Big and beautiful, dahlias can dazzle

Here’s an idea: Don’t make mom clean the dinner plates; help her fill the garden with dinner plate-sized flowers instead.

What? Did you know dahlias can have blooms the size of dinner plates?

There are many varieties of dahlias with blooms ranging from small, 2-inch pom-poms to dinner-plate flowers that are often 15 inches across. They also come in many colors, including red, pink, orange, yellow, white and purple.

Planting begins with tubers. After the last frost, when the ground starts to warm, it is time to plant. Pick a sunny spot with well-draining soil. The variety you are growing will determine the placement in your garden bed. Medium-sized dahlias will be 3 feet tall, and the bigger the bloom, the taller the plant. Dinner-plate dahlias can reach 6 feet tall and will need stem support.

The medium-sized dahlias mix well with other plants in garden beds and should be planted about a foot apart. Dig the hole 6-8 inches deep, mix in organic matter such as compost or peat moss. Place the tuber with the “eyes” facing up, then cover with soil.

If you have decided to go big and are planting dinner-plate dahlias, space them further apart and plan to add the support at the time of planting. This can be a stake, and you tie the stems as they grow. Or something as simple as a tomato cage will offer support.

Dahlias like a moist environment, but hold off on watering until they are above ground. Watering when planting may cause the tubers to rot or become diseased. Once the plant begins to grow, consistent watering will be essential to the flower formation.

Because dahlias like the warm soil, you can plant them until the middle of June. A good rule of thumb is to plant dahlias when you plant tomatoes; they both like the same growing climates. You can expect your dahlias to bloom eight weeks after planting.

Dahlias are known as short-day plants, meaning as the days shorten, they become their most beautiful. The plant will flower mid-summer until the autumn frost. To encourage more blooms and bushier plants, pinch back the center stems 3 inches. Deadhead older flowers as they fade. Dahlias work well as cut flowers — don’t be timid about cutting them and bringing them indoors. It’s good for the plant and good for you to have fresh flowers on your table.

After the first frost, dahlias’ leaves and stems will turn brown. Cut them off and gently dig the tuber out of the ground. Put them on newspaper or screen for a day to dry out, then place them in a dark, dry, cool spot until spring when they can be replanted.

Keep an eye out for slugs; they are drawn to dahlias. You can manually pull them off or investigate organic and chemical ways to deter them. Dahlias can be toxic to pets both in the garden and in the house, so watch that the pup and kitty don’t nibble the plants.

I mentioned dahlias to a friend, and she instantly smiled and shared the memory of her father digging the dahlia tubers in the fall and storing them under the porch for the winter. Isn’t it great that something as simple as digging tubers can bring back pleasant memories? She didn’t mention the beautiful sky-high blooms; she remembered the actions of her dad. The story made me smile too.

With a bit of planning, dahlias can be the darling in your garden. Think about their mature size when planting. Make memories: Grab a friend and plant them together. Then think of ways to share the big, beautiful blooms.