Photo: Van Chaplin
Imagine a blossom with colors that roll the warmth of an Indian summer day into the fire of an early-autumn sunset. This is a dahlia flower. Its sturdy late-season flowers show their stamina against summer's slowly dissipating heat while producing a palette of petals vividly reminding us of fall's imminent arrival.
There was a time when cut dahlia flowers were only available to gardeners with the foresight to plant its large, gnarly tubers in the spring. These days, you can purchase smaller, more user-friendly bouquets in flower shops, farmers markets, and grocery stores. A bunch of blooms is affordable and easy to arrange.
How to Maximize the Life of Cut Dahlia Flowers
All cut flowers require care--called conditioning--to maximize their vase lives. Dahlias that come from your garden require extra help. The cut stems need to be seared. Harvest your bouquet in early morning. Then make a fresh, straight snip on each stem, and pass it over an open flame.
Soak stems thoroughly before arranging. First, remove foliage that's below the water level. Then, put the stems in a bucket of warm water, and place in a cool, dark place overnight. (Dahlias from flower shops have been treated already. While the stems don't require searing, they do appreciate the rest of the conditioning process.)
How to Make a Dahlia Flower Bouquet
Look to the garden and roadside for materials to fill out your arrangement, and accent it with late-season produce to extend a free and easy attitude. Choose containers that echo the colors of the plants used. A needle-holder frog or chicken wire frame will offer support and allow water to move easily up the stems.
Once your bouquet is complete, extend its life with proper care. Add cut-flower food (available from florists) to the water. Or make your own by adding a drop of bleach and 1/4 cup lemon-lime flavored soda to a quart of water. Keep the bouquet in a cool place out of direct sunlight. Change the water and recut the stems every other day to keep blooms fresh.
How to Grow Your Own Dahlia Flowers In the South
According to the Carolinas Dahlia Society, The Dahlia Society of Georgia, and Buddy Dean (owner of Hilltop Gardens in Cashiers, North Carolina), care matters more than the selection you choose. Plant as soon as the chance of frost has passed so they get a good start before it gets hot. In the South, dahlias like morning sun and afternoon shade. When the weather cools and night temperatures dip below 70 degrees, blooms flourish.
Types of Dahlia Flowers to Plant
- ‘Alpen Cherub’
- ‘April Dawn’
- ‘Brookside Snowball’
- ‘Crichton Honey’
- ‘Elsie Huston’
- ‘Kelvin Floodlight’
- ‘Light Accord’
- ‘Mystic Illusion’
- ‘Sterling Silver’
Where to Buy Dahlia Flowers for Your Garden
Start with your local dahlia society for best selection. To find one near you, visit dahlia.org.
List of Dahlia Society Sales: dahliasales.com
Hilltop Gardens: Cashiers, North Carolina, dahlias.net/htmbox/hilltopgardens.htm
Blue Ridge Dahlias: Lebanon, Virginia, dahlias.net/htmbox/blueridge.htm
Swan Island Dahlias: Canby, Oregon, dahlias.com