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  • Writer's pictureAlicia Baron

It Will Wow Ya, its a Dahlia!

Your how to for planting totally tubular tubers.

The Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park

At Loveland Farms we LOVE our Dahlias. For me it stems from my childhood in San Francisco playing in Golden Gate Park. For such a vast park, I always gravitated towards Stow Lake and the Conservatory of Flowers, which hosts right outside its lawn the most beautiful and diverse Dahlia garden.

Luckily for me I found a partner who spoke to my heart, not only does he love growing dahlias. He loved visiting the “Varsity Squad” at golden gate park as much as I do!

Tim checking out the Dahlias & Golden Gate Park

He’s a keeper.

When we decided to start planning what we wanted to plant when we made our big move from San Francisco to Michigan.

It was a no brainer… Dahlias.

Over the last few years we have truly dialed in our growing process and would love to share it with you from start to finish.

When to plant

Your tubers can go directly into the ground in the spring when the ground has warmed and there is little chance of frost in Michigan this can be as late a Mid May. If you want big full bulbs that will run all summer you can start your tubers in a pot and transplant them outside when weather permits. By the time these ladies move outdoors you will then have a small plant ready at planting time. But do not worry, if you did not get these in the ground yet dahlias can be planted as late as mid-June in most parts of the country; they will continue to bloom to their fullest until end of October.

Where to plant

Dahlias require a site with good drainage and partial to full sun. Pots are also increasingly popular way to grow dahlias if you are in a smaller space without a bed with adequate drainage.

How to plant

If you want to be proactive and support the future life of this gorgeous gems you will want to start by by obtaining sturdy stake (bamboo will work and are cost effective) before you plant the dahlia. If you put the stake into the ground after the plant is growing, take care to avoid damaging the tuber or the root system.

This is how you do it.

We suggest digging a hole double the width and height of your tuber to allow the roots and tuber adequate space to be surrounded by loose dirt when you plant.

Put the tuber in a hole several inches deep with the “eye” on the tuber facing up. The eye is the point on the shoulder, or crown, of the tuber from which the plant grows.

If you are planting a number of dahlias in the same location, they should be separated by about 18-24″ inches to give each plant room to grow. This is extremely important if you plan to leave your bulbs in the ground year after year as they grow significantly in size.

Keeping the ladies safe the organic way.

Dahlias are low maintenance in the world of organic gardening. They are strong, robust growers with lots of blooms, including very large blooms; minimal effort is needed to keep them happy.

Pest control is not essential and can be reasonably well accomplished without resorting to chemical pesticides. However keep these creeper in mind if you start to notice something snacking on your leafy flower greens.


Small dahlia plants are susceptible to slug damage. It is a good idea to manually remove slugs early each morning or to protect them with these organic methods:

  1. Garlic, Lawn Chamomile, chives

  2. Wool

  3. Coffee grounds

  4. Diatomaceous earth

Japanese Beetles

Japanese beetles seem to enjoy eating dahlia blooms just when they are ready for a bouquet. One of the best methods of control is to manually remove the beetles into a bucket of soapy water. But you can also battle this method while these immense pests are still grubs by sprinkling milky spore to your soil. This organic substance reacts to the grubs the same way salt would to a slug.

Other insects can become a problem if you would like your blooms to be “perfect!” If that is the case, you might want to consider using an insecticidal soap or a commercial pesticide. Follow label directions carefully if you choose to do that.

Deer resistance

We are in an area that is HIGHLY populated by those pesky deer. The good news for dahlias is that they are low on the deer’s list of favorite foods. While dahlias are not “deer proof,” we still make it a point to combine them with other deer resistant flowers to protect these beauties.

Watering and fertilizing

Young dahlia plants do not need a lot of water; in fact, excessive water can lead to rotting of the plant. For larger plants, a good rule of thumb is to water if the rainfall is less than one inch in seven days. Pots require more regular watering.

The best strategy for fertilizing is to begin with a soil test to determine pH and the specific soil needs. Lacking that information, the plants will generally benefit from regular treatments with a water soluble or granular fertilizer. Traditional wisdom for dahlias is to treat with a high nitrogen fertilizer through the middle of the season but minimize nitrogen at the end of the season.

Maintaining your plants

There is a substantial regimen that can be used for maintaining plants for show blooms. For the simple enjoyment of spectacular dahlias in your garden, there are two relatively simple actions that will enhance the appearance of the plant. First is tying the plant to the stake several times as it grows. The first tie should secure the lower portion of the plant’s stalk to the stake. Subsequent ties should secure the branches. A simple alternative to tying is to use a tomato cage to support the plant. Then, no tying may be required.

Our ladies in a fresh mixed bouquet

Second is disbudding. Remove the outer two buds from the three that develop at the end of each branch. While that reduces the total number of flowers, many flowers remain and those show up well on the plant. If all three buds are left on the stem, the blooms will tend to be covered up and can be lost in the plant. You can also remove some of the shoots that form along the branch to have stems that can be used in tall vases for elegant bouquets.

End of the season

Your dahlias will continue to bloom prolifically right up until frost. A heavy frost will kill the plant and leave you with a decision on your next step. You can do nothing with the plant; Or, you can dig and discover that the plant has produced a half a dozen or more tubers like the one with which you started.

If you wish, those tubers can be stored and grown by you and a couple friends next spring! Dahlias are the gift the keeps on giving.

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