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Dahlias Reign Supreme

by chief cultivator

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'Giggles' dahlia
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For long-lasting blooms and ease of growing, no flower compares to dahlias. Plump buds unfold to reveal picture-perfect petals that linger for up to two weeks in the garden—and in the vase, too.

Flowers fill out the garden like characters in “Jack and the Beanstalk,” from squat, Jack-sized beauties (8 inches tall) to towering, giant-like bloomers (7 feet tall). Flower forms, colors, and sizes abound. Choose from blossoms classified as single, anemone, ball, pompom, decorative, cactus, semi-cactus, star, or orchid-flowered. Colors cover the spectrum, from white to pink to burgundy to purple, including bi-colors. Buds open to form flowers ranging from golf ball-sized to dinner plate dimensions.

Growing dahlias
Plant dahlia tubers outdoors (3 to 4 inches deep) after all danger of frost is past. For coldest regions of the country, start tubers indoors about 6 weeks before the average last frost date. In the garden, tuck tubers into rich, well-drained soil where plants will receive at least 6 hours of full sun. Or, you can tuck tubers into pots for spectacular containers of colorful blooms.

Varieties that reach for the sky should be spaced 20 inches apart; ones that top out under 2 feet should be 10 inches apart. Tall varieties need to be staked to survive summer storms and windy afternoons. Insert stakes at time of planting, sticking supports into soil just beside the planting hole.

When plants reach 10 to 12 inches high, pinch out growing tips. This will cause plants to become bushy, which will ultimately yield a greater number of flowers. (Typically, one dahlia plant will open anywhere from 15 to 40 blooms during the growing season.) After pinching, fertilize plants with a weekly liquid feed or apply a single application of an organic fertilizer.

In addition to fertilizer and regular watering, the other thing that will make your dahlias shine are the plants surrounding them.

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Dahlias

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