One of the most dramatic additions to a flower bed for all summer color is the dahlia. Ranging in size from one to six feet tall, and with flower sizes that vary from two to 12 inches, there are few other flowers that can compare as a striking focal point. Dahlias bloom from early summer until frost. They also come in a variety of colors that allow you to create any kind of effect you like.
Many people are intimidated by this garden star, however, when they find out that it is usually grown from a tuberous root. Yikes, what the heck is that? An example of a tuberous root is a potato. Have you ever left a potato in just the right (or wrong, as the case may be) conditions so that white things started growing from the eyes? Those white things are essentially new potato plants. If you cut up the potato and put the pieces in the ground, chances are you'll have nearly as many new potato plants as the potato had eyes. That's exactly how dahlias grow.
You can grow dahlias from seed, but because seeds are the result of the mixed genes of two parents, no one can predict exactly what the new flowers will look like. If you use tuberous roots from a parent plant with flowers you like, you will get the same kind of flowers on your own plant.
Dahlias are hardy to USDA Zone 8, so in some places you can treat them as perennials. For the most predictable results, however, dig up the tuberous roots after the first hard frost and store them in a cool, dry, dark place that doesn't freeze over the winter. Cardboard boxes layered with newspaper or peat moss are best for storage--never use sealed plastic containers or baggies.
You can divide the tubers in spring and replant them--remember, new plants grow from the eyes. The root ball of one dahlia plant will have many tuberous roots growing out from the central stem. You should be able to see the eyes where the root attaches to the stem. Be sure to keep the eye with the tuberous root when you cut. If you can't see the eye or you aren't sure, keep part of the stem with several roots. It's a good idea to use a sharp knife and dip the cut part of the tuber in sulfur before planting to protect it from pests.
Plant in well-drained soil in April or May, depending on where you live. The soil should be consistently moist, but not saturated, and in a location with at least 8 hours of sun each day. Spring rains should keep the soil moist enough for the tubers until the plant is established without requiring extra water. It's also a good idea to put stakes in the ground next to the taller varieties so that you can tie heavy flowers up later.
Visit our web site to pre-order Dahlia tubers for spring!