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Allow these dramatic stunners to steal the show in your late-summer garden.
Imagine a garden filled with ‘Deepest Yellow’ and ‘Golden Torch’, where you can stroll between ‘Rembrandt’ and ‘Leonardo’ and indulge in the delights of ‘Café au Lait’. It’s easy to do with dahlias, fall’s superstar answer to summer’s tulips. These late-summer show-offs thrive well into the season and will perk up any garden with their many dazzling varieties, right up until the first signs of winter frost. Dahlias come in almost every colour imaginable, in pastels like butter yellow and dusty rose to vibrants like magenta and apricot.
Their spectacular shapes range from spiky cacti to balls and pompons, with flowers resembling daisies, zinnias, peonies and water lilies. Plant heights range from 30 cm (12 in.) like the teeny ‘Yellow Sneezy’ and move up to 1.5 m (5 ft.) tall in the case of such beauties as ‘Babylon Bronze’, one of the many mammoth “dinner plate” dahlias with flowers up to 20 cm (8 in.) across.
Find videos, photos and facts about this lovely late-summer stunner.
Low-growing plants like the red-tipped ‘Festivo’ or the anemone-shaped white ‘Toto’ are made to order for lining walkways or bordering beds. More statuesque styles such as the purple ‘Natal’ or pink ‘Pomponette’ pompons are stunning centrepieces and strong background flowers at more than a metre (40 in.) high.
Set a stake alongside tall growers to support them in their early stages; eventually stalks toughen up to become strong and woody. Also, keep an eye out for aphids and slugs.
It’s important to plant tubers in a location that receives full sun, as these spotlight lovers distain the shade. Water at least twice a week when it’s hot and dry. For super-sized blooms, remove excess buds and leave the best-placed ones to steal the show.
While it is essential to dig up your tubers and store them in a garage or cool basement in colder zones, this remains a matter of debate in zones 7 and up.
Still, with our unpredictable weather, it’s wise to provide these tender beauties with winter protection. Dig up your tubers at the first sign of frost. Be careful not to break or cut them and don’t wash them. Dry for a couple of days before storing in a cool, dark place on shallow trays. Check frequently for signs of mould and discard any infected or shrivelled tubers immediately. When spring arrives, plant once the threat of frost passes.
Dahlias make excellent container plants, but when planting in a pot, these demanding divas require a lot of space. Don’t follow the traditional method of digging in tubers twice as deep as their height. Plant so that a piece of the old stem protrudes slightly from the soil. You can tuck a few tubers into one pot if it is at least 25 cm (10 in.) in diameter.
Don’t hesitate to pick your prize blooms; the more you snip and pinch, the more prolific your favourites will be. Your plants will also benefit from weekly removal of fading foliage and finished flowers. Cut dahlias are very thirsty, so top up their water regularly to enjoy a vase life of up to a week.
Brush up on your dahlia know-how with these fast facts.