Create a bouquet of dahlias

Festive and available in many shapes, sizes, and colors, dahlias are surely late summer's perfect flower
Article by Kathleen Norris Brenzel

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What dahlias lack in fragrance they more than make up for in deep, rich color or in eye-catching frills, splashes, or stripes.

The best plants for bouquets have long, strong stems and flowers not much bigger than 3 or 4 inches across that angle slightly upward, not sideways.

Avoid most single dahlias, as they tend to drop their petals. (‘Bashful’, listed below, does not have this problem.)

Our favorite bouquet dahlias

  • ‘Angel’s Dust’ (5 ft. tall), which bears white, water lily-shaped blooms lightly brushed with lavender
  • ‘Bashful’ (2½ ft. tall), which bears deep purple single blooms with lavender tips and golden yellow centers
  • ‘Bliss’ (4½ ft. tall), with rose-mauve water lily-shaped flowers and soft yellow centers
  • ‘Chilson’s Pride’ (5 ft. tall), with pink blooms with white centers; and ‘Pink Gingham’ (4½ ft. tall), which has petals of bright lavenderpink with white tips.

Getting started

  • When to plant dahlias: March in mild areas; April or May in cooler areas.
  • Bloom time: July to early October.
  • Start them from: Tubers (potato-like roots); buy at least a dozen per bouquet, or, in summer, buy plants in nursery containers.
  • Where to buy: Dahlia tubers are sold at nurseries in early spring. But for the best selection of varieties, try a specialist such as Sea-Tac Dahlia Gardens (206/824-3846) or Swan Island Dahlias (800/410-6540).

What dahlias need

  • Soil: Well draining; mix in compost before planting.
  • Exposure: Full sun.
  • Planting: Dig 1-foot-deep planting holes, 1½ feet wide for larger dahlias (over 4 ft. tall), 9 to 12 inches wide for smaller types. Space roots of larger varieties 4 to 5 feet apart. Roots of smaller ones should be 1 to 2 feet apart.
  • Staking: When planting a tall variety, drive a 5- to 6-foot stake into the hole just off center; place the tuber horizontally in the bottom of the hole with the growth bud pointing toward the stake.
  • Water: Begin irrigating when growth is 6 to 12 inches tall; thereafter, keep the soil moist.
  • Fertilizer: Mix low-nitrogen fertilizer (such as 10-20-20) into the soil at planting time.
  • Grooming: Pick off spent blooms.

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