Garden 2021 Wrap-Up: Dahlias

This was my first year growing dahlias. I had never even heard of them until February of this past year year, when I was unexpectedly stuck at home for six weeks due to a surgery and ended up binging on gardening videos. This past spring, the flower farming world (here in America, at least) was all in a tizzy about Floret’s new book, Discovering Dahlias, and as everyone seemed to be obsessed with them, I decided to try growing a few. Over the course of my recovery (and because I was still generally stuck at home due to Covid), “a few” turned into 17 different varieties in tuber form and another three varieties of dahlia seeds. (For people new to dahlias, one of the key things to know is that dahlias don’t breed true. If you collect seeds from a dahlia and attempt to grow them the following year, it’s really a crapshoot as to what will come up. They’ll all be dahlias, yes, but the size, shape, height, and color will not match the parent flower. This being the case, most dahlias are sold in tuber form, which produces an exact clone of the previous year’s flower. And thus specific dahlia varieties are maintained.)

Here is what I ended up planting this past year:

Dahlia, Crème de CassisVan Zyverden (Walmart)
Dahlia, Belle of BarmeraAmerican Meadows
Dahlia, Black SatinSwan Island Dahlias
Dahlia, Cafe Au LaitSkyfall Flowers
Dahlia, Cafe Au LaitLongfield Gardens
Dahlia, CheersSwan Island Dahlias
Dahlia, FleurelDutch Bulbs
Dahlia, FleurelLongfield Gardens
Dahlia, Giant Hybrid MixJohnny’s Seeds
Dahlia, Karma ChocTerrain
Dahlia, Noordwijks GlorieLongfield Gardens
Dahlia, Redskin Mix Pinetree Seeds
Dahlia, Unwins Mix Baker Creek
Dahlia, Kelvin FloodlightVan Zyverden (Walmart)
Dahlia, EmperorBreck’s
Dahlia, Southern BelleSwan Island Dahlias
Dahlia, My ForeverSwan Island Dahlias
Dahlia, Mary MunnsSwan Island Dahlias
Dahlia, Belle of BarmeraSwan Island Dahlias
Dahlia, VixenSwan Island Dahlias

There were actually several more tubers I tried to grow, but once I sprouted them and tried to plant them out, I found that they were covered in crown gall.

Of these varieties, my strongest growers by far were the Kelvin Floodlight and the Fleurel. Fleurel was the first variety I purchased, and as it arrived looking dehydrated, I ended up buying it from Longfield Gardens as well. However, even the dehydrated tubers sprouted reliably. Kelvin was a impulse grab from Walmart’s bins. Both grew about 3′ tall and produced blooms 7-10″ wide. They were just gorgeous. (However, when I lifted them this fall to store them, the Kelvin tubers definitely had gall and the Fleurels looked like them might as well, so I’ll be starting with new tubers this year.) Another show-stopping dinner plate dahlia was the Belle of Barmera. I intend to grow all three again this year.

I had several non-dinner plate dahlias. Of these, the ones that grew best were the Southern Belle, Creme de Cassis, Emperor, and Vixen. Of these, my favorites are Vixen, as it looks exactly like a Disney-fied rose, and Southern Belle, which has a gorgeous array of sunset colors.

My Creme de Cassis only grew true for one of my tubers, however; the other produced a peachy large bloom with a huge open center. The plant grew 6′ tall and was extremely prolific–producing many more blooms and earlier than any other dahlia I grew this year. None of my Cafe au Laits produced a true Cafe au Lait either–just similarly colored 4″ blooms. And there were several other dahlias that didn’t match their names, or I honestly couldn’t remember which one was which, but even so, I ended up with huge bouquets of flowers from August until frost, which for us this year wasn’t until the end of October.

I’m looking forward to another large crop of dahlias this year! I have a bunch of new varieties on the way. 🙂

Seed Starting 2021–First Batch

So I did my first real batch of seedling planting this past weekend! (Technically, I had started a batch of leeks and decorative peppers in the basement before we realized my knee surgery would keep me upstairs for six weeks; they did not far well.) But my first really big batch of seeds went into the dirt this weekend.

I based my seed starting chart on a variety of other calendars. I tried to use to Moon Dates from the Farmer’s Almanac chart for my zone (5b) along with the sow dates on the various seed packages. It was a huge headache to put the calendar together, especially as this is the first time I’m starting the vast majority of these plants from seed. I’m hoping next year it will be easier; at that point I’ll hopefully have some experience to draw from.

The planting medium I’m using for this first set of seeds is Black Gold’s seed starting mix. You can get a great price on an 8qt bag at Pinetree Seeds. Don’t buy it from Amazon–I haven’t seen any seller selling these exact same bags for less than twice as much on Amazon.

My first round of planting included mostly flowers, with a few herbs that I intend to keep indoors.

Flowers: Autumn Colors Rudbeckia; Dwarf Cactus Dahlia and Redskin Mix Dahlia; Lobelia (Crystal Palace); Sugar Stars Phlox; Rainbow Loveliness (dianthus); Pink Carnations (also a dianthus); Arena Red Lisianthus; Peach Melba Nasturtium and Single Blend Trailing Nasturtium.

Autumn Colors Rudbeckia

Herbs/Veggies: Listada de Gandia Eggplant; Lettuce Leaf Basil; Holy Basil; Pennyroyal; Mild Microgreens Mix; and Bull’s Blood Microgreens.

Listada de Gandia Eggplant

The Rudbeckia (black-eyed susans) I know for a fact grows very well in my climate–the garden I inherited already has several bunches of the Indian Summer rudbeckias that have survived many a cold, frozen IL winter. I’m not a fan of that color, however, so I’m trying to grow the “Autumn Colors” instead. They should turn out to be a lovely mix of oranges and russet colors. And I have grown Nasturtiums from seed, and in my experience they take forever to get big. But once they are full-sized, they put out and endless supply of tasty, peppery flowers. I’ve never grown these varieties of Nasturtium, though; last year, I grew the Alaska Dwarf Mix–they have lovely variegated leaves, but true to its name, the plant stays very small).

Every other type of flower I’ll be growing this year is new to me. I’ve seen carnations, obviously, but I’ve never grown one from seed. And I’d never heard of any of the other varieties until I started browsing seed catalogues and Gardening channels on YouTube. I’ve seen enough videos to know that growing Lisianthus is a massive pain in the ass–they take forever to germinate/grow, and they are very sensitive to temperature and humidity fluctuations—but people also say that despite this, they are worth it, so I figured I’d give at least one a try this year.

This is my first year using any kind of heat mat/humidity dome/LED light set up. I had to jerry rig a temporary greenhouse in my living room as I can’t get into the basement, but it appears to be working well! My dahlia seeds popped up in two days (!) and my beet/mixed microgreens mix was not far behind. Currently my rubeckia (black-eyed susans) are also showing their little green heads, as is my lettuce leaf basil (which will be kept indoors). Even one of my carnation seeds has popped up! Apparently this heating pad/humidity dome thing really works.

I’m actually a tad worried about the dahlias as they were not supposed to pop up for at least a week or two. They may need to be potted up before I’m able to put them out, as they’re huge and also frost-tender, iirc (the bulbs are, at least, so the flowers from seed are likely frost-tender as well.) So it may get a bit crowded in the house by mid-April. But still! Seeds are growing! There may still be a foot of snow on the ground in some places, but my garden is finally started.