlias of this mid-size range are somewhat labor intensive, but well worth the effort required to grow them. You do have to stake them, and in winter you must dig up the tubers and save them. Besides that, their main requirements are water and sunshine. They start blooming in early summer and keep on producing large colorful blossoms until frost. They will keep you in gorgeous cut flowers for weeks on end, for free.

If you’re going to grow them, set the tubers after the last killing frost is expected. They will sprout quickly. Dig a shallow hole with a hoe or shovel, break up the clods of dirt, and put a tuber in with its eye up. The plant will sprout from the eye. You will see the eyes; they are the same as potato eyes. Cover the tuber with the crumbled dirt from the hole. That’s all you need to do at first. When they are about two feet high you will need to stake them. You can use tomato stakes for the pompons, but you will need something more substantial if you are growing dinnerplate dahlias. Old broom handles are great, and so are small saplings cut from the woods, trimmed, and sharpened on one end. Drive them into the ground with a heavy hammer. They need to go in far enough not to be wobbly. Use strips of old cloth or hemp twine to tie the plant loosely to the stake. As they grow they will need to be tied again.

When the flowers begin to bloom you can start using them for arrangements. Do not try to pick a dahlia. They are succulents; the stem will simply crush in your fingers and the flower will flop over and hang there. Cut them with scissors or hand pruners. Dahlias are really spectacular in bouquets and arrangements, but they are not particularly long lasting. If you are using them for a special occasion it is best to cut them the same day, certainly no earlier than the day before. Another thing you will need to do is change the water daily. This is important. Not only will your flowers last longer, but they will smell better. Dahlias do not have a noticeable fragrance but the stems develop an unpleasant odor very quickly in water. You can mitigate this problem by changing the water every day.

If you have more than enough dahlias you can sell your excess. My cousin sold dahlias. She grew them in rows, just like a vegetable garden. She had about twelve 20-foot rows. She said that once the word got out, she had all the customers she wanted. People bought them for weddings, funerals, parties, and just because they were beautiful. If you have only a few bunches of dahlias to sell you can take them to a local tailgate market where farmers sell their own produce. It is very common to find flowers, bulbs, and other non-food items for sale at these markets.

When the petals drop from your unused dahlias, snip off the spent blooms and let them fall to the ground. This is called deadheading. Not only does deadheading improve the looks of your garden, it encourages your plants to produce more blossoms. Keep the weeds from around your dahlias, and you will have a steady supply of attractive blooms until cold weather. A little fertilizer will not hurt them, but you won’t need much.

Newly Harvested Dahlia Tubers
attached to the old stem
F.D. Richards/Wikimedia Commons

After the plants have died in the fall, and before the ground freezes, you should dig your tubers. When you do you will be happy to see they have multiplied. There will be one or more new tubers attached to the old. At this point you will need to tag them unless you are growing all the same kind. If you don’t, come next spring, you will not be able to tell them apart, and you will not know what to plant where. You can make tags of string and cardboard. Use a permanent marker so your writing will not fade. Or, you can buy metal tags from your garden supplier. Do not separate the new tubers from the old stem at this time. Come spring, when the eyes have swollen, you can separate them, discarding any tubers that do not have an eye. Save your dahlia tubers as you would potatoes, covered, in a cool, dry place where they won’t freeze.

That’s it! Next spring, plant more dahlias, or share your extra tubers. Repeat.

. . . . .

As I was creating this post I found myself asking: “Why are you talking about flowers, when all around is so much distress, unease and uncertainty?” The answer was quick: “Because, we walk by faith.” We don’t know what’s coming tomorrow, but we look for tomorrow to come. We need to be prepared — food for the body, and flowers for the soul. We do what we can; the rest is in the Lord’s hand.

 

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