Flower of the week from YOUR garden to YOUR table: 17th Oct. – 23rd Oct.
Be quick, be nimble, and cut as many of these flowers as you can because the nights are getting colder! We have already experienced nights of 6oC and no one can rule out a touch of frost during the next fortnight. All we need is one night of frost and the next morning I visit my allotment and find a mass of brown leaves instead of the lovely flowers that were there the day before. It is such a pity that I don’t live on the coast or somewhere where the frosts do not hit so early. What disturbs me most is that during the past few years we have had a cold spell for a couple of nights during the beginning of November, and then the temperature stays above freezing till January, can’t the weather just miss out this week and allow me to enjoy my flowers for another few months? The flower that the frost has an immediate effect on is the beautiful dahlia, so collect them quick for internal decoration.
Botanical Name: Dahlia. Common Name: Dahlia.
The Dahlia needs no introduction, it can be planted in gardens or allotments, and if you really get hooked on this flower you can become a dahlia enthusiast and your hobby will produce dividends of winning prizes at the local show.
Cultivation and buying guide:
The dahlia remains a dormant tuber during the Winter and this is the way it is sold in garden centres and by mail order companies. The flowers range from single to double, from paeony flowered to decorative from cactus to pompon, the choice and variation never ends. These tubers are usually planted up in a greenhouse in good quality compost during the spring and when all risks of frosts are over, they are planted outside. The enthusiast will buy only a named variety and to increase their stock, the tubers are planted in early spring and the first growth will be severed and planted up singly in pots. If you are not looking for anything in particular, just buy any tuber of a variety that you fancy the colour and size. J. Parkers have a very good selection in their mail order catalogue including their huge ‘dinner plate‘ dahlias, although your final ‘dinner plate’ size will actually depend on how well you feed it.
I find it easier to plant each tuber in a bottomless pot and then drop the whole plant with its compost in a pre-dug hole in the soil. As each plant will grow to around 90 cm tall and will need at least a 60cm diameter circle; until the plant grows to this size to avoid the need to weed around it, I planted the dahlias in holes surrounded by weed suppressing material as the picture shows. One can also plant the tubers straight in the border at the end of spring but this will delay flowering as they take time to throw up a good load of green before they flower. A strict scheme of protection from slugs will also be needed for the soft foliage, as young dahlia shoots are their delicacy.
They begin flowering in July and continue until the first frosts. Looking at my dahlia plants at this time of year breaks my heart as I pity the plants that have still so many unopened buds and I know that the frost will get them before they will open!
Once the frost has killed the upper growth, its time to dig out the tubers and leave them upside down to dry out, often the tubers have grown so large that it is a difficult dig! If they are put away for the winter before they are totally dry they will rot in store. If the tubers are very large they can be slit from each other as long as each has a stem rising from it otherwise it will not grow next year. When dry, they must be stored in a frost free place; a cellar is ideal but the shed in the allotment might be suitable if insulated. It is worth trying to keep the tubers over winter, but if you don’t succeed you can always replenish your stock, as tubers are not so expensive, if you look at the picture and consider how much plant material you are getting from one tuber!