Dahlias are gorgeous flowers! It is no surprise that they have taken the gardening world by storm.
Grown from tubers, dahlias come in different colors, shapes, and sizes. They are classified by form and size. I grow mostly ball dahlias with a few dinnerplate varieties. Ball refers to form. Dinnerplate refers to size (over 8").
I planted dahlia tubers after the last frost and now have beautiful blooms popping up on the farm. Below are strategies to get the most out of each plant and keep your dahlia plants healthy.
1) Use Sluggo plus around your dahlia tubers, sprouts, and plants. This keeps slugs and earwigs from munching on the tender sprouts. Slugs love dahlias.
2) Pinch the main stalk of the dahlia plant. This may feel antithetical to getting blooms, but pinching forces the plant to branch, which will create more blooms for you in the end. You can see where I snipped in the photo to the right. You can still pinch, even if you already have blooms. Every time you make a cut, the plant will branch and produce more blooms.
3) Strip the bottom leaves. By removing the bottom leaves of the plant, you are allowing the plant to put its energy into the flowers it is producing. You are also opening up air circulation and helping to keep the plant healthy. Make sure to put the leaves in the trash or burn them.
4) Stake or tie your dahlia plants. The plants get top-heavy and will fall over. In order to keep your plant upright, you will need to tie it to a stake or corral it with twine. I use wooden posts on each side of my flower beds, spaced about every 4-5 feet apart. I create a diamond pattern with the twine, and have three layers of twine, a foot from the ground, 3 feet from the ground, and 5-6 feet from the ground. You can see two layers of twine in the photo.
5) Disbud and remove the small buds on either side of the main bloom. The plant puts a lot of energy into growing the buds. By removing them, the plant is able to put energy into the main bloom. Disbud at the first set of leaves and the second set of leaves for long stems.
6) Cut deeply. When you cut blooms, make sure to cut the plant deeply. This means that you don't cut the flower at the first set of leaves. You want to cut the stem at the third set of leaves. It also helps the plant to produce long stems. Again, it may feel wrong, especially if you already have buds that will bloom. However, the plant will produce longer stems the deeper you cut.
7) Sanitize pruners. To keep viruses and other diseases from spreading between your dahlia plants, you will want to sanitize your shears. Some prefer to sanitize every few cuts or after you finish harvesting that day. I prefer to sanitize between cuts as I had plants with leafy gall last year. Out of an abundance of caution, I want to make sure any remaining plants do not transfer the disease. You can use a bleach solution of 1:9, bleach to water or an alcohol spray to sanitize your shears. I take a small spray bottle of 70% isopropyl alcohol with me into the field. I wipe my shears after a cut and then spray them with the alcohol. I try to let them dry before cutting again.
8) If you have problems with bugs eating your blooms, try putting drawstring organza bags over the buds. The bags will protect the blooms from insects, and you will get beautiful flowers.
There is so much to learn about caring for your dahlias. In the future, I will be sharing some of my favorite varieties as well as how to care for your dahlia tubers in the fall after your first frost. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or send me a message.
I recommend following @santacruzdahlias and getting her book if you are interested in breeding dahlias. She has a wealth of information and is generous in sharing it.