As the summer comes to an end, many blooms wilt and call it another year. But one flower that can generally withstand cooler nights and provides beautiful pops of color even throughout the fall is the dahlia.
A Rainbow of Color
True showstoppers, dahlias are sure to impress in the garden. Over the years, I’ve had dahlias in just about every size and color. One of the first flower types I grew as a novice gardener, I love them for their vibrant petals, variety, and low-maintenance.
The flower shapes range from balls and pom-poms to singles, semi-doubles, and heads similar to peonies, orchids, and even water lilies. I’ve had giant varieties as tall as sunflowers with massive, orange heads (‘Dinner Plate’), and low-growing flowers perfect for borders in beautiful candy-striped pastels.
Native to Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Costa Rica, this plant loves sunny spots in the garden and well-drained soil. It does not, however, like intense heat, so don’t hesitate to plant them in a part of the garden that gets a little bit of shade in the afternoon.
I’ve always started my dahlias from tubers, but you can also start them from plant cuttings and seed. Eager gardeners can start their tubers indoors six weeks before the last frost, or sow 5-6 inches deep into the soil after the cold has passed.
They’re fast-growing and need regular watering once they sprout. Chris McLaughlin, author of Growing Heirloom Flowers: Bring the Vintage Beauty of Heritage Blooms to Your Modern Garden, recommends pinching the first flower stalk that grows. The result is a bushier plant with more flowers.
Enjoy their blooms from early summer and well into fall.
The only thing lazy gardeners won’t love about dahlias is the fact that their tubers need to be dug up in colder climate zones (2-7). Dig the tubers out of the ground after the first frost, brush them off, and store them in a cool, dry room for the winter. If they’re not stored properly, they will rot!
McLaughlin says tubers can be left in the ground year-round in zones 8-11, but it’s wise to mulch them for an added layer of protection in the colder months.
Notable Dahlia Varieties
The world’s oldest surviving dahlia is the ‘White Aster’, from 1879. Other interesting varieties include:
- Moor Place
- Aurora’s Kiss
- Dinner Plate
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