by Louise Lawrence
A good place to start is with an understanding of the resources available to assist us in making choices and obtaining the tubers or plants we want. Then you may ask, “Which Ones Do I Choose?”
- “The Fabulous Fifty” is a good starting point. It provides a quick over view of the best of the various kinds and sizes of dahlias raised by most dahlia societies. It is a rank ordered list of those dahlias that received 50 or more blue and higher awards in all the shows conducted by dahlia societies affiliated with the American Dahlia Society. The list is maintained and updated annually by the American Dahlia Society. Pictures, their classifications, and, in some cases, brief descriptions of most of the dahlias in the “Fabulous Fifty”are available on this website.
- Your local “garden centers” typically carry dahlia tubers with pictures shown on the packages. However, very few of the dahlias they carry are registered with the American Dahlia Society. Most of the dahlias they carry are not “show quality.”
- A list of dahlia growers that sell dahlia tubers and/or plants are listed in the Supplier List on this site.
- An on-line version of the American Dahlia Society’s “Classification and Handbook of Dahlias” is available at http://www.dahlia.org/guide/index.html.
- An on-line listing of local Dahlia Societies that are affiliated with the American Dahlia Society is available at http://www.dahlias.net/adscontacts.htm. One of these societies may be near you, in which case you may wish to contact them for help. They will be pleased to get you started growing dahlias.
For what purpose do you wish to grow dahlias? How much room do you have? Will you have beds to grow show dahlias or do you just want some foliage and cutting flowers to enhance your landscape. Different dahlia cultivars range in height from twelve inches to seven or eight feet. One “tree dahlia” can reach twenty feet. Most plants are around three or four feet. My annual flower beds will be lined with border dahlias this year. Maybe they will be no taller than two feet with a profusion of blooms.
Buying dahlia stock is much like buying anything else—you get what you pay for. Needless to say, there are some really beautiful dahlias out there that are not on the Fabulous Fifty list. If you want to start with possible show winning blooms though, look at the blossoms pictured in the Varieties page. You should also know that it is almost impossible to capture the true color of deep burgundy, reds, purples, and lavenders on film. Not very many flowers are the shocking pink you will see on the screen. Sometimes the description is not really what you think it should be because the number of colors allowed is very limited. You probably already know what your favorite flower color is. Or maybe you want the dahlias to carry out a color theme for your landscape. My favorites are deep, rich colors in large blossoms such as Spartacus and Islander. Phoenix is a real eye catcher and the color on screen is its true color. However, Phoenix may be seven feet tall. I also love light blends and incurved cactus varieties. “Light Blend” was totally meaningless to me before I studied the pictures. Most are pink/yellow or light yellow/orange. Camano Messenger is one of my favorites and I have yet to see a picture that accurately captures its depth and color. There are dark blends, bi-colors, variegated, and on and on.
Talk with someone who has grown dahlias—they all like to talk about them. The size of the plant and its blooms depend upon how well it likes where you place it and whether you do all the necessary pruning and disbudding to control growth. You probably will not have a ten inch bloom unless you prune everything off one branch except one bud. You must remove spent blooms and remove extra buds if you want the plant to blossom continuously. I suggest you start with a few plants of your favorite color, size of bloom, and a combination of formal decorative, informal decorative, and cactus varieties. Once you’ve grown a few, you’ll be hooked. We have trouble every year deciding what we will grow and I’d like to have one of everything. I know of no other more beautiful flower.