Dahlias: A Family Tradition
There's been a lot written lately about how gardening makes you happier and healthier. It's all true, but it's not surprising news in my family. Both of my Grandparents were passionate gardeners who lived long and fruitful lives cultivating their love of gardening with each other and their grandchildren.
I learned to garden from my grandparents. They each had their preferences. My Grandmother loved roses and tulips, and my Grandfather focused on bearded iris and dahlias. I remember helping my Grandfather tie his dahlia plants to support stakes as they grew. And before I knew it I was hooked on dahlias, too.
These reliable flower factories come in an almost unlimited selection of sizes, bloom shapes and colors. Dwarf types that grow just 12 to 15 inches tall are perfect for containers or at the edge of a garden path. Medium-height dahlias grow 15 to 32 inches tall and mingle happily with cosmos, zinnia, salvia, and marigolds. And, if you're looking for a knock-your-socks off display, make room for a few tall dahlia varieties that can grow 6 feet tall and produce dinner-plate sized blooms. All dahlias make beautiful bouquets.
Caring for dahlias is easy. These Mexican natives prefer full sun (at least 6 to 8 hours a day) and a rich, well-drained soil. They don't like constantly wet soil because they grow from tubers, which could rot in moist conditions. Taller dahlia varieties benefit from staking to prevent them from toppling in strong storms. Insert a wooden or metal stake into the soil near your plant when it's young. Then, as the plant grows, just tie it to the stake with twine. Feed dahlias with a little slow-release granular in the late spring.Keep in mind that dahlias are not frost tolerant and will die back once temperatures drop below freezing. If you like, you can dig the plants before frost strikes, remove the tubers, and store them in a cardboard box filled with damp, shredded newspaper or sand, placed in a cool, dark location. Dahlia tubers get bigger each year so you can plant and replant them for years.