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All views expressed are the opinions of the author and are not necessarily those of the Society

  Updated:
  November 15th, 2018
Lichfield & District Allotments Society



High Peak

Dahlias


Cherwell Goldcrest
Ambition
I have been growing dahlias now since I was about 12 years old and my father let me have a plot at home where I could grow them. It was a largish plot because we lived on a smallholding, and I had 98 plants on the ground for several years.

It has to be realised that dahlias do not make good cut flowers. When cut for the house, they last about three days at their best and then quickly wilt, and if there is anyone out there that can make them last longer than that, I would be glad to hear from them. As plants for the border, or bed however, they are a great show, flowering from mid July up to the first frosts.

My main love has always been medium and large catus and semi-cactus varieties, although my wife likes me to grow a few poms too. The variety illustrated at the top right, is a medium cactus called Cherwell Goldcrest. Some cactus varieties have what the ladies will call - split ends, but we call them the fimbriated varieties and the lower illustration is a small fimbriated variety called Ambition.

Ground Preparation

Dahlias like full sun, and room to breathe, and they are fairly carefree in so far as you can grow them on the same plot year after year without any noticeable drop off in plant quality as far as I have been able to detect anyway. For ground preparation - usual stuff, dig the ground well in late Autumn and let the frost do its work on the exposed ground. Do not add manure of compost, as this will make the plants bolt, they do not need much feeding. I rake the ground about a week before I want to plant out in late May, then dress the ground with a mixture of 2 parts superphosphate to 1 part of sulphate of potash at the rate of 3oz per sqaure yard. Superphosphate to add strength and vitality to the new stems, and potash to help with colour. I always aim to plant out in the first week of June once all chance of frost is past. Frost kills - dead.

Starting off

Dahlias may be raised from cuttings or from the stored tubers. If the former, then start your tubers of in the greenhouse in mid January and take your cuttings when they have their third pair of leaves showing. Cut just below a leaf node at an angle and put into a pot of multipurpose compost with some added coarse sand to improve drainage. They should root in about ten days or so, then grow on in the cool for planting out later. Don't let them get too warm otherwise they will get too big and drawn up by the time it is time to plant them out. You can use a rooting hormone for those cuttings, but I never bother - have tried both ways, and had equal success. Watch out for wilt fungus - they don't recover. Keep cuttings ventilated and not too wet.

If growing from tubers, start the tubers about a month later and let them grow on, but again keep them cool to avoid them getting too big.

Planting Out

I always aim to plant out during the last week of May or the First week of June, because a late frost will kill them off back to ground level, and any survivors will make poor plants for that Summer. Planting distance for dahlias is not less than three feet between plants and four feet between rows. When plants show three pairs of leaves. top them off - don't let the fourth pair of leaves develope. We want the plant to bush.

Summer Care

For the best flowers, you will need to stop them like chrysanths. Flowers come in threes from the top of the stem. Leave the top one, and cut off the two laterals. Cut off the two laterals from the leaf nodes below that, and also again below that too. That will give you an exhibition quality flower. Decorative and cactus dahlias should be set at 45 degrees to the stem, be of uniform colour, not showing signs of bearding - ie they should be symetrical and not heavy at the lower end of the bloom, they should be full round, and never show a centre - only collerette varieties have a centre.

Dahlias will need staking to avoid wind damage, so I use a central stake when I first plant them out and then use a plant ring to hold the main stem until the plant has grown. I later encircle each plant with four four-foot canes, and then contain the plant within a circle of green garden string.

Let the plants flower until the first frost, but it is important to cut off any dead heads at least weekly through the Summer, otherwise all the energy of the plant will go into seed making, and flower quality will fall off badly with small flowers and loss of colour and vitality.

Lifting and Storage

After the first frost, cut off the tops to within six inches of the base and lift the tubers carefully to avoid damaging them. I take them back to a patch of ground outside my greenhouse, give them a bath and haircut, then let them dry off before storing them away for the Winter. Bath and haircut, I hear you say! I turn them upside down, and spay them with a waterjet to remove all soil, worms, nesting slugs and other creepy crawlies [the bath], I then take a pair of scissors and remove all those unwanted fine roots, just leaving the storage tubers [the haircut]. I also remove any damaged tubers, or tubers where the tuber stem has been damaged or creased where it attaches to the crown - it will only cause rot later. When dried, I then store them on a low stage, about six inches above soil level under the main staging in my greenhouse, out of the way, but where I can inspect them once a fortnight for signs of rot, mildew or anything else that I don't fancy.

Throw away any orphan tubers - ie tubers not attached to the crown of a plant. Dahlias only sprout from the crown, never the tuber, so tubers broken off are worthless no matter how big or sturdy they look!

Supply

Clean, healthy, new stock, I order from a specialist Dahlia and Chrysanthemum grower, and I order in December or early January. I order cuttings for delivery in mid April, so I can grow them on in a cool greenhouse until ready for planting out. I use Halls of Heddon, and there is a link to their website on the Links page, where you can order a catalogue, or even order on-line.

Enjoy your dahlias - Email to: [ ]

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