Dahlias are back in fashion and are one of the longest flowering plants! Starting in the summer months and carrying on until the autumn frosts, they provide a long season of fabulous vibrant colour in late summer as other flowering plants begin to fade and can be grown in both beds and patio pots if space is limited.
Dahlias also are productive cut flowers with a good long life in the vase.
The Dahlia has an interesting history. The first tubers arrived in Europe at the end of the 18th century and were sent over to Madrid by the Spanish settlers in Mexico. Andreas Dahl, after whom the plant is named, regarded it as a vegetable rather than a garden flower. The first flowering cultivars were bred in Belgium and today there are hundreds, if not thousands of varieties.
Until quite recently they were deemed to be out of fashion but not now because Dahlias are back in fashion again. Much of this is down to the newer varieties that have been introduced and none more so than the brilliant tougher varieties in the Mystic Series bred in New Zealand.
Dr Keith Hammett left these shores after studying botany at Southampton University to live in New Zealand. There he continues to breed plants and perhaps his finest plant introduction is the Mystic range of Dahlias.
These single flowered Dahlias are tougher than most and will over-winter in most gardens without the need to lift the tubers and store in a frost free place until it is safe to replant them in the following spring. This is not entirely unique but the vast majority of Dahlias have always been dug up at the end of the year to be stored until spring and so his work is a big step forward to making life easier for all.
It is also claimed that they do not need staking and support, but since many of us garden in a particularly windy area, I suggest that some support is wise.
The single flowers are produced throughout the summer and autumn and are especially attractive to bees. The dark almost black foliage is a good contrast to the bright blooms which available in a wide range of colours.
Pot grown plants in our nursery come through cold winters with just the minimum of protection and with flying colours and no losses! In the garden it would be wise to apply thick mulch over the around the plants as they die back and this will keep all but the hardest frosts out of the frost tender tuberous roots. Nevertheless, these are truly tough little beauties!
The Bishop range of, mostly, single flowered varieties is another great range to grow! They too are almost hardy and can be left in your borders if planted deeply enough and covered with mulch that insulates the tender roots in winter.
As to the wider range of dahlias perhaps; it’s their vibrant zingy colours, or the infinite variety of bloom shape or maybe the ease with which they can be grown? I’m not sure which, but I do know that they are definitely in strong demand now!
Of course plants range from the dwarf bedding types to the giant cactus. Then there is also the so called decorative and pompon types with magnificent flowers that make such good cut flowers. Some flower heads can be as small as 25mm and others can be the size of dinner plates.
Dahlias flower from July through to the first hard frosts of the autumn and have a variety of uses. They can be used as both bedding plants and borders plants. Dahlias can be added to a mixed border alongside herbaceous perennials like Phlox, Monarda, Aster and Sedum.
They can also look good when planted with other exotic looking perennials such as Canna lilies.
If you have the space to dedicate to a border of just dahlia, then they can be displayed in their full glory!
Dahlias will thrive in well drained loamy soil and a position that is sheltered but with plenty of sunlight. When growing dahlias, staking will be beneficial for the taller growing types and good mulch will not go amiss in preventing weeds and conserving moisture.
They are hungry plants that need lots of feed. This can take the form of sprinkled pelleted chicken manure around each plant or perhaps a liquid feed of Miracle Gro, Maxicrop or Phostrogen each week in summer.
But of course, a balanced nutrient fertiliser in early spring is needed too so add Growmore or blood, fish and bone meal when planting.
Stakes and string, ties are all required to support the larger dahlias. Be on the watch for slugs and snails when you first plant then out and scatter some Growing Success Advanced Slug pellets around the plants until they get well established.