This time of year, someone's sure to be out in the rows of dahlias, grubbing out the opportunist weeds. Weeding is essential to the well-being of Lynch Creek's fields and your garden, and to the propagation of beautiful dahlias, for many reasons:
• Eliminate competition. Dahlias don't like crowding, and weeds compete for light, space and nutrients. Later in the season, the full-sized dahlia plants will essentially shade out the weeds, but when they're just emerging, they need the benefit of the sunlight and the moisture and nutrients in the soil for maximum growth and bud development.
Even if your dahlias are planted in mixed beds, they'll need the benefit of space when they first emerge from the ground. Some gardeners who like the look of the densely planted cottage-garden borders, for instance, will start their dahlias in pots and transplant them into their space in the garden (with nice rich soil amendments) once the dahlias are several inches high.
• Prevent disease. Keeping the dahlia garden weed-free and debris-free will help eliminate the development of fungus-disease spores, vectors that help spread viruses, and bacterial growth that can easily spread by contact. Some of the beetles and other critters that prove harmful to your dahlias will start the season chewing on the weeds and then transfer themselves to your dahlias.
• Eliminate hiding places for pests. Dahlia pests like snails, slugs and earwigs like shady, moist places to hang out when they're not gnawing on your plants. Ground-hugging weeds give them shelter from which they can emerge to devastate your dahlia plants, especially when they are young and tender. In a damp spring like this year's in the Northwest, there's an overabundance of slugs and snails, so keep an eye out; if your garden's too big for hand-plucking or stabbing, you may need to resort to bait. (See February 22-24 blogs for more information.)
For this reason, it's also important to make sure you don't have a lot of other debris in your garden and its immediate environment. Piles of pulled weeds, woody debris, even buckets and stacks of pots provide safe harbor for the creepers, crawlers, chewers and maulers that you don't want anywhere near your beautiful dahlias. Besides, a debris-free garden looks better.
Keep on weeding. In most climates, you won't need to water until your dahlias are a foot or so high at least. Keeping the watering to the minimum you need to keep the plants healthy and growing is not only cost-effective, but it keeps the slugs and bugs at bay as well.