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Dahlias--Summerlong Color

I always plant a dahlia in a big pot by my front door. You’d be surprised how many people ask “What is that?” It’s a shame dahlias aren’t used more often because they come in so many colors, sizes, and shapes. The flowers range in size from dainty little two-inch buttons to dinnerplate-sized giants and the plants range in height from a petite 12 inches to six-foot plus. Colors? Well, you’ll find dahlias in nearly every color under the rainbow from the purist white to burgundy-black—everything but a true blue. Some flowers are dramatic and spiky, others powderpuff fluffy, still others are little round pompoms.
Dahlias are a member of the “daisy” family. They are native to Central and South America where they were cultivated and grown by the Aztec Indians both medicinally and as a food crop. It’s said they have a variable flavor—anywhere from tart to bland. I don’t think I’ll be eating mine, however. Not when they bloom so beautifully.
Dahlias are hardy from zone 8 south, so here in zone 7, are best dug and stored over winter. If you elect to leave them in the ground then plant in a protected area and add a generous later of mulch. The ones I plant along the fence in my backyard and mulch well make it over the winter. The ones in less protected areas don’t.
Dahlias show up in stores around the first of March, but I don’t plant mine outside until the end of April.  I look for nice plump tubers. If they’re soft and shriveled, they’re old and dehydrated. They will continue to bloom all the way to frost, if deadheaded and fertilized regularly. Mine have gotten Flower-tone, fish emulsion, even a little Osmocote. They don’t seem to care much what they get fed as long as they get fed.
They’re really good cut flowers, but will last the longest if just-opened flowers are cut first thing in the morning then the stems placed in tap water that’s been allowed to stand over night for the chlorine to evaporate. 
If you’re growing dinnerplate dahlias for the largest possible flower, then select one good strong stem and stake it (an 8 to 10 inch flower gets top-heavy.) Select the largest bud and pinch off all the others. Keep the dahlia well-fed. Personally, I don’t care about the largest flowers, so I let my dahlias cover themselves with blooms. By the way, they’re good butterfly attractors.
The one in the pot by my door this year will be Rexona—a very interesting dahlia with flowers that vary between all red and red and white speckled. 
Posted: 4/8/2013 by Bonnie Pega | with 0 comment(s)
Filed under: BonniePega, Bonnie'sGarden
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