JoAnne Skelly: Dazzling dahlias

A dahlia called "Mexico" that looks like a fireworks display.

A dahlia called "Mexico" that looks like a fireworks display.

I recently visited dahlia gardens in Port Gamble, Wash. Dahlias are gorgeous and are diverse in color, shape and size. I saw ruffled dahlias the color of blazing sunsets with tangerine outer edges and deep yellow centers. Some were perfectly round and very contained. One was candy-striped in pink, yellow and white; another, with an almost wild hair look, was tipped with magenta but had white centers. A lovely apricot-colored bloom had a delicate ruffled center. One rose-like dahlia started out deep pink and faded to a pink-tinged white. There were deep red multi-petaled flowers bigger than my hand. A hot-pink flower had fireworks-type structures at its interior tipped with bright yellow.

The American Dahlia Society,, says “if you can grow tomatoes in your garden, you can successfully grow dahlias.” Dahlias require good drainage, and in our hot climate with its desiccating winds, partial sun or wind protection may work best over full sun. Dahlia tubers go in the ground about the same time tomato plants do, when the soil has warmed and frost danger is past. They can be started indoors just as tomato plants are, about a month before outdoor planting time. They grow well in containers.

Dahlias should be staked and it’s a good idea to put the stake in at planting time before the stems and leaves develop. To plant properly, The Society says “Put the tuber in a hole several inches deep with the ‘eye’ on the tuber facing up. The eye is the point on the shoulder, or crown, of the tuber from which the plant grows. If you are planting a number of dahlias in the same location, they should be separated by about 2 feet to give each plant room to grow.”

Dahlias are relatively pest-free, although ground squirrels and rabbits might love them. The Society writes that dahlias “are low on the deer’s list of favorite foods.” Take that with a grain of salt!

Keep soil evenly moist, but never soggy. Fertilize with nitrogen through the middle of the season and then back off to promote flower production. Read more on the Society’s website about how to increase flower size. Dahlias won’t survive a frost, so if you want to keep them for next year, dig them up and store them. You will find storage procedures on the website too.

While it’s too late to plant dahlias this year, their beauty may entice you to plant them next year.

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


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