Too Many DAHLIAS, 4/27/21

Currently, in my house, I have 18 varieties of dahlia bulbs and four dahlia seed mixes. And I still have five (edit: six varieties) varieties that haven’t even arrived yet! I blame this on a number of things. My recent knee surgery required me to stay off my feet for six weeks, and I ended up getting hooked and watching too many flower farming videos as a result. Also, Floret Flowers’ new Dahlia book came out this spring. Finally, lo and behold, Walmart has $5 dahlias! And many are worth buying.

Why dahlias, you ask? Well, they look about a luxe and dramatic as a flower can possibly be. Plus, there’s the fact that, should you take care of your tubers, they will multiply and you will never need to buy them again. (You could even sell or give away your extras!)

Here are a few of the dahlia pictures that lured me in:

I’ve had many tubers sitting in my basement greenhouse, waiting to see if they would sprout. Most did. However, space in my greenhouse is very limited, what with the tomatoes and peppers getting way too big and taking up most of the space, so today I finally decided just to pot up those tubers that clearly showed eyes but weren’t producing large sprouts. Here is the list of tubers that got potted up today:

Dahlia, Crème de CassisVan Zyverden (Walmart)1 bulb
Dahlia, Cafe Au LaitSkyfall Flowers6 bulbs
Dahlia, FleurelLongfield Gardens3 bulbs
Dahlia, Great SilenceLongfield Gardens1 bulb
Dahlia, Karma ChocTerrain2 bulbs
Dahlia, MottoVan Zyverden (Walmart)2 bulbs
Dahlia, Noordwijks GlorieLongfield Gardens2 bulbs
Dahlia, Pacific TimeVan Zyverden (Walmart)2 bulbs
Dahlia, Electric FlashVan Zyverden (Walmart)2 bulbs
Dahlia, Kelvin FloodlightVan Zyverden (Walmart)2 bulbs
Dahlia, ZingaroVan Zyverden (Walmart)2 bulbs

Each of these tubers should guarantee me a flower, as each had visible, sprouting eyes. So, 25 guaranteed dahlias this year, assuming no pest or disease damage.

For the Cafe au Lait dahlia, while I did end up purchasing bulbs for this from two companies (I wasn’t sure the first dahlia bulb I received would survive), most of these bulbs came from me manually dividing up tuber clumps. Also, Cafe au Lait appears to be an especially prolific variety, which is awesome as it is widely considered one of the most desirable dahlia varieties.

Also, despite having no luck whatsoever in potting up dahlia cuttings up to this point, I wanted to try it again. I went back to the source (Swan Island Dahlias, http://www.dahlias.com) and rewatched their cuttings video. They use a specific rooting gel and fertilizer for their cuttings, neither of which I had been using. In theory, you could simply take a cutting from any dahlia tuber and stick it in moist potting soil and it would root naturally. I’ve not had any luck with this approach, even when using the cheaper but still highly recommended rooting powder. I used the gel on today’s batch, and tomorrow I’ll add the fertilizer; here’s hoping it works this time.

This week’s dahlia cuttings:

Dahlia, HS DateLongfield Gardens5 cuttings
Dahlia, Café au LaitLongfield Gardens1 cutting
Dahlia, Crème de CassisVan Zyverden (Walmart)3 cuttings
Dahlia, Great SilenceLongfield Gardens1 cutting
Dahlia, Melody PinkLongfield Gardens2 cuttings

Another lure of the dahlias are the seeds. Due to dahlia genetics, only clones made from the original tubers will produce the exact variety of dahlia that is anticipated. Seeds are a crapshoot, and could exhibit a wide variety of dahlia characteristics. The downside is that dahlia seeds tend to produce smaller blooms and more single blooms as compared to the lavish ones produced by the cultivated cloned tubers. The cool side effect of the dahlia genetics, however, is that every dahlia produced by seed is unique, and if it turns out to be cool-looking or otherwise having unique or interesting properties, you can name it and start selling it. Currently there are 42 categories of dahlias and tens of thousands of specific hybrids, so finding a unique one is probably pretty hard.

As with most things in my garden this year, the dahlias are an experiment. Maybe I’ll love them; maybe I’ll find that they are not worth the hassle. (They are not hardy in my zone–they are only hardy is zones 8-10, if I remember correctly– and so they need to be dug up and stored over winter.) We’ll find out. Currently all I have are a bunch of potted-up tubers and some cuttings; but the potential for beauty contained in each is overwhelming. Maybe one of them will be that one flower that I can’t live without. Who knows?

Garden Update, 4/26/21

Spring is finally here; time for an update!

Since my last update on 4/12, I have not done much seed planting–mainly repeats of previous starts, just in case.

Seed sowing, 4/15/21:

Carrot, DragonSeedSavers
Carrot, Shin KurodaBotanical Interests
Carrot, Sugarsnax 54 (pelleted)Johnny’s Seeds
Carrot, Uzbek GoldenBaker Creek

The carrot bed is finally up! No germination yet, though 😦

Seed sowing, 4/16/21:

Basil, Mrs. Burns LemonPark Seedsseeds
Rudbeckia, Gloriosa Daisy Prairie SunPark Seedsseeds
Rutabaga, Navone YellowBaker Creekseeds
Eggplant, Listada de GandiaBotanical Interestsseeds
Tomatillo, Grande Rio Verde Botanical Interestsseeds
Beet, CylindraJohnny’s Seedsseeds
Lettuce, Little Gem Baker Creekseeds
Chives, CommonBaker Creekseeds
Onion, Tokyo Long White BunchingSustainable Seedsseeds
Lettuce, Green Sweet Crisp (Salanova)Johnny’s Seedsseeds
Tomatillo, PurpleBaker Creekseeds
Cabbage, WakefieldSustainable Seedsseeds
Cabbage, Napa One Kilo Slow BoltBotanical Interestsseeds

This was my last big batch of seed sowing this year. I added in a rudbeckia I’d just received and a basil that a you tuber had recommended. I resowed my eggplant and tomatillo as the seedlings have not been looking healthy and these nightshades take forever to grow. I also did succession plantings of lettuces, onions, and brassicas. One thing I did find out from this batch was that rutabagas and cabbages germinate overnight and grow insanely fast. Too fast, in fact. I ended up turning this into microgreens and eating them right out of the trays 🙂 I’ll plant them again later once I actually have some beds prepare for them.

Seed sowing, 4/20/21:

Cabbage, Nero di Toscana (Dinosaur)Baker Creek
Nasturtium, Cherry Rose JewelBaker Creek
Nasturtium, Tall Trailing MixBaker Creek

I received a new nasturtium and needed some more trailing nasturtiums, so into the dirt they went. The Nero di Toscana cabbage is actually more like a kale, and didn’t germinate nearly as fast as the other cabbages.

My main focus the last two weeks has been on my live plants and on WTH I’m going to put everything.

This past weekend, I received a bunch of Purple Passion asparagus crowns as well as some Joan J Thornless raspberry canes, both from the same Amazon seller from whom I picked up my green asparagus. Raspberries went into large fabric containers for the time being because I’m just not up to digging up every single bed in my yard this year. I tore out the obvious 30 year old raspberry canes and placed the fabric bed on top of it; however, due to raspberries having rhizomes, who knows what the full extent of the 30-year-old root structure at the moment. (All I know is we constantly find random raspberry sprouts everywhere in the backyard.) Golden raspberries should be on the way, but as they are from Stark Bros, that’s a dicey bet–all of my orders from them keep getting pushed back, and as I found, they don’t give cash refunds. 😦

I’ve received all three of the apple trees I ordered. Two from Gilby’s Orchard in MN (the Haralson and the HoneyCrisp dwarf trees) and look as good as bare root trees get. They are both 4 ‘ tall and have a few branches, and flower buds are already starting. I potted both up in extra-tall fabric grow bags as my plan currently is not to put anything large into the ground until I know exactly where I want to put it.

The third apple tree, a dwarf Fuji apple, was originally ordered from Stark Bros, but they kept pushing their delivery dates back 3-4 weeks, so I eventually canceled it. I then saw this particular apple also listed on Home Depot, so despite having ordered it through Home Depot last year and the order eventually having been canceled on me, I went ahead and ordered it there as well. I honestly expected it to be canceled like last year, but it shipped almost right away. When I received it, however, it was nothing more than a long stick with a few roots sticking out perpendicular to the base of the tree. Truly a Charlie Brown’s apple tree. It was also marked “standard size”, not dwarf. I contacted HD right away, and amazingly, within minutes I had a refund approved and was told to keep the tree and dispose of it as I would. (I checked their reviews for this particular tree and almost all of the reviews from this month said the same thing–they received a standard sized tree, contacted HD, and got a refund. So clearly HD is having an issue with that particular supplier.) I also noticed that the entry on their website now reads “standard sized Fuji apple”, not dwarf. The sad part is that I was in my local HD the other day and saw several lovely, tall, potted standard sized Fuji apples for the about the same price. (Wish my yard could fit a standard sized apple, but alas, I live in the city.) No one local seems to have dwarf Fujis, so it’ll probably have to wait until next year. As for the poor tree I did receive, I potted it up and we’ll see if it’ll grow. If it does survive, I’ll keep it potted and pass it along to someone else once it gets too big.

I made a pleasant discovery at another big box store. My partner dragged me into a local Walmart last week so that he could pick up a belt, and of course I wandered over to the garden center. Where I found, to my surprise, many of the fertilizers and other soil components I was already using, and at a much cheaper price. And, even better, I found DAHLIA BULBS–2 bulbs for $5 a pack, and a good variety of them. So of course I picked a bunch up. I wish I had know earlier that Walmart sold dahlia bulbs; it would have made this year’s dahlia experiment so much cheaper. I even picked up a few things I hadn’t planned on trying this year, but since they were so cheap and I never go to Walmart, I figured now would be the time: elephant ears, hollyhocks, peonies, and some kind of golden potatoes. (I also got a clematis, but it didn’t survive.) I only chose dahlias that I could see were already sprouting, so I was guaranteed that the bulbs are viable. I’ll put an expanded list of my dahlias up in another post; it’s gotten a bit ludicrous, honestly.

Finally, I did get some of my roses planted, with help from a good friend. I was replacing some 20 year old peonies along a side fence with some huge Double-Red Knock Out roses I picked up at Costco the other day. My friend wanted the old peonies, so we both benefited. And let me tell you, 20-year-old peonies have bulb clusters. Hopefully they will survive transplant; though they haven’t yet bloomed, they have already sent up a good amount of foliage, and so weren’t dormant when we pulled them. The roses look great planted next to the fence and in a year or so should be bushy enough to start providing a pretty, fragrant privacy screen.

Next up: finishing all of my raised beds, and filling them with soil.

Splitting and Pre-sprouting Dahlia Tubers

The day has finally arrived! I received my first big batch of dahlia tubers yesterday, from Longfield Gardens. I had also received one tuber each from Skyfall Flowers and Dutchbulbs.com a few weeks ago. With all of these tubers, I decided to try my hand at pre-sprouting–for some of them, just to make sure the bulbs were viable; for others, because I wanted to take cuttings and grow more of them 🙂

The first bulb I received, back on 3/25/21 (I’m in zone 5a/b), was from Dutchbulbs. It was a Fleurel bulb clump for my Moon Garden, and it looked absolutely dead. It was a dehydrated as could be, with the outer layer sloughing off most of the tuber clump. I trimmed everything off except for one damaged tuber which looked like it had a bit of crystalized sap on it, and planted that just to see if it was actually viable. The tuber from Skyfall Flowers, on the other hand, was a finely trimmed and cared-for Cafe au Lait tuber (that I paid way to much in shipping for–$15 for one bulb!). It looked happy and healthy. I planted both in pots indoors, and both have now pre-sprouted! The desiccated Fleurel actually has three sprouts coming off of it. I am amazed.

By far the bulk of my dahlias, however, have come from Longfield Gardens. Their prices are amazing (for us non-wholesale buyers, anyway)–3 full clumps of tubers per order, with each order usually ranging in cost from $14-$16.50. (Plus free shipping over $50!) I realized, when I received the bulbs, how they could offer such a low price on their dahlias, when so many other online companies are charging the same prices but for one bulb only. The clumps, when they arrived, were kind of a mess. Some of the clumps were almost immaculate, while others (such as the Melody Pink, for some reason) were so beat up I could barely salvage one good tuber out of each clump. Still, I was able to get at least one good tuber per clump for each type of dahlia I ordered–and some of them had up to 6 or 7 viable tubers. Here was how I processed them.

Though I hadn’t ever split a dahlia tuber before, I’ve now watched countless videos on how to do it, so I decided to give it a go. With the Longfield dahlias, I have at least three of each variety, so I figured the odds were good. I had heard that people often choose to divide the tubers in the spring because it is easier to find the eyes, and I have to agree. A good 2/3rds of the bulbs had eyes already sprouting. With the rest, I took an educated guess, or just kept them together in one clump.

Finally, I potted up two varieties yesterday: Melody Pink, as it was so beat up and I was concerned none of the tubers were viable; and Great Silence, as a friend of mine has already put in a request for that one. (I’m waiting on a set of 10×10 trays from Bootstrap Farmer to arrive before I pre-sprout the rest.)

The sprouts on my first Fleurel and Cafe au Lait bulbs from my earlier orders are just about ready to be cut, so I should have a Pre-Sprouting Dahlias Part 2 coming up soon. Wish me luck!