By MELINDA MYERS
Dahlias have been a fixture in summer flower gardens for generations. But it may be time to update your idea of dahlias.
With hundreds of varieties to choose from in a fabulous array of colors, shapes and flower sizes, it is no surprise the National Garden Bureau has declared 2019 the Year of the Dahlia. Join the celebration and brighten your garden with dahlias this year.
Not only are dahlias beautiful, but they’re also easy to grow. Just plant the tuberous roots in a sunny, well-drained location, once the soil has warmed to about 60 degrees – or around the same time as you would plant tomatoes. It takes a week or two for the first shoots to emerge, but the plants grow quickly and will be blooming by midsummer.
Grow dahlias in containers to brighten your balcony, deck or front steps. They combine nicely with other plants in containers as well as in the garden. Mix them with bold, leafy elephant ears, Lacinato kale and Swiss chard; finely textured ornamental grasses and gaura; upright salvias and gladiolus; and trailing plants like calibrachoa, verbena and ivy.
Dahlias will add pizzazz to your gardens and landscape, especially in the second half of the summer when many other flowers are starting to wane.
Dinnerplate dahlias are bodacious beauties that command your attention. They include any variety of dahlia with flowers that are at least eight inches in diameter. These extra-large blossoms are produced on bushy plants that grow 3 to 6 feet tall.
Favorites include Café au Lait, Vancouver and Thomas Edison. Use stakes to help support the flowers and keep the plants standing upright.
Decorative dahlias offer the widest array of colors and styles. Their petals are flat to slightly rolled and flower sizes vary from 4 to 8 inches.
Growing an assortment of several different varieties, like the Spice Mix Decorative Dahlia Collection (longfield-gardens.com), lets you enjoy a color-coordinated blend of hues that combine well in both the garden and in a vase.
For dahlias with a completely different look, grow cactus and semi-cactus types. Their rolled or partially rolled petals give the flowers a spiky texture. Varieties such as Yellow Star and burgundy-maroon Nuit d’Ete will add style and sophistication to your garden.
Make sure your flower garden also includes a few ball and pompon dahlias. These perfectly round swirls of tightly rolled petals come in vivid colors, and their long vase life make them a favorite with floral designers. Use coppery-orange Mirella or vivid Boom Boom Red to weave shots of color throughout an arrangement.
For contrast, incorporate some single, peony-flowered, anemone and collarette types. Dahlias such as HS Date, Bishop of Dover and Fascination have fewer petals and slightly smaller blooms, which makes them good companions for annuals as well as perennials. Plus, their daisy-like centers are magnets for bees and butterflies.
Bring your dahlias up close with dwarf varieties, commonly known as border dahlias. These plants grow just 12 to 24 inches tall, yet most have big, 4- to 5-inch blooms. Popular varieties include Gallery Pablo, Melody Swing and Gallery Art Nouveau. They are ideal for small spaces, lining a walkway and are a perfect addition to containers.
With so many colors and flowers styles to choose from, growing dahlias can become a life-long adventure. Make room in your garden for some of these easy-to-grow, easy-to-love, summer-flowering bulbs. You’ll discover why so many gardeners have fallen under their spell!
(Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio segments. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Longfield Gardens for her expertise to write this article. Her web site is www.MelindaMyers.com.)