Advice from Bob Willard, general manager of de Jager Bulbs
Rarely do you see Dahlias in florists or supermarkets, but cut Dahlias do make a spectacular floral display in British homes during late Summer and early Autumn. Once grown by our parents and grandparents, they somehow got lost along the way, became less popular and labelled with that ultimate insult of the modern world “old fashioned”.
Bishop of Canterbury Credit: de Jager
A few years ago the Dahlia started fighting back and showing its class and staying power. Led by the Bishop series, the Dahlia is now seen as contemporary and is returning to popularity amongst gardeners. Perhaps it is the fiery shades of red, gold and orange flowers that erupt from bronze foliage that make it a truly unforgettable sight. Growers across Europe have been working furiously to introduce further variations and now you’ll find a growing collection of equally novel varieties combining fashionable blooms complemented by dark foliage.
One of the few sights from last summer that stayed with me so vividly over the harsh winter is of dahlias basking in the borders of an ‘open’ garden. I can see them now, the red hot tones jostling among the fiery foliage and flowers of their exotic neighbours. Take heed, for new trends in growing Dahlias have certainly begun.
You can plant them in their traditional home in the vegetable plot or on the allotment, great if you would like to cut them, or give them a brand new starring role focusing on the Bishop varieties or the large Dahlia Cactus or Semi-Cactus.
Dahlia tubers can be readily bought in the garden centre but you will be sure to get top quality top size tubers and a better and far wider choice if you look to a specialist supplier. In this season’s de Jager catalogue you will find a staggering 55 varieties including 15 new or reintroductions. I particularly like the look of the spectacular Avignon and Cambridge and the striking Vancouver. There is also memories of Grandma with Dahlia pom poms such as Jan van ‘Schaffelaar or Franz Kafka.
Whether you fancy trying a new look with the more recently introduced Dahlias in the flower borders or will be sticking with the more traditional uses and growing them for cutting, you need to make a start soon. (March/May)
Dahlia tubers are available now. Once purchased, store them somewhere cool, but frost free. Whilst it’s quite possible to plant the tubers out directly into open ground in May, many gardeners prefer to get them going early by starting them off in a greenhouse as early as March or April.
Whatever the case, the secret is to have prepared your soil thoroughly for these hungry plants, incorporating plenty of manure. Plant with the crown slightly above the soil. Do not divide the roots prior to planting. After planting water well and keep the soil moist but not wet. Increase watering as the plant grows. Once planted they will respond well to regular applications of liquid feed, such as either Miracle Grow or Phostrogen. Don’t forget to protect them from slugs!
Then simply sit back and enjoy the wonderful blooms that you will surely see, but there is one more trick that you need to play to get the best out of your Dahlias if you are leaving them in the borders, in a word, dead head! This will encourage new buds to form, giving you more flowers and a longer flowering season.
You can of course save the plants for future years by cutting the foliage off just above ground level and lifting the roots to over-winter in the greenhouse, but wait until the first frost has turned the foliage black. Then remove all the soil, dust with sulphur and leave in trays in a frost-free shed, ready to be planted again next spring.