by Tricia Harris, Helmsley Walled Garden
Midsummer is upon us and it’s time to get your dahlias in the ground.
The danger of late frosts is past and tubers should have plenty of buds and leaves on. Having hardened them off (we pop ours, still in their crates in the cold frames) they are ready to be planted.
At the risk of provoking controversy, I never stake my dahlias. I think lots of stakes and twine are ugly and detract from the beauty of the plants. I also think that healthy, sturdy plants will stand up on their own.
To planting then: depending on the size of the cultivar leave a gap of between 15 – 45cm (6 – 18 inches) between each plant. Dig a hole deep enough that the top of the root ball will sit around 5 – 8cm (2 – 3 inches below the surface of the soil. This helps to keep them steady.
If you haven’t already, mix in some well-rotted manure or compost into the hole and backfill soil. Make sure it is well mixed in as you don’t want a concentrated pile at the bottom of the hole that will rot away, leaving the tuber and roots without soil contact.
Water the root ball well so that it is thoroughly moist before you plant it. Take it out of the pot and gently tease out the roots before settling it in the planting hole.
Firm the soil round the hole, using your heel and then pop a layer of mulch over the top, making sure it isn’t touching the stem. Mulch will help the soil to retain moisture. Once all this is done, give it a good drench to make it feel thoroughly at home.
Once they start to put some serious growth on (say around 30cms (a foot) , it’s worthwhile pinching out the tips to encourage side shoots to develop.
Then you can await the blooms and enjoy a riot of colour and flower shape until well into autumn.
Now reader, I have a confession to make. It is only within the last five years that I have had this Damascene conversion to loving dahlias. Prior to this, I thought they were rather a lot of faff and not worth the effort.
Then one day I realised that if I didn’t sort the dahlias we had out, we could risk losing them as up here, the soil is too cold and damp over winter.
So I set to and thus a love affair was born. It’s not quite reader, I married them, but it’s close.
Whilst in confessional mode, I have favourites. Chat Noir, Nuit d’Ete (truly dark purple, almost black), Gwyneth and David Howard (fabulous orange) are all absolute beauties. Christopher Taylor is a fabulous pillar box red; Purple Haze always makes me want to burst into song.
There is a dahlia for everyone and you can grow them from seed (although they will take a while longer to get truly established). So think about giving them a try, you won’t regret it.