Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Collection of Strange Dahlia Facts

Shiloh McCabe grows dahlias
like this in Anchorage, Alaska.
Dahlias are among the most popular of garden flowers, and among the most beautiful. (Just look at Lynch Creek Farm's website for evidence of that.)  Almost everyone knows about dahlias, so having at hand a collection of odd and esoteric information about these treasures of the garden can reward you with the reputation of a great conversationalist.

Or an oddball, but we'll go for the former.  Here, then, are some swell conversation-starters:
Sonja Benson shares big
bouquets of her dahlias
with Fairbanks friends.

While dahlias were first found growing wild in Mexico, they are in fact plants that like temperate climates. In fact, dahlias will grow well as far north as inland Alaska. Last year, Shiloh McCabe shared photos of her luscious dahlias grown in Anchorage, Alaska, and 370 miles farther north, Sonja Benson and her fellow dahlia lovers grow beautiful dahlias in Fairbanks, not all that far from the Arctic Circle.

The several species of dahlias, classified as the genus Dahlia, are members of the family Asteraceae in the order Asterales. That's not hard to imagine, since they have a somewhat similar construction. But the order Asterales is part of the class Magnoliopsida, of the division Magnoliophyta. Magnolias? Nah. Magnolias are eventually classified in the same division and class, but at that level the terms just refer to flowering plants.

Yes, dahlia tubers are edible; one of
the first botanists to study
dahlias regarded them as veggies.
Want something a little less cerebral than plant classification? Consider the fact that the Swedish biologist Andreas Dahl, after whom the plant was named, regarded the dahlia as a vegetable rather than a flower to be grown for its beautiful dahlia blossoms. Yes, the tubers are more or less edible, and indigenous peoples of the Americas are said to have used dahlias for medicinal purposes, but once growers discovered the ease with which they could develop varieties of dahlias with stunning blooms, dahlias moved from the kitchen garden to the herbaceous borders of Europe's gardens.
Early dahlias discovered in
Mexico probably looked a bit
like this single, "Baby Red."

Here are some more quirky bits about the history of dahlias: the first European to discover dahlias was a Spaniard, Francisco Hernandez, who was sent by King Philip in 1570 to study the plants of his new-world colony. In 1789, the director of the botanical garden in Mexico City sent dahlias to the Royal Gardens of Madrid, in Spain. It was a staff member there, Antonio Jose Cavarilles, who grew several species of the new plant and named the genus for the Swedish botanist, Dahl. And just to make the international history of the plant more complicated, the first person said to have brought dahlias to England from Spain was named Lady Holland.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Dahlias Will Ship in Time for Planting

Formal decorative dahlia "Audrey Grace," a great
cut flower as well as a fine border addition.
It's hard to wait.

A balmy day in late February can truly feel like spring, and in some parts of the country spring flowers are already in bloom.

No matter where we are, when the sun comes out we're inclined to think it's time to get into the garden, and if we have ordered dahlias from Lynch Creek Farm, we'd like to get our hands on those dahlia tubers. But it may not be time.

The gang at Lynch Creek knows when it's the right time to plant dahlias in various parts of the country, and before long the first dahlias will go out to the mildest growing zones in the country.  As for the rest of us, we just have to go on being patient.

This dahlia fancier chooses "Chimacum Katie."
This kind of prudent approach to shipping dahlia tubers makes good sense.  While our dahlia tubers are in transit, they're subject to the vagaries of the weather, and in much of the country, it's still winter.  Even in mild Western Washington, there's snow and freezing in the forecast this week.  At Lynch Creek Farm headquarters, dahlia tubers are snuggled down in safe conditions.

For many of us, it won't be the right time to plant our dahlia tubers until April or even May.  And so we just have to wait. But we can go to Lynch Creek's website abloom with lovely dahlias.

By the way, if you haven't ordered your dahlia tubers for 2012 yet, time's a-wasting. For the best selection, start now!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Just Getting into Gardening? Grow Some Dahlias!

For a minimal outlay, you can buy enough
dahlia tubers for a glorious garden display.
Newcomers to gardening, rejoice!

There's a flower that's easy to grow, tolerant of a wide range of soils, and affordable in profusion.

And it will produce spectacular blooms in late summer, when many garden flowers have finished blooming or lost their luster.

Dahlias are easy to grow. Anyone can grow dahlias. They don't require pruning or spraying or disbudding. All but the largest-flowered dahlias grow happily without staking. They're relatively disease-resistant, and they don't require quantities of water.

Yes, those are orange dahlias featured
on the cover of this book on what may be
England's most famous garden.
If you've ever gone out in the morning to pick roses only to find that deer have beat you to them, you'll be glad to know that deer aren't fond of dahlias. With careful winter storage, they'll provide flowers year after year for decades.

Dahlias are cost-effective.  A single tuber ($3.50 to $8 in most cases) will not only produce a good-sized plant that will produce quantities of flowers for two months or more, but that tuber will produce a root cluster that can be divided into up to a dozen tubers for the next growing season. You can find beautiful dahlia collections to fill a whole flower bed at substantial savings.

And once you've acquired dahlias, if you care for your tubers over the winter, you'll have flowers for years to come at no additional cost.

Dahlias are magnificent choices for beautiful
wedding flowers.
Dahlias are spectacular in landscaping and produce magnificent cut flowers. Their color range is almost unlimited, ranging from cool pastels to fiery intensity. They are stunning choices as wedding flowers for summer and early-autumn ceremonies and receptions.

Dahlias are a feature of many acclaimed public gardens in Great Britain and Europe, where they provide color in mixed borders. Here in the U.S., they are a staple of home gardens as well as in public gardens like Dahlia Hill in Michigan which showcases this wonderful, hardy garden flower.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Can't Wait to Start Dahlia Season? Check Your Soil

Light, loamy, well-drained soil is the ideal medium for
raising beautiful, healthy dahlias.
Once seed catalogues start arriving and a few sunny days set the birds to singing, it's hard to acknowledge that it will still be a matter of weeks (if you're lucky and live in warm climes) or months (if you're in snow country) before you can start planting dahlias for summer blooms.

But once you've visited Lynch Creek Farm's web site and chosen the dahlias you want to plant, there are things you can do soon to prepare your garden for growing beautiful dahlias. As soon as the soil is thawed enough for you to get a sample of it, you can take it to your local Cooperative Extension office and get it tested for pH. The pH scale is a system of measuring how acidic or basic a material is. It ranges from 0 to 14; a perfectly neutral substance, such as pure water, is 7 on the pH scale. Numbers under 7 are acidic; above 7, they're basic, also referred to as alkaline. Dahlias prefer a slightly acidic soil that measures 6.2 to 6.5 on the pH scale.

To increase the acidity of your soil, if it measures higher than 6.5 pH, you can add aluminum sulfate or iron sulfate to the soil, or you can add a four-inch layer of sphagnum peat moss, available at garden centers, to the soil and till or spade it in to a depth of six inches. This will increase the soil acidity for several years, and also make the soil lighter. Adding sulfur to the soil also helps make it more acid, but it takes sulfur at least a year to affect the soil's pH level.

Dahlias prefer a slightly acidic soil ranging from
6.2 to 6.5 pH for the best foliage and blooms.
If your soil is too acid, you can add ground limestone or hydrated lime. The latter works faster but it's easy to overdo it. Wood ash will also raise the soil's pH. If your soil is acid, it's likely that you have evergreen trees; keeping the ground free of needles will keep the soil from increasing in acidity.

Keep in mind that changing a soil's pH is a slow process and one that must be repeated frequently. The good news is that dahlias are quite tolerant and will grow in a wide range of soils; the pH factor is only one aspect of your soil. Perhaps more important is the type of soil you have.

The folks at Cooperative Extension, who represent your state's land-grant university and usually work with counties or parishes within the state, can also advise you about your soil type. Dahlias prefer a light sandy soil. To make your dahlia tubers happy when you plant them, use amendments such as compost, peat moss, well-aged manure and sand to help lighten heavy soils. If it's still too cold or wet to work your soil, you can at least locate sources for soil enhancers, and go back to dreaming dahlias.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

It's Time for a Winter Check on Your Dahlia Tubers

A healthy dahlia tuber, undivided,
after several months of storage
Your dahlia tubers, carefully dug and probably divided last fall after blooming splendidly in your gardens last summer, are enjoying their long winter's nap.

There's a host of such dahlia bulbs (sometimes referred to as dahlia roots, and correctly, dahlia tubers) at rest in the warehouse at Lynch Creek Farm. Right now, they're being sorted, checked over, and identified for packaging to await the shipping season. Things aren't altogether quiet in the dahlia department at the farm.

Ryan LeDoux packages dahlia
tubers in anticipation of the
coming shipping season.
But at home this time of year, it's easy to forget about your dahlia tubers. How long since you've checked up on them?  Made sure conditions are right for them? Storage temperatures should range between 40° and 50° Fahrenheit (4° to 10° Celsius). Humidity should be about 90 percent.

It's essential that you inspect your tubers regularly to be certain they are weathering their winter storage well. If you haven't looked at them for a month or two, check up on them now.
A swallowtail butterfly enjoys
a formal decorative dahlia at
Lynch Creek Farm.

If the tubers have begun to shrivel, mist them with a fine spray of clean water or immerse them in a bucket of cool water for a few hours. Make sure they are completely dry outside before returning them to the storage medium you're using. Then occasionally mist the area lightly to increase the humidity.

If, on the other hand, the tubers are limp or show signs of mold or rot, isolate them. Get rid of any that are soft; if there's only a small suspicious area, cut it away and keep the tuber isolated from the other, healthy ones. Decrease the temperature and humidity of your storage area. It may be necessary to use a pot of dessicant to reduce the humidity. If the area is too warm you may need to remove the tubers to a cooler area.

The whole point of taking care now is to have beautiful dahlias this summer. Want more flowers? Go to the Lynch Creek Farm website for a look at the beautiful options on sale now for shipping later when the weather's right. Want a chance at free dahlias? Visit the farm's Facebook page and "like" Lynch Creek Farm.  

Monday, February 6, 2012

It's Still Winter, But Spring and Dahlias Will Come

Ice-coated limbs eventually
overloaded and broke
in the ice storm.
Winter hit the Pacific Northwest particularly hard in January. Western Washington, whose winters are usually mild, got slammed with floods, then heavy snow, then the first ice storm in 15 years.

Rose hips shiver in ice
while the farm's dahlia
tubers snuggle indoors.

Ice storms are rare in Lynch Creek Farm's part of the world, and this one arrived on the heels of a heavy snowfall: one to two feet of snow (also rare here). The ice rain lasted for two days. Tree limbs and whole trees toppled under the weight of the accumulated ice and snow.

Naturally, the broken limbs and fallen trees took power lines out left and right. Some South Puget Sound residents and businesses were without power for as much as a week. But Lynch Creek Farm's dahlia tuber storage wasn't seriously affected; the power wasn't out long. And since the ice storm came on a warming trend, the farm's dahlia tubers rested secure, insulated by cedar chips and peat moss.

Weeks of glorious color lie ahead
when dahlias bloom this summer.
Although Punxsatawney Phil spotted his shadow last week, and there are weeks more of winter to get through, it's time to start looking forward to spring, to the planting of dahlia bulbs (actually, dahlia tubers) and the glorious array of summer dahlia flowers they'll produce.

If the days are still a little long and dark, you can think spring by checking out Lynch Creek's displays of great dahlias — dinner-plate dahlias to little pompons, spiky cactus dahlias to tidy mignon singles — and reserve your first choices now.