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dahlias

There has been a splendid display of aconites over the last two weeks in a lane nearby; the snowdrops are open and the daffs are putting on a spurt. Despite the dreary rain and heavy grey skies there is no denying that Spring is in the air.

As I recall, the weather was pretty much the same five years ago when I started this blog. There hasn’t been much time for marmalade making recently but I do still need to put the finishing touches to my allotment plan and see if I can squeeze in a few more dahlias. I love dahlias in vibrant jewel colours. My mother grew a splendid crop of dahlias for vases, church floral arrangements and impromptu gifts for friends who turned up with vegetables, jams, chutneys and home made cordials. And so do I.

In general, I have always found dahlias easy to grow. I buy tubers, plant them deep with a goodly amount of grit and leave them in the ground, mulching thickly with leafmould after the first frosts. I have lost few and have a plentiful supply over the season.  Karen (@PeterNyssen) and Richard (@WithypitDahlias) were both on hand on Twitter last Monday to share their expert knowledge of dahlias and as usual plenty of #britishflowers growers were happy to chip in with questions and anecdotes – me included with my ace tip on planting a sacrificial salad crop around your dahlias to keep marauding slugs at bay!

If you are hoping to grow a few blooms on your allotment or in your garden this year, here are the Twitter top tips.

  • Start tubers off in pots as they shouldn’t be planted in the ground until danger of last frost has passed.
  • When starting to grow in their pots you can use copper tape, or the much more economical smear of Vaseline around the pot to keep the sluggy marauders away.  Also crushed eggshells or sharp grit make a good top dressing both when in the pot and after planning out.
  • Cuttings produce stronger stemmed blooms and better quality colour than tubers. Take cuttings early from above a leaf node.
  •  Disbudding the first two side buds down the stem will help produce longer stemmed blooms.
  • Dahlias like rich soil and moisture – a good reason to add mulch/well rotten manure to retain moisture when planting.
  • Dahlias are very tasty to slugs, so a slug deterrent (and a wildlife/environment friendly one ideally) is imperative! Oatbran was  recommended – place a ring of this around the plant – slugs eat it, it swells up and kills them. Gardening is not for the squeamish! (See previous mention of my sacrificial salad crop – more humane but effective) And a few frogs in your garden will help too.
  • Give dahlias a balanced feed until September; then one that is higher in potash to keep colour and stems strong.  A comfrey feed is recommended. You can also plant dahlias with comfrey leaves in the planting hole – or buy comfrey pellets if you don’t have space to spare for a patch of comfrey .
  • Earwigs can also be a pest. The best way to deal with them is to place an upturned flower pot filled with straw on top of the canes you are training the dahlias to.  Earwigs crawl into the cosy bed to sleep – you empty them out early in the morning, and deal with as you choose (squashing, stamping etc).
  • Mildew and Thrips can be a pest in a glasshouse crop . I only ever grow them outside thus avoiding the problems.
  • Many dahlias do make big plants, and with the luscious blooms as well they need good staking and supporting.  Stretch pea netting horizontally between the stakes, before the dahlias put on too much growth, then they grow through it – this holds them securely as they grow. But do check regularly and tie in as necessary.
  • Dahlias are best cut as they are opening, but don’t cut too early as you risk them not opening fully.
  • Recommended for cutting are the Karma varieties as these have good vase life.  It is also good to grow some single flowered types as these are beloved of bees and other beneficial insects, and we need those on our side.   Dahlias that got a special mention: Black Wizard, Anna Lindh, White Ballet, Peaches, Hootenanny collarette, Arabian Night, all Bishop types, Twyning’s After Eight, Café Au Lait, Witterman’s Red, Kenora Fireball, Carolina Wagermanns, Caribbean Sunset, Pontiac
  • Leaving tubers in the ground year after year is not recommended if you are growing for cutting as they will weaken and eventually ‘revert to type’ apparently. I have had no problems and don’t have the room to lift and store them over Winter so I’ll take my chances and replace as and when necessary.
  • If you are planning to leave in situ put plenty of sharp sand or grit underneath, plant at least 15cm deep and mulch.
  • Leave top growth on at the end of the season because the stems are hollow, so a cut stem will act like a straw and let the rain in.
  • If you dig up your dahlias and store them for the winter, do leave in the ground long enough until a frost has blackened the stems.  Make sure they are kept dry and frost free during storage.

Follow this advice and you should have a super duper crop of stunning blooms over the Summer until the first frosts.

Let’s compare notes.

#britishflowers hour on Twitter takes place from 8-9pm on Mondays. Do join in. Tonight they are covering seed sowing tips.