Growing Dahlias the Meadowburn Way
There are many methods to growing dahlias and each gardener will develop their own special techniques that work best for their circumstances. Here are the methods that have proven successful for us at Meadowburn:
Dahlias should only be planted after all danger of frost has passed. Choose a place in your garden that receives full sun for about 8 hours a day. Dahlias like fertile, well-drained soil. We amend our soil with compost and a low nitrogen organic fertilizer. Plant dahlias about 4 inches deep and 3 feet apart, resting the tubers on their side in the hole. Warning: Planting too deep increase risk of the tubers rotting in the ground!
The general rule of thumb is to NOT water until you see the shoots emerge from the ground to avoid tuber rot. If your soil is very dry, you may want to give just a little water, but not too much. Once shoots emerge, dahlias will drink quite a bit. At Meadowburn we water every 2 to 3 days in periods of no rain. Always give your dahlias a good soak when watering so they establish a deep root system. If your dahlias are really thirsty, they will let you know with their wilted leaves.
Meadowburn dahlias grow quite tall and staking is necessary. We use two types of stakes: 6’ cedar posts and 6’ bamboo poles. Our cedar posts are cut from the woods, and are hammered into the ground prior to planting. More recently we have been using tall bamboo poles, 6’ x 3/4”, which are easily pushed into the ground.
The Meadowburn tradition is to only allow one shoot to grow from each tuber, which produces very tall dahlia plants. When the shoots are about 4” tall, all but the healthiest are removed. Once this shoot grows to about 18” tall, it is secured to the stake with a tie, and continues to be tied at increments of 18” as it grows. Keep in mind that this method produces very tall plants!
A more common method is to allow multiple shoots to grow and pinch them back when they reach about 2’ tall. This method will produce bushier plants – but they will still need staking.
Digging and Storage:
After the first hard frost that kills the plants, cut back the stalks of the dahlias and let the tubers sit for 2 weeks in the ground. Then carefully dig up the tubers with a pitchfork and let sit out to dry for a day or so. Pack the clumps of tubers in boxes with newspaper, and store in a cool, dark place (45-50 degrees F), such as a basement or root cellar. We leave out tubers in a clump with the dirt packed around them as we find it helps keep them from drying out. Check tubers about once a month to insure they do not dry out, or are too wet and in risk of rot. If they seem shriveled and dry mist with water.