When a plant catches my fancy, and I decide to give it a grow, I’m all in. I dive in feet first and don’t look back. Sure, the smart thing to do would be to try growing one variety first and see how it goes, adding more types in subsequent seasons if all goes well. But, when I get my heart set on trying something, smarts sometimes go out the window. This was how it was when I decided to try growing dahlias.
It all started about a year ago when a fellow gardener friend showed me a bouquet of dahlias he had picked in his garden. I was mesmerized by the gorgeous blooms. They looked like no flower I had ever seen, perfectly symmetrical with petals in a hypnotic pattern spiraling towards its center. It was as if I was staring at a mathematical equation rather than a flower, Fibonacci sequence and all. It had been a long time since I had dusted off that part of my brain. They had to be fake or manufactured, but no, they were real-homegrown and made by Mother Nature. “What are these?” was all I managed to mumble, still in a state of awe and disbelief. “Dahlias” was all he needed to say.
Over the next few months, I made it my mission to figure out how I, too, could grow these mathematical marvels in my garden. I read all I could, asked dozens of questions, and took copious amounts of notes before clicking the “Checkout” button on my online dahlia tuber order. Sure, one tuber would have sufficed, but 12 would be better! And while I was at it, why not throw in some dahlia seeds as well. But, hey, don’t judge me; with over 6 sizes, 20 forms, and 17 colors, resulting in hundreds of varieties, it’s a miracle I was able to limit myself to 12.
In early spring, my tubers and seeds arrived. I potted up my tubers, started my seeds, and crossed my fingers. Miraculously, within weeks I had seedlings! I coddled them carefully, hardened them off, and then planted them in the garden. I quickly learned that dahlias are a test of patience. They are late bloomers, coming into their full glory from late summer through frost. And so, I watered, weeded, and waited until the glorious day when my first dahlia bloomed. When I saw the flower, I did a happy dance in the garden as I yelled, “Yes, I did it!” for all to hear. I’m sure my neighbors thought I was crazy. But, no matter, I knew from that moment on that even though it was my first time growing dahlias, it wouldn’t be my last.
Through my dahlia growing journey, I discovered that growing dahlias from seed is quite different from growing them from tubers. The tubers I ordered were specific varieties, and so I knew exactly what flowers to expect. Seed packets, however, are a mix of dahlias in different shapes, sizes, and colors, so you never know what you are going to get. To me, this was very exciting, like unwrapping a surprise gift in the garden whenever a bloom opened. Hmmm, perhaps Forrest Gump should have said, “Life was like a box of dahlia seeds. You never know what you’re gonna get.” I do love chocolate, though. But do I love it as much as dahlias? I’ll have to think on that one.
Dahlias are excellent cut flowers and bring beauty to any bouquet, whether standing alone or mixed in the company of others. The open-centered varieties are also a wonderful food source for pollinators, providing nectar and pollen late in the season when other flowers have stopped blooming. Beneficial to me and to pollinators, what’s not to love?
There is one more hurdle that I must jump in my dahlia growing adventure. Living in the Northeast, I must dig up my tubers at the end of the season. Alas, they would rot rather than overwinter in the ground where I live. So instead, the tubers can be stored and replanted in the spring, a process that, I will admit, has me nervous. Now that I am smitten with these dahlias, I am anxious about losing them. But, I have done my homework, and I will learn from the experience regardless of the outcome. Hopefully, if all goes well, I’ll be dividing and planting those tubers for many seasons to come.
Yes, I indeed dove into dahlias. I went all in and didn’t look back. But, you know what? I don’t regret a thing. And if you have never grown dahlias in your garden, all I can say is: “Come on in, the water (or garden bed) is fine.”