This fall flower is a native of Central America, but the Aztec grew them for food and medicine. It wasn’t until the 1800’s that Europeans starting hybridizing this plant for its flowers and now there are over 50,000 named varieties of dahlias.
Yes, you can eat dahlia tubers and leaves, but mostly we grow this plant for its blooms. The variety of flower shapes and colors is astounding. They can be as diminutive as a button, or as large as a dinner plate in almost any color of the rainbow. Dahlias are grouped by flower shapes such as cactus, water lily, and pom-pom.
Some varieties, such as the yellow Bishop of York, feature burgundy colored foliage that looks interesting even when it’s not in bloom. While many dahlias can grow 5 feet tall others, such as Baby Red, only grow one foot tall and look like little zinnias.
Dahlias grow best in full sun on fertile, well-drained soil. They flower from mid summer until frost. Stake or cage large plants, or plants with large flowers, now to keep them from falling over.
For arranging, cut flowers in the morning, place the stems in two inches of hot water, and allow them to cool for an hour. They’ll last for up to one week indoors in a vase.
Once frost has blackened the tops, cut back the plants to the ground. Dahlias aren’t hardy in our area. One week later, dig up the tubers, clean off the soil, and store them in a dark, cool basement in slightly moistened peat moss.