Dahlias In The Annapolis Valley
This is the time of year, as we look out at the snow and cold, that we start planning for spring. The new seed catalogues have been here for awhile- long enough for the pages to get dog eared and items to get marked as we picture our gardens full of color, flavor and scents.
Dahlias made their way into our yard about 10 years ago. At first, I just purchased 3 or 4 plants from the local nursery. They produced some flowers that were pretty, but certainly did not live up to their potential. I pulled them out of the ground, put them into the cool cellar and the following year put the entire root mass into the ground. The plants grew poorly and the blooms were disappointingly small. I was told by some other gardeners that you must break the tubers apart, so the following year I did just that. I broke them apart and planted the individual tubers. Again, I would be disappointed in the outcome as only 1 in 5 grew any kind of plant. ( later I would find out that what I was identifying as the eyes of the tuber did not sprout as you must have part of the stem or “neck” to sprout the plant). For a few years I went back to just buying the plants already started at the local nursery. A pretty expensive way to go, I might add.
About 5 years ago, I joined the Annapolis Valley Dahlia and Gladiolus club, and our garden made a complete turn around. Each month I would learn a few more tidbits about how I could improve my gardening skills. Not only have we learned how to plant, care for, identify and store our beautiful plants, but have formed a friendship with a group with like interests and share many of our varieties that we have picked as some of our favorites.
There are hundreds of different varieties of dahlias and are all classified according to color, form and size. Some blooms are bigger than dinner plates, some as small as little pompoms. They are available in just about every color of the rainbow. They may be shaped like a cactus, water lily, pompom or just “decorative“. The plants themselves may be between 1 to 8 feet tall. Each of us have our favorite varieties, but quite often I find that each year I get a new favorite.
Depending on how early spring comes, the dahlias may start blooming towards the end of June and will bloom right through till the first heavy frost. Each plant can give you hundreds of flowers. Usually the varieties with the larger blossoms give you fewer blossoms throughout the summer. They will grow in all different types of soil, but do require watering when they are producing lots of blossoms, depending on your soil type and how much moisture mother nature decides to bless us with each summer. Last year I only got the hose out a couple of times.
Tips and Tricks For Growing Dahlias
-Once the snow is gone and the soil is starting to warm, You till your soil and add some compost if needed.
-Next, I pound in some stakes about 5 feet apart, in a row ( I use rebar that has been cut in 5 foot lengths, spray painted to keep them from rusting)
-I then plant my tubers, laying flat with eye facing up, about 6 “ away from my stake(one on each side of the stake) and about 3 to 4” deep. ( tuber–stake–tuber—5 foot gap —tuber -stake-tuber—…) I label each variety by marking on a plant marker tied on to each post, so I can identify what varieties I like, and what to keep and share in following seasons.
-Depending on the variety and warmth of the soil, it can take weeks – month to appear above the soil. Once in awhile I have been known to sneak a peak carefully to see if they are sprouting, but be careful as their little sprouts do break off easily.
-Again, depending on the season, they may require some watering and fertilizing to get the most out of your plant.
-Once the dahlias are about a foot tall you tie their main stem to the post to keep them from breaking off as they grow taller. I do this about every foot or so, as when they have their flowers and foliage upon them, they can break right off. Very disappointing!!
-For larger blooms we “disbud”( usually 3 buds grow out of each little side shoot and by plucking 2 out of 3 off, you get a much nicer flower- hard to do at first but a very rewarding end result- and don’t worry you’ll still have lots of blossoms)
-Once they start flowering, it seems the more you cut , the more blossoms you get. They just keep trying to keep ahead of you. They seem to last longer as cut flowers if you cut them early in the morning and you should get their stems immediately into water.
I now grow approximately 70 different varieties, and have enough tubers in the spring to share with all to my family and friends. Each year I get excited to try a few more types.
In our meetings we have learned so much about all of the aspects of growing, cutting, storing and handling of our wonderful flowers. I would encourage you to read all you can about them, and as always, “ there is more than one way to skin a cat”. What works well for me, may not be the best for you.
Annapolis Valley Dahlias and Gladiolus Club
Our group meets the 4th Monday of each month at the Nicholsville community center at 7 pm. Come join us, whether you are beginner or “expert”- that’s what makes it fun! We have a “tuber sale” each spring and you can pick up most varieties for a dollar.
Just a couple of the varieties I enjoy in my garden. Happy dahlia planting and growing!!!