Dahlia lovers go to great lengths every year to get the biggest and best blooms.
In the fall, they carefully dig up the tubers; store them in controlled conditions; and replant in spring. They attach stems to sturdy stakes with special tape. And if they are entering the flowers in a competition, they regularly de-stem and de-bud each plant so that only one or two large blooms are allowed to form at the right time.
But that’s a lot of work. For those of us who only want occasional flowers for the dining room table there’s an easier way. Here are some notes.
Prepare the bed by digging in lots of organic matter, and then get ready for the stakes. Where each tuber will be planted, drive a 30-inch long piece of 1-inch PVC pipe halfway into the ground.
Pull the pipe out and remove all the soil from the inside. Reinsert the pipe in the hole and hammer it down another inch or so, and then simply drop your support stake into the pipe.
Plant the tuber a few inches from the pipe and 3 to 4 inches deep, then attach stems to the stake as they grow.
— A garden that is easy to maintain is much more likely to get the attention it needs (especially if you’re as lazy as I am). Dahlias are easier to maintain if each plant is limited to a couple of stems. The flowers are larger, there are fewer of them to deadhead, and routine trimming is much easier.
The remaining stems are thicker and don’t snap as easily in wind and rain. And they still have plenty of blooms for cutting.
Planting at least 3 feet apart also helps, as it avoids a tangle of interlocking stems from different plants.
— I feed dahlias only twice, in late April and in late June, with a fertilizer with a high middle (phosphate) number, like 5-10-5 or 10-10-10. Overfeeding results in weak stems.
— If you don’t like the look of PVC pipes sticking out of the ground, give them a coat of latex paint before installing. Mine are a pine-straw color.
— I use sturdy 8-foot long support stakes. Since the bottom 15 inches of the stake are below ground in the pipe, the overall height is less than 7 feet, which most folks can reach easily.
— After the first hard freeze, I cut the stems down to the ground and pull the stakes out of the pipes. The pipes and tubers remain in the ground; I cover the bed with a tarpaulin to prevent the tubers from rotting over the winter.
Using this technique I’ve rarely lost a plant, even when temperatures dropped below zero. But be sure to weigh down the edges of the tarp with stones or bricks so that it doesn’t vacate the premises in high winds.
Try growing dahlias in a sunny spot in your garden. Several local growers offer a large selection of varieties.
Jim Janke is an Extension Master Gardener volunteer in Haywood County. For more information, call the Haywood County Extension Center at 828-456-3575. © 2017 NC State University.