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Learning all about dahlias

October 16, 2012
By ESTHER MCCOY - Staff writer , The Herald-Star

Edna Walley of DiGregory's Greenhouse and Garden Center, was the guest speaker at the dinner meeting of the Woodland Garden Club.

With a topic on "Dahlias for the Home Landscape," Walley brought a gigantic vase of dahlias of various colors and species.

"October is good dahlia growing season until the temperature goes to 30 degrees or below, then they start dropping their heads," she told members at the covered-dish turkey dinner.

Article Photos

Edna Walley with a vase of her dahlias
-- Esther McCoy

The 1600s Spanish Conquistador founded them, and they were brought to England, where about 10,000 varieties were produced, with sizes ranging from giant, up to 12 inches; large; medium; miniature; ball; mini-ball; and minion, about 2 inches in size, she noted.

"Many instructions will state that dahlias must be fertilized, but you get lots of leaves that way. I use composts and manure at the end of the year. I have a small yard and sacrifice size on dahlias because of this," she said.

"I take them to hospitals and nursing homes and to those celebrating birthdays and for thank-you presents," Walley said.

In separating tubers at the end of the year or at the start of a growing season, it is necessary to have an eye for it to grow. These are where the stock is attached to the ground.

Her planting season begins in April when she puts the tubers in round, plastic containers with a layer of top soil, a layer of peat moss and a layer of manure. On cold evenings, the containers are placed on a wheeled cart and brought into the garage in the evening. In May, she has dahlias with leaves, and they can be transferred to the ground.

"Don't water tubers until the first leaves appear. When they grow to four sets of leaves, pinch back the top. Pinching back one set will make for large flowers, two sets will produce medium and three sets will produce smaller ones. Pinching off side buds and leaves will get even larger flowers, it was noted.

Walley has about 60 dahlias in bloom in her small yard in the summer. She likes pink, purple and white together and has now added yellow.

"It is necessary to name and stake each tuber or write on the tuber or else you will have junk dahlias, not knowing the color when it is planted. The stakes should be two feet taller than the dahlias," she said.

Dahlias are a tropical plant and should be dug up each year before cold weather hits, although she said her mother's are planted near the foundation of the house that is painted black and holds in the warmth. Most come back the next year, she noted.

Digging up the tubers must wait until there have been two good, hard frosts and the leaves have turned black. The foliage needs to be cut to 6 to 8 inches and then the tuber dug up 1 foot around the circumference and deep enough to completely remove it.

Let them sit for a few hours and then remove the dirt, then hose them off and let dry.

Cucumber beetles love dahlias and will drill holes in them, and wasps will carry sap from the stems back to their nest. Red spider mites will make a plant look sickly. If this happens, pull off the bottom leaves.

"You don't want to have them ruined, tubers are expensive now. Years ago they were inexpensive but now you pay up to $16 for three tubers.

"To store them after drying out, line a box with newspaper and layer the tubers, not letting them touch. They can be divided before putting away or in the spring. There is one problem in the fall, you can't find the eyes. This is when you just cut the tuber in half. I have so many in the spring, I just give them away,' she said.

Walley passed out information sheets on proper planting of dahlias and the types of flowers.

Arjenta Mansfield gave the invocation before the dinner.

Following an inspirational message entitled "Autumn's Glory" by Carole Patton, President Verna Smolinsky led the business meeting. Members were reminded of upcoming meetings, including the Region 12 Fall meeting on Saturday at the Hopedale Fire Hall, beginning at 8:30 a.m.

Eleanor Drazich and Elaine Wukelic gave an update on the work day at the Jefferson County Fair Grounds, where they did landscaping at the building used for the Region 12 Garden Club display.

Program books for the 2012-13 club year were distributed and reviewed.

Nancy Liggett offered the garden tip - that snow is good for the garden, trapping air and producing a layer of ice that makes a great insulator for garden plants. It is best to leave the piles of snow on the plants.

Norma Harris will provide a demonstration for making a fall arrangement at the next meeting on Nov. 1.

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