By Melody Stramer, Bexar County Master Gardener
As a Master Gardener of many years, I both espouse and practice the use of growing plants suited to their environment. Here in San Antonio, we are talking about native plants, drought-tolerant plants, and Texas Superstars. But gardeners are also known for straying from the straight and narrow out of love for a particular plant. And that’s ok, too, as long as it’s not the majority of your yard. For me, I admit to loving and growing dahlias.
Dahlias will brighten up your yard with color and are ‘superstars’ as cut flowers, with sturdy stems and long-lasting flowers. I like to make arrangements from plants and flowers in the yard, and they are always the stars. They come in many hundreds of different varieties, and in a mind-boggling assortment of shapes and sizes and colors. So there are varieties for everyone. There are flowers that appear as beautiful balls, to orchid-like blossoms, to lily-like blossoms, to dinner-plate-sized cactus flowers. Dahlias can be anything from white, pink, yellow, orange, coral, red, to a maroon so dark they appear black, or frequently a combination of colors in the same flower.
Dahlias grow from tubers and can be propagated easily. Some of my tubers have overwintered without any particular protection and sprouted again the following year.
Planting: They like a sunny location in healthy soil with lots of organic matter. You can spread compost over the bed where you wish to plant, add fertilizer at about 1 lb. per 100 square feet and work it all in. Plant them 4-6 inches deep after danger of frost, about 3 ft. apart to allow for free air movement.
They will need staking or caging, so you may wish to put your stakes or cages in at planting to avoid damaging the tubers. Start watering after you see the first green shoots (to avoid tuber rot), which can be a month after planting. Professional growers recommend pinching off the top 3-4 inches off the plant once it reaches 8-12 inches tall, making the cut with sharp pruners right above a set of leaves. This results in more flower stems below the cut and more numerous flowers per plant.
A good way to try dahlias inexpensively is to visit a big box store like Costco, Lowe’s, or even your favorite nursery, and get a boxed assortment of varieties that appeal to you. Or you can order tubers from growers located in many states.
It’s a new year so think about trying something new, and Happy Gardening.