Here at Puriri Lane, we are putting in a big Dahlia garden this season to ensure we have lots of Dahlia’s in flower for the launch of Erin Benzakein from Floret Flower Farm’s new book on Dahlias which we will be launching here at the property in March, so be sure to keep an eye out for that event. Erin's new book is available for pre order here
Puriri Lane | Dahlia | Waterlily
Before we can be ready for that we have been preparing our ground in readiness for when we can get our Dahlia tubers into the ground. The challenge we do face here is limited space so we will be growing our Dahlias closer together so that we can maximise how many we can fit in.
The other consideration is that Dahlia’s like nutrient rich soil to prior to planting we will be amending our growing area with compost, a bit of lime and some general purpose fertilise. We will then rotary hoe this in before planting our tubers at about 35cm apart. We use Floret’s bed size of 1 metre with 2 rows per bed. As Dahlias are thirsty plants during their growing season, Clive will run three lines of drip irrigation per row and then we place a nice thick layer of much over the top to stop the water from evaporating as the temperatures rise. A fair amount of effort but to ensure that we get loads of pickable flowers for the upcoming season.
Puriri Lane | Dahlia | Cafe au Lait
Planting of the tubers will occur once we are sure that all chance of frost has passed and we also don’t want to plant when the soil is too wet as do not want to give our tubers any chance of rotting. Once the sprouts start to emerge – we make sure that no mulch is too close to the crowns to again ensure that the new growth has room to get through.
Once the plants shoot away and reach a height of about 30cm we will snip out the growing tip or the central leader which will encourages lower basal growth or branching. This will also assist with increasing the stem count per plant as well as ensuring we can maximise the stem length. Pinching is also worthwhile doing as it prevents the stems from becoming too thick and woody which makes them hard to work with when doing floral work or bouquets.
We use a lot of Comfrey here which we use as a foliar feed on many plants. We basically add comfrey leaves, water and sheep manure into a large drum and let it mature for some weeks and then dilute it and we find this helps to keep our plants nice and healthy. Admittedly we did not do that last year and as a result our plants suffered so we will be reinstating this for this growing season. Some people suffer from earwigs but fortunately this is not a problem that we seem to experience.
Plant soap is a safe product to use and we use this if we get aphid issues although touch wood we have not had those for some years. If your plants are fed and healthy, it is a bit like the human body – they are less likely to be susceptible to disease.
By feeding and looking after your Dahlias you are going to get nice tall, healthy productive plants and along with this goes the need to ensure that your plants are well staked.
Puriri Lane | A Dahlia that we grew from a seed of Cafe Au Lait
We have tried netting them but it is plastic and hard to get off the plants at the end of the season so this year will be using stakes on the outside rows and twine to corral the Dahlias. Our beds are 1 metre wide and we are planting as Floret do at about 35cm apart and 2 rows of Dahlias per 1 metre bed as we have only a small area available to us and need to maximise every bit of space.
While Dahlias do not last overly long as a cut flower, their striking flowers make up for their short life. The trick to maximising the vase life is to ensure that you keep them well hydrated from the moment you cut them, so make sure you have a bucket of water with you when harvesting them and pop them into water right away. Harvesting in the morning is also the best time for optimum flower quality Dahlia flowers will not open up much more from when you cut them and if they are too open the flowers will fall apart quickly if past their best. The best way to check is look at the back of the flower and you want to see firm plump petals rather than papery or dehydrated which signal the flowers have gone to far. Flowers should be harvested when they first open not as tight buds.
Puriri Lane | Dahlia | Platinum Blonde
It is also important to harvest your flowers regardless of whether you are using them or not as if you leave ripened flowers on the plant, it is also going to reduce the number of blooms that you will get and if you happen to be harvesting lots of flowers it also means you spend less time examining each flower to check if it is good enough to harvest.
Puriri Lane | Dahlia | Natal
If you are popping your Dahlias into a vase for home use, just make sure that you change the water daily or at a minimum every second day so that you can enjoy them for the maximum amount of time which would normally be between 5 and 7 days.