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Dahlias are the perfect addition to any garden, with a wide variety of colours, shapes and sizes. These little plants require a fair amount of care, including winter storage and deadheading to encourage them to flourish.
To get started, you will need to choose which dahlia is best suited to your garden – whether for need of pollination, colour, large flowers or for borders.
You can check The National Dahlia Society for more information on dahlia types.
Most dahlias best start life in a greenhouse, free from frost and potentially with heating or insulation – depending on how cold your garden is.
So when should you plant out your dahlias?
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All dahlias are best planted once frost has abated, so during late spring.
For most of the UK, the ideal time for planting out is at the end of May, however, for Scotland this is mid-June.
The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) says if you are raising dahlias from seed, sow these in a propagator in early to mid-spring.
To plant out, pay attention to the manufacturer’s instructions, however below is a rough guide from the RHS.
Tubers with shoots/potted tubers with shoots: Space about 60cm (2ft) apart; planting so the tubers are 10-15cm (4-6in) deep
Rooted cuttings growing in pots: Space a little closer at 50-60cm (20in-2ft) apart. Planted so that the top of the compost in their pots is just a little (few mm) below the soil level.
You should mulch after planting to conserve the moisture oil the soil.
You should also take care to protect the new plantings from slugs, as new shoots are vulnerable.
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If you have chosen dahlia flower heads which are large, you can put in support posts – one per stem.
Tie these stems to stop plants from flopping with the weight of the flowers.
In terms of watering, Dahlias need watering in dry and hot weather.
To water, direct your can or hose to the base of the plant and soak down to the roots once a week rather than watering shallowly more frequently.
You should feed with liquid plant food every two weeks from early July to September.
Another important element of dahlia care is deadheading once flowers have faded.
The RHS writes:
At the end of the season, you can either:
Leave in situ. Cut down stems and cover the tops of tubers (crowns) with a good 15cm (6in) of coarse mulch, like bark chip or garden compost, to protect from frost.
This is a good option if you live in warmer parts of the country and have free-draining soil. Although there’s always a risk of cold loss, it avoids the job of lifting and saves on storage space indoors.
Dig up and store tubers. This is the way to go if you grow on wet winter soil and live in colder parts of the country. Cut down the stems and lift the tubers.
Shake off as much of the soil as possible and trim off any damaged tubers. Cut the stems back to about five to 15cm (two to six inches) and store the tubers in shallow crates or open-topped boxes.
Surround them with an insulating material like dry potting compost or sand just over the crowns.
It’s best not to split tubers at this point as it’ll make wounds that are vulnerable to rotting.
Do this, instead, in spring when you’re about to set them off into growth.
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