We Are Eli And Kate...

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Growing Dahlias: a simple guide

I love dahlias. There I said it and I don’t care that they are supposedly unfashionable cause they are gorgeous and every garden should have them. Ok so now the confession is out of the way, let’s talk about growing dahlias and I’ll tell you how I became a firm dahlia lover. So much so that I actually grow these from seed, and you know what? It’s super easy.

My dahlia story started when we moved into this house and began creating our first garden. Like many, many people, we didn’t know what on earth we were doing and just tried everything without ever worrying that it wouldn’t work. I wish everyone started gardening like that, you learn so much when you don’t worry about “doing things properly”. Dahlias were one of those happy accidents as we bought flowers because we liked what they looked like (absolutely no thought about if they’d survive in our soil, light conditions, temperatures etc). The same goes for seeds, we randomly bought packets of seeds because the picture on the front was pretty, and yep you guessed it, dahlias were one of those pretty seed packets. A very specific type, Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Now I’m still a massive fan and I still grow them. And there are so many different types of dahlias that there is absolutely one out there for you, or maybe more than one. You get elaborate frilly dahlias, dahlias that look like pom poms, doubled-petaled, single-petaled, weird ones that look like the petals are shredded, and they come in so many colours. Definitely one for you out there.

Are they difficult to grow?

I’ve heard folk say that they just don’t bother with dahlias because they are so difficult or complicated to grow, I don’t agree. Well, I do understand why people think that but I think it’s more down to how information is presented than the fact that they are actually any more difficult or complicated than other flowers. And this is from someone who does crazy experiments on flowers, fruit, and veg growing every year. So trust me I can make things complicated.

Pinching the growing tip for more flowers

There seem to be two main areas of concern that I hear of. Firstly “pinching out”. Funnily enough, I hear about this being complicated or scary from people who do exactly this on other plants but don’t see the connection. Pinching out simply means that whilst the plants are young and still relatively small, you pinch or cut off the growing tip. The idea is that this then encourages side shoots meaning you get way more blooms. The thing is, you don’t have to do this, it’s just one of those tricks you can do to increase the number of flowers you get.

How do you do it? Simply, when the little plant has 4 leaves (and is usually about 6 – 8 inches tall at this point), just pinch out /break off the growing tip above that top set of leaves. That will signal the plant to start creating new growing tips, hence you get more stems and more flowers. Easy Peasy!

Storing tubers over winter

The other question I’ve had often is about winter and if the plants will survive. The simple answer is that they are perennial plants, so will keep coming back and get stronger each year, as long as the conditions are right. So this is where there is another trick to help the plant along. If you don’t grow your dahlias from seed, you might have grown them from tubers. This is simply a bulbous root that has a growth shoot to allow a new plant to emerge. You can buy these tubers to grow from or dig up your existing plants and separate out the tubers and plant them separately, hey presto free plants.

However, these tubers can be damaged by too much cold or too much wet, so what a lot of growers do is to store them over winter to keep them safe. Again, it sounds more complicated than it actually is and I’ve just finished doing this with my plants.

If you live somewhere with quite mild winters and where it isn’t overly wet, you can cut your plants back after the frosts have begun to damage the leaves. Then to protect the tubers, simply mulch over the top (mulching just means adding a thick layer of compost, straw etc as protection). If, like me, you live somewhere with cold wet winters, you will want to dig your plant up and store it. To do this, you simply dig up the whole plant and clean off as much of the soil as you can from those tuberous roots. Then leave it somewhere cool and dry to dry off. It only takes a few days to a week. Then, you wrap them in paper or store them in dry compost etc and tuck them away safely overwinter. Again somewhere cool and dry. All ready to be planted the following spring.

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