Get Ready to plant your own field of dreams!
So you spent the winter perusing websites, scrolling through instagram, picking out all the varieties you absolutely had to have and now here you are- tubers in hand and ready to take that first step and make the dahlia garden of your dreams into the realm of reality!
We often get asked what we do to grow such beautiful plants and gardens and I think many people are secretly hoping for some kind of “magic bullet” solution- hoping we’ll tell them about some amazing product that makes everything grow big and beautiful and viola! A perfect garden magically appears before your eyes. If only it was that easy! One of my favorite sayings is “the best fertilizer is gardeners footsteps”, simply meaning that the best garden medicine is your loving attention and keen observation skills. Spending time carefully tending your plants, pulling the small weeds, noticing the subtle differences in the position of the sun, or where there may be water that always collects after a storm- these are the “secrets” to being a good gardener. Your willingness to invest the time in your garden will be rewarded. Ready? Here we go!
Set yourself up for success
This is where I see many people struggle. They want to grow dahlias, but in their enthusiastic zest to get started, they haven’t made much of a plan.
Your dahlias need:
- A location with plenty of direct sunlight
- Healthy, well-draining soil
- Plenty of water
- Regular fertilization
This is where it all starts, so take the time to make sure that your location gets at least 6 (preferably more) hours of direct sunlight. It’s ok if your garden gets some shade, especially in the heat of afternoon sun, but direct sunlight is just that- it’s full sun that isn’t filtered through the trees or shrubs. Also have a garden bed prepared and ready to go. Have it cleared of weeds, and maybe even covered with a tarp to prevent weeds from sprouting up before you get planting. Amend your soil and have your watering system figured out. Most of us don’t start off with the most ideal soil conditions, so don’t be discouraged on that point- there’s plenty you can do to improve your soil by adding compost, mulch and other amendments that will build a beautiful garden bed over time.
In this post we’ll talk about planting your dahlia tubers directly in the ground. If you live in colder areas, you may want to consider starting your dahlias in pots ahead of time. We’ll talk about that in another post!
So now that you have your garden prepared, here are the basics of planting tubers directly in the soil:
- Plant your dahlias after the danger of frost has past and the soil has begun to warm. Plant in well draining soil in a location that receives full sun, or a little afternoon shade.
- Healthy soils grow healthy plants! We typically amend with compost and a balanced organic fertilizer, and lightly mix into our soil before planting. To truly know what amendments your soil requires, we recommend getting a soil test done.
- Space your dahlias about 12 – 18” apart depending on the size of the bloom. The larger dinner plate types need more space.
- Dig a hole (or if you are planting many, you can also dig a trench) approximately 4-6 inches deep and place your tuber horizontally in the hole or trench, with the eye facing up, and bury with soil.
- Because tubers can rot in overly moist soil, many growers recommend not watering until you see green shoots just starting to show above the ground. At our farm it is often quite hot and dry and our soil is very well draining, so we typically give a light watering after we plant. If your soil is moist or you’re in a rainy climate you do not need to water until the plant sprouts and begins growing roots.
- Be sure to label your plants as you put them in the ground. A wooden stake works fine. Sometimes we also label the tuber itself, by writing on it with indelible marker before planting- the marker is surprisingly durable and is still visible at the end of the season after we dig and wash the tubers. It’s really handy if you loose your labels!
Once the plant is sprouted and growing, dahlias need regular, consistent watering. We use multiple lines of drip tape to be sure that they receive sufficient water and usually water 2-3 times per week. Check the soil moisture not just at surface, but at 4-6 inches down to see if your irrigation is penetrating and providing sufficient moisture.
Hopefully this gets you off to a good start! Our next post is all about growing your dahlias and how to care for them during the growing season.
Please leave us any questions you have in the comments below!
Sarah & Carl