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  • By Jean Starr

    DahliasYou Cant Have Just One

    The 6-inch flowers of Mary Lou dahlia offer a sunshine yellow to a bouquet or in the garden.

    March/April 2015 19

  • Divas require their own spotlight. In all their shapes, colors and sizes, dahlias (Dahlia spp.) clearly hold court in the eye-candy kingdom. Growing them well requires forethought. These Mexican and Central American natives like a rich soil with good drainage, as much sun as you can find, and in the case of the large varieties, well-placed support. One of the most difficult tasks is choosing from thousands of varieties available from hundreds of sources.

    My grandma didnt have to slog through quite as many options. Until she reached her mid-70s, she grew dahlias against the garage of her suburban home. Shed brought the tubers from the tiny garden behind the grocery store and apartment house she and my grandpa owned in Gary, Indiana. I recognized the dinner plate dahlias from the photo I found of my dad and older sister that was taken there in 1952.

    Starting EarlyFor earlier blooming, plant dahlia

    tubers in 8-inch pots in early April. Fill pots about half-way with a com-mercial, sterilized potting mix, or make your own by combining equal amounts of sphagnum peat, perlite and sterilized soil. Place the tuber horizontally on the soil and cover with 1 to 2 inches of potting mix. Water thoroughly. When growth emerges, place pot in full sun. Plants can remain in pots or be trans-planted to the garden.

    Source: Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

    Dahlia Size Classifications:AA: Flowers over 10 or more across

    A: Flowers 8 to 10 across

    B: Flowers 6 to 8 across

    BB: Flowers 4 to 6 across

    M: Flowers up to 4 across

    P: Flowers up to 2 across

    ABOVE: Dahlias flowers come in many forms, colors, sizes and heights. Theres usually one for every garden. They also are easy to grow in summer pots.

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    20 State-by-State Gardening

  • Dahlias a Family TraditionI had the sense grandma felt compelled to grow

    the dahlias. As a child she had survived the Great Depression in a shantytown near the steel mills. As the plants produced more tubers each year, she dutifully dug them, and one year offered some to her granddaughter, the one with the dirty green thumb, as she liked to say as we compared our digits.

    I hadnt quite progressed to understanding the nuances of pass-along plants.

    What? You want me to find a place to keep that dried up potato-looking thing someplace through the winter, I thought, but instead respectfully declined.

    Several years later, I decided to give them a shot. I rounded up some rebar and drove it into the ground against the west side of my house for two tubers of a dinner plate (Size A or AA) variety Id bought at a garden center.

    TOP: The quill-like petals of Valley Porcupine are what classify it as a novelty type by the American Dahlia Society. ABOVE: Rock Run Ashley was introduced by Jerry Wittrig, a hybridizer from Indiana. LEFT: The writers sister and father with dahlias in the back-ground. Growing these tender tubers is a family tradition.

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    March/April 2015 21

  • Sturdy SupportsBut with the hollow-stemmed dahlia, sometimes

    even steel reinforcements arent enough. This I learned in a very dramatic way some 20 years ago. We were away for the weekend when a Saturday night storm blew my dahlias down, rebar and all. I found them prone on the lawn the next day. Somehow the main stem had bent but not broken, and I was able to reset the plants and add more rebar. It wasnt pretty.

    Serious support should be placed when the tuber is planted. Many gardeners use tomato cages, which work unless the plant grows a couple of feet taller than the support. For tall dahlias, especially those with large flowers (see Breakout on Size Classifications), experts like Patricia Banner of Banner Flower Farm, Allegan, Michigan, recommend a 6 to 8 foot-tall stake of either 1 by 1 inch lumber, half-inch steel rebar or the green metal, t-stakes used for fences, available at the local hardware store.

    This informal decorative dahlia, called JS Butterscotch, grows to just 4-feet tall but has flowers with a diameter of up to 10 inches.

    RIGHT: An unnamed dahlia is included in a planting of sedum (Hylotelephium telephium)

    and annual ageratum (A. houstonianum).

    22 State-by-State Gardening

  • Start IndoorsFred Nichols, president of the Michigan Dahlia Association, takes

    his dahlia tubers out of storage in early March to warm up and begin to sprout. He discards those with soft spots and other issues and plants the remaining tubers in pots.

    I plant my dahlia garden in late May and the plants are 10 to 18 inches tall, Nichols says. I usually have blooms that begin in late June and by mid-July, the garden is at half bloom.

    Tracy Schulties jumped into the dahlia world with both feet. The Mounds View, Minnesota, resident grew her first dahlia from a tuber she picked up at a supermarket. As a result of her posting photos of its flowers on Facebook, she wound up helping another dahlia lover enter her flowers in the Minnesota State Fair.

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    Pot up dahlia tubers in early

    spring to allow them to develop

    some size for trans-planting outdoors

    after danger of frost has passed.

    Vasio Meggos is an informal decorative type dahlia with flowers that can be as large

    as 10 inch diameter.

    March/April 2015 23

  • Competitive Dahlia Lovers

    The competitive venue didnt squelch the enthusiasm Schulties developed for these tender tubers. The flowers she entered were grown by a member of the Minnesota Dahlia Society. Before the fair, Schulties attended the societys annual garden tour. I became totally addicted, and all the while, only growing one of my own, and dreaming of next summer, she said.

    They say these flowers are easy to grow, and that if you can grow a tomato you can grow a dahlia, Schulties said. But I think theres a lot to learn from being a part of a dahlia society.

    Indeed, members of such groups often have tubers to trade and gar-dens to visit. And unless you have all the space in the world to save every dahlia you grow, joining a plant society is a great way to learn about new introductions. mJean Starr is a freelance writer, blogger and speaker as well as a member of garden Writers Association. visit her blog at petaltalk-jean.com or visit face-book.com/starrjean.

    Dahlia EventsAnnual Dahlia Show at Frederik Meijer gardens & Sculpture Park, grand rapids, Michigan, is held toward the end of August, meijergardens.org, 616-957-1580.

    The American Dahlia Society Centennial Show, Sept. 19-20, 2015, long island, new York.

    Dahlia Societies in the Upper MidwestAmerican Dahlia Society, dahlia.org.

    Southeastern Michigan Dahlia Society, semds.org.

    Midwest Dahlia Conference, midwestdahliaconference.org. there are currently 18 dahlia clubs from the Midwest in the Midwest Dahlia Conference, but not all have websites.

    Badger State Dahlia Society, midwestdahliaconference.org/BSDS/bsdshome.htm.

    West Michigan Dahlia Society, midwestdahliaconference.org/WMDS/.

    Michigan Dahlia Association, midwestdahliaconference.org/MDA/index.htm.

    Dahlias on DisplayAmerican Dahlia Society Midwest Dahlia Trial Gardens, Bonneyville Mill County Park, 53373 County road 131, Bristol, indiana 46507, (no website), contact is S. McQuithy Boyer, 574-848-4888.

    Banner Flower Farm, 3532 104th Ave., Allegan, Michigan 49010, 269-673-8714, bit.ly/1Hw3aAc.

    Dahlia Hill, 2809 Orchard Drive, Midland, Michigan 48640, dahliahill.org.

    Dahlia Trial Garden at Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, 3675 Arboretum Drive., Chaska, Minnesota 55318, arboretum.umn.edu. each year the Dahlia Society of Minnesota plants new selections of hybrid dahlias, which are monitored for growth, habit, disease, flower quality and other guidelines. the society then makes recommendations to the American Dahlia Society.

    Hamilton Dahlia Farm, 4681 134th Ave, Hamilton, Michigan 49419, hamiltondahliafarm.com.

    Dahlia Little Beeswings works well in a small bouquet with Euphorbia Ascot Rainbow and Little Carlow aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolius).

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    24 State-by-State Gardening