Get Your Hands Dirty!

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Dahlias! (step-by-step instructions on dealing with the tubers)

Now that we’ve had our first few frosts here in the Northeast and November is fast approaching, it’s time to bring your dahlia tubers in for the winter months. If you haven’t already, you will need to cut the plant back so that only 6 inches of a stem stub remains. Using a pitchfork, pierce the soil about a foot from the stem stub and begin to loosen the soil by gently rocking back and forth with the pitchfork. Once unearthed, the tubers can be stored in paper bags (mark the variety on the bag) in a cool dry place.

May is a good time to plant the tubers back into your garden beds. Select a spot in your garden with well-balanced and composted soil that receives full sun throughout the day. I use tomato cages around the dahlias to support the plant as it grows. Some varieties can reach up to 8 feet in height! Tag each cage with the name of that particular flower. Do not water as there is plenty of moisture in the soil at this time of year. Over watering will cause the tubers to rot in the ground.

The first leaves of the plant should poke through in a week or two. When the first set of leaves is about eight inches to a foot high, I pinch out the center bud to encourage the plant to form multiple stems. This will produce a greater quantity of flowers per plant. As the plant grows, delicately train the stems to grow within the tomato cages.

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Now that we are all dahlia experts here, I thought I’d provide a brief history and some fun facts…

The dahlia is national flower of Mexico. Dahlias were first spotted in Mexico in the 16th century. The flower was used by the Aztecs to treat epilepsy and the hollow stems were used as water pipes. In later years, the Director of the Botanical Garden at Mexico City, sent “plant parts” to the Royal Gardens of Madrid. From there, the plant made its way to Belgium, Italy and England where other species were developed.

The dahlia is is not scented but like most plants that do not attract pollinating insects through scent, they display brightly colored petals in a vast range of hues. One of the greatest joys of gardening is harvesting and arranging the fruits of your labor. Dahlias make excellent cut flowers and look radiant alone in bud vases or alongside zinnias, celosia and snapdragons. Happy gardening!

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