Tuesday, February 26, 2008

My struggle with dahlias

For about the 5th time, I am ordering dahlias via mail order: the Elise and Night Queen varieties. Both seem to be in the decorative group—Brent and Beckys does not list them by division, for some reason—2-4 feet tall, with Elise the shorter of the 2 and NQ leaning more toward the shaggy side. Last year I bought a few tubers at the garden store with zilch results. A couple depressing, half-eaten blooms appeared toward the end of the season. Were they too crowded by other plants? Did they get enough sun (they were in the sunniest bed I have)? Did they just suck?

This is the reason I never overwinter the tubers. The first time I grew them, I had pretty good results and did try to save the tubers, but they didn’t make it. Since then, it’s been all downhill—that is, unless I buy actual blooming plants from somewhere. So it hardly seems worthwhile to save them, as I know the blooming plants were developed in greenhouse conditions or on a flower farm someplace warm.

But I love dahlias. You really can’t beat them for sheer, sexy flower power. They have so much personality, particularly the cactus-shaped type. This year, I will start them in the new plant room, with its south window and lights. When I plant them I will have the stake ready, and won’t wait until I see them lying on the ground to stake them. I will try to give them room and will keep an eye out for slugs. If they do well, I’ll save them; if not, I’m giving up and switching to zinnias.


Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

That is so strange about your lack of success with Dahlias. I've had no problems growing them here or at my former garden. I never started them indoors, but stuffed them in the ground or a pot as tubers from a plastic bag. The decorative types are just too much for me, but the pot-types are great for the tall plant in a combination. But, like you, I haven't been able to store the tubers for replanting in Spring. The 1 time I tried, I got tired of looking at them by February & tossed them on the compost. I hope you have better luck with them this year.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

I had the most beautiful short red orange dahlia last summer. It bloomed like the dickens. I must try to find out what that was and plant it again. I don't have luck over wintering bulbs of any sort. Hmmm...

Melanie said...

Check around and see if there's a Dahlia club in your area. Long Island has two big dahlia clubs and when I get plants at one of their sales they are always fantastic!

Pat Leuchtman said...

Last year I bought an assortment of dahlias from Swan Island Dahlias and started them indoors (I live on a chilly Mass. hilltop) and was surprised at how well that worked. I put them out in my lawn beds which have pretty good soil, and full sun. They did well. I wish I had understood that I could freely cut the flowers for bouquets and that they would continue setting buds. I've got more ordered for this year. I don't even try overwintering.

Michele Owens said...

If your dahlias didn't do well in the garden, I suspect lack of sun. Otherwise, as long as they get a little water now and then, they are pretty fool-proof.

I don't start mine in the house. I picked up great advice from Eleanor Perenyi. Plant early and deep--six inches in mid to late April for me. By the time they reach the surface, there's no longer any danger of frost, and they take right off.

Overwintering them is a breeze--if you use my plastic tub method. Dig up, cut off wilted stems, place in Rubbermaid tub that has a lid. Pack in some material that will hold moisture--wood shavings, shredded newspaper, peat moss, up to you. Place lid on tub, drag to coolish corner of cellar. Check in February to make sure they are not drying out. If so, get the tea kettle, add some water and put back to bed.

EAL said...

Thanks Michele. I am going to follow your method AND start a couple inside as well. We'll see. I have cleared out a big rose bush so hope I can give these more sun and space.

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