Dahlias are bold and beautiful flowers that are easy to grow in any sunny garden. They are also spectacular in summer flower arrangements. With just a few dahlias, you can enjoy picking your own fresh-cut flowers every day from July through September.
These spring-planted tubers make gorgeous additions to flower beds and even the vegetable garden. If space allows, the very best way to grow dahlias for bouquets is in a cutting garden. A backyard cutting garden doesn’t need to be large. Even a 3’ x 6’ raised bed will give you plenty of space for 6 to 8 full size dahlia plants. Planting dahlia tubers in rows lets you get maximum productivity with minimal maintenance.
When choosing dahlias for a small to medium size cutting garden, start by narrowing your choices. Select colors that you can imagine looking great together in a vase. This will make it easy to create lots of creative combinations on the fly.
Choose red, orange, and yellow flowers if you like energetic arrangements that mimic the colors of late summer and fall. Blossoms in cool colors and pastels, such pink, lavender and violet, will be softer and more soothing. Include purple and burgundy flowers to add drama and help unify warm and cool colors.
Floral designers know that combining flowers with different shapes and sizes makes arrangements more interesting. Dahlias offer many options and it’s one of the reasons they are such a popular cut flower.
Ball dahlias have tightly curled petals and dense, perfectly round, 3 to 4” flower heads. Varieties such as Sylvia and Jowey Mirella are perfect for adding repeating bursts of color. Decorative dahlias have the classic dahlia look, with 4 to 6” wide, open-faced blossoms and orderly layers of petals. American Dawn and Great Silence are two reliable and versatile, decorative dahlias.
The flowers of dinnerplate dahlias can measure 8 to 10” across and these enormous blossoms make it easy to make stunning summer bouquets. Popular varieties for cutting include Café au Lait, Penhill Dark Monarch and Otto’s Thrill. Add texture and movement to your arrangements with cactus dahlias. Varieties such as Yellow Star and Nuit d’Ete have tightly rolled petals that give the flowers a spiky appearance.
Single and peony-flowered dahlias are seldom seen at the florist or even in farmer's market bouquets because they don’t travel well. But home gardeners can enjoy growing varieties such as scarlet-red Bishop of Llandaff or the melon and burnt orange flowers of HS Date. These plants tend to be compact and rarely need staking.
Don’t let the many options overwhelm you. Consider starting with an assortment such as the Flirty Fleurs Sorbetto Collection (longfield-gardens.com). It includes five varieties of pink and burgundy dahlias, specially selected by an experienced floral designer.
Most cutting garden flowers are picked before they are fully open. But dahlias should not be harvested until they are fully open and in their prime. To avoid crushing the stems, make your cuts with a sharp knife rather scissors.
If you want your dahlias to have nice, long stems, take a cue from cut flower farmers. When harvesting for market or removing spent flowers, they always remove the entire stem, cutting right back to a main stalk. Though this means sacrificing some buds in the short term, the next round of flowers will have noticeably longer stems.
When selecting plants for this year’s flower garden, be sure to include plenty of dahlias. These spring-planted, summer-blooming bulbs will take your homegrown flower arrangements to a whole new level.
Melinda Myers has written numerous books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally-syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Longfield Gardens for her expertise to write this article. Her web site is www.MelindaMyers.com.