Monday, June 25, 2012

Dahlias Growing Strong at Lynch Creek Farm

Dahlia plants are up and flourishing at Lynch Creek Farm.
Photo by Evé Munguia.
It's an interesting dahlia-growing season in South Puget Sound this year.

Lynch Creek Farm's dahlia tubers went in right on time (right on time for a cool spring, that is) in late May, and a month later, the plants are up and growing.

The sturdy and lush, shouldering up in their tidy rows, benefiting from moderate temperatures and frequent showers and lots of attention from the crew.

A few of the dahlias at the Farm are showing
off with early blooms. Photo by Evé.
Given their planting date, the gang at Lynch Creek would expect the earliest blooms to open about a month from now, early in the fourth week of July. Strangely enough, on some of the dahlia varieties growing at the Farm, the first blooms have already appeared. That's something of an anomaly.

Ordinarily, dahlia flower buds don't form until the plants are well formed and approaching their normal height. But this  year, some buds are opening on plants a foot or so high.

Maybe it's the moon, or some combination of temperature and light. Whatever the case, the plants are looking great and flourishing. And this little late-June preview of the blooming season, while it's strange, is a delightful harbinger of beautiful dahlia flowers to come.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Of dahlias, snails, slugs and eggshells

Snails think dahlias make a lovely lunch.
     Once again, with newly planted dahlias just up or due to emerge from the ground, it's time to find ways to combat those kings of the dahlia pests, hungry slugs and snails.
     With a reservoir nearby and ivy all along one property border, our garden's a sitting duck for these wretched mollusks. Last year, I had good luck planting my dahlias in pots and topping them up with a good, thick layer of coarsely crushed eggshells.

     Sad to say, a gardening buddy took note and, as I do, saved eggshells all winter to protect his garden against snails and slugs. He set out a nice row of cabbages and covered the ground around it with a hefty layer of eggshells. The next morning, he went out to gaze proudly at his garden and found that all but three of his cabbages had been reduced to stubs.

Eggshell topping kept this pot of dahlias slug-free.
     The problem, he realized, was that he'd prepared the ground for planting with a nice compost mulch. The slugs had probably been snoozing in the mulch, just waiting for him to infuse the area with breakfast.

     The job when you're growing dahlias,  then, is to try to make sure that your composted soil and mulch are slug-free at planting time: no easy task, since even if you eliminate any slugs from the composter, there's a likelihood that there can be eggs that will hatch later and produce tiny, but voracious, junior slugs and snails.

     One inventive gardener we know puts tubs of his compost into the barbecue and heats them to kill any lurking slugs, snails or eggs. It works well, but don't try using the oven; the smell is appalling. (My mother once tried that to sterilize potting soil for her petunias.) It's also pretty labor-intensive for a large garden area.  Your best bet is to plant in rich soil but wait to add mulch until your dahlia plants have gained at least half their height and their stems have begun to harden off. Avoid over-watering. And a barrier of eggshells around your dahlias, and especially between their bed and any ground covers or other haven for slugs and snails will help too.