SINCE THIS IS the final Sunday in my all-time favorite month, and it’s Memorial Day weekend, full of family and barbecues, let me give you a break from chores and labor, and push the virtues of my favorite flower!
Dahlias are the absolute best for the conditions here. No plant will give you greater joy along with bucketloads of flowers.
They can be miniature (4 to 6 inches), border (6 to 12 inches), be medium-height (3 to 4 feet), tall (5 to 7 feet) or very tall (7 to 9 feet). They can have bronze foliage, maroon leaf color, be extremely cut leaf and every combination between.
The next reason: Flower type and color range. Dahlias can be 1 inch in diameter, while triple A’s can be over 12 inches in diameter. The flowers can be balled, semi-cacti, single, double or triple. They can be the brightest red and yellow, or the softest of pastels.
Dahlia flowers can also be bi-colored, fringed, tipped, spooned, starred, eyed — you name it and dahlias come in that variety.
All right, how do your dahlias grow?
Well, first, you need a well-prepared deep and wide hole of rich organic topsoil. In that wonderfully rich hole, place your dahlia tuber so the eye (crown) of the tuber is above the soil level of the hole about 2 inches. I choose to depress my hole several inches below the natural soil level of the bed.
As the tuber sprouts and grows, I fill the hole with lush soil up to the bed level. They must be well-watered at all stages of growth, and it is wise to put fertilizer at the bottom of the hole (future root feed) and again at surface-level.
Dahlias will branch naturally, sending up numerous stems, however, most producers cut one, two or perhaps as many as three, stems. This will increase the size and strength of the bloom and stem. All year long, stems will emerge from the ground and should be removed by pinching.
Also, the plant will produce large bottom leaves that should be removed, thus allowing air to move more freely under the dahlia.
Slugs love dahlias twice as much as I do and enjoy bringing the whole family along for a buffet. Air and dry conditions at soil level are your first line of attack.
Did I mention dahlias only get bigger and bigger as they grow and produce more and more flowers until they die in October or November?
Another award-winning dahlia trick is to pinch out the tip of each of your stems as soon as four pairs of leaves are produced.
Taking out only the very tip of your young stems (no more than three stems) branches the plant at a very low level that in return will exponentially increase your flower count.
Staking your dahlia plant is mandatory on plants over 3 feet tall, and the stake should be of sturdy stock, or a summer wind and rain storm will leave you a pile of twisted leaves laid out on the ground as a champagne lunch for slugs.
Disbudding is the next secret and it is how you can produce long stems and huge flowers for the vase.
As soon as you can see side buds, remove them all the way down that particular flowering branch. Leave only the top large center bud. Disbudding can double the size of the flower and stem.
Never disbud all your flowering stalks — leave some to develop naturally. This will increase bloom number and keep lots of color on your plant. Disbud all stalks if cut flowers are your only goal.
Small border type and miniatures do not get disbudded, for the prolific, tightly packed blooms are the desired effect.
Keep dahlias moist throughout the growing season. Mulch around the base is widely recommended for moisture control. Bone meal applied every two months and at planting will do wonders for your plants, and an August reapplication of fertilizer will replenish the spent summer supply. A combination of 5 pounds of bone meal and 10 pounds of wood ash is a magnificent top dress around dahlias at planting and again in late summer. Spread generously around your plants.
Finally, go out and get a large camera memory card and numerous vases because you are not going to believe the results.
And do stay safe all!
Andrew May is a freelance writer and ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email email@example.com (subject line: Andrew May).