Sunday, 17 March 2013

Don't dilly-dally with your Dahlias

The trouble with dahlias is that they tend to conjure up images of men on allotments growing flourecent blooms for the local flower show.  They are seen as old fashioned, which is a shame because there are hundreds to choose from, they flower prolifically and are pretty easy to grow.

This weekend I've been potting up my Dahlias ready for the new season. Last year I grew the beautiful Bishop of Llandaff and Honka in the garden, because the bees love them.

Dahlia - Bishop of Llandaff
The Bishop of Llandaff
Is a wonderful red with yellow anthers full of pollen for the bees. It grows to about 100cm.

I have the yellow version which I first saw growing at Wisley gardens. This star dahlia reminds me of those toy windmills you put on sandcastles. It also grows to about 100cm.

This year I want to grow flowers, for cutting, on the allotment. So, I thought I needed to buy a few extras. The queen of cut flowers is Sarah Raven - she has a great choice of dahlia tubers. But if you need a bigger choice try the National Dahlia Collection. They don't sell tubers only rooted cuttings.

A few weeks ago I ordered the following from Sarah Raven:

White Star
This is a cactus dahlia which should grow to about 120cm.

Chat Noir
Is from the semi-cactus group about 100cm tall and dark red. I'm hoping Chat Noir and White Star will look great together in a vase.

Also from the cactus group. This is a  crimson coloured flower with very spiney looking petals - hence the name. It should grow to about 80cm.

Is a mini bishop, the shortest of the bunch at only 50cm. I will probably keep this one for the garden and put the others on the allotment.

They arrived last week, beautifully packed.

Dahlia tubers carefully packed in the paper bag

As well as the seeds I'd ordered there were two growing guides to get everything off to a good start.

How To guides from Sarah Raven
Dahlia tubers are strange looking things. Back in the 1500s (in Mexico) dahlia tubers were used as a food source - similar to how we grow potatoes today.

Dahlia White Star tuber
My tubers won't be going into a cooking pot. But, they are now all in separate plant pots. There is frost forecast and possibly some snow too - which would damage or even kill off my dahlias before they get started. So, I'll leave them in the shed for a few more weeks - at least until I see some green shoots.

According to the Sarah Raven guide I should allow them to only grow 5 shoots and remove the excess.  No need to let the extra shoots go to waste, I'll pot them up and increase my stock for free. 

Last year my dahlias took a while to get going because every time a juicy green stem appeared the slugs arrived for a midnight snack. I tried everything to deter them: copper bands, coffee grounds, beer traps and sheep's wool. Nothing seemed to defeat them.

Eventually the dahlias did manage to grow but were late in flowering. Hopefully this year won't be so wet and this year's flowers won't be slowed down by the slug army. 

Dahlias are classified in nine different forms


I like the cactus types with their spiky petals. The waterlilly types are lovely too. If you don't have a pond this is an alternative way to get a waterlilly type of flower in the garden.

Dahlia Jessica - cactus type

Waterlilly type
I'm not so keen on the pompoms and balls.

Ball type

If you want to attract more bees into the garden then I'd recommend the dahlias named after Bishops. The Bishop of Llandaff is probably the most popular. Not only do you get bright red flowers but the leaves turn a deep, dark red too. Is has the RHS award of garden merit which means it should be stress free.

Miscellaneous type  - Bishop Of Leicester 

Decorative type - Stadt Spremberg

Feed me Seymour

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