Dabbling with dahlias

first_imgBy Paul A. ThomasUniversity of GeorgiaIn the 16th century, Spanish conquistadors in Guatemala andMexico found that dahlias were favorite flowers among the Aztecpeople. They’re still among the most spectacular plants you cangrow in the garden.Hundreds of varieties have flowers ranging from 1 to 14 inchesacross on plants from 1 to 8 feet tall. Dahlias can give youalmost any color of bloom you want in Georgia except true blue.Treated properly, Dahlias grow very well in north Georgia and thestate’s piedmont area. They’re harder to grow in the southGeorgia coastal plain because of its longer period of high summerheat.To grow dahlias, consider first how much space you’re willing todedicate to them, since they grow up to 8 feet tall. Typicalplants are 3 to 5 feet tall.Most catalogs and specialist nurseries also classify dahlias bysuch things as early, typical or late blooming and whetherthey’re best for cut flowers or exhibition blooms. For a morein-depth breakdown, consult the Dahlia Society of Georgia (www.dahliasocietyofgeorgia.com)or American Dahlia Society (www.dahlia.org) or a catalog.When to plantDahlia tubers are typically sold in later winter and spring. Manymail-order nurseries accept orders until late spring. Tubers areoften planted in April in south Georgia and May in north Georgia.June plantings often give the most perfect fall flowers.If you plant tubers early, you can take cuttings from them in Mayto produce a late-flowering crop.Dahlias thrive in the sun. They’ll do best if they get at least ahalf-day of direct sunlight. And they need at least six to eighthours of direct light produce good blooms.Seldom will plants do well in heavy shade or in competition withtrees. However, in the heat of the coastal plain, some shadingfrom the intense heat of the afternoon sun is a great benefit.Protection from high winds is helpful, too, as the plants put upa lot of tender top growth.The ideal soil for dahlias is one that’s loose, holds moisturewell and provides good aeration. The best pH is between 6.0 and6.5.When to feedDahlias are heavy feeders and develop large root systems. It’sbest to fertilize with liquid garden-plant food every four weeksby the manufacturer’s directions.You can use 10-10-10, but you must water it in and absolutelymust not let it touch the stems and leaves, as it will burn thetissues and invite disease. Don’t apply any fertilizer as the endof the season approaches.To plant dahlias, place the tubers 4 to 6 inches deep. Put thetubers on their sides with the eyes facing upward. Cover themwith 2 to 3 inches of soil. Be generous in spacing. Some of thesmall bedding varieties can be spaced 12 inches apart but usuallyrequire 2 feet on each side. The larger varieties need 3 to 4feet of space between plants.When the young plant has produced three or four pairs of leavesand is several inches high, pinch out the tip. This will causethe shoot to branch and produce side limbs.You’ll be in for a big disappointment if you don’t stake yourdahlias. Since many of the larger varieties grow tall, they can’tsupport themselves when they reach maturity.Make stakes 5 to 6 feet long and drive them about 1 foot into theground. When the plants are about a foot tall, tie them to thestakes with soft string or cloth strips. Repeat about once amonth as the plants grow taller. The limbs that bear the flowersespecially need support.To put dahlia flowers in a vase, cut them only in early morning(best) or late afternoon to prevent wilting. Place the flowers intepid water immediately after cutting.(Paul Thomas is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist withthe University of Georgia College of Agricultural andEnvironmental Sciences.)last_img read more

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