Outdoors

Dahlia Deluge

Blooms for a bride

Attend

What: Dahlia Tuber Sale

When: 10 am Sat., Apr. 1

Where: Bloedel Donovan, 2214 Electric Ave.

Info: http://www.whatcomcountydahliasociety.org

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

I’m a relatively confident gardener, so when one of my dearest friends asked me to dedicate some space in my summer garden to grow enough dahlias to beautify her mid-September wedding, I quickly replied in the affirmative.

It wasn’t long before I started questioning my decision.

I’ve grown plenty of dahlias in my life, but in retrospect I realized that only about one out of three specimens have thrived. Some faltered for obvious reasons—they were planted too close together or were set in plots that didn’t receive the recommended eight hours of full sun—but others petered out before reaching maturity with no identifiable explanation.

In advance of the Whatcom County Dahlia Society’s annual tuber sale taking place Sat., April 1 at Bloedel Donovan, I realized I needed to gather more insider information before digging holes and putting a single tuber in the ground. After all, a wedding (and my reputation as a green thumb) was at stake.

First, I left a post on the Whatcom County Gardeners’ Facebook page asking if members had tricks for making sure the flowers thrived. They did. I was advised to hold onto any tubers I purchased until temperatures rose; one commenter suggested waiting until lilacs were in bloom, while another said she never planted them until Mother’s Day. I also learned dahlias are more site-dependent than I realized, and got an offer from a woman who used to grow more than 300 varieties to suss out my backyard to locate a place for “optimal growth” (I’ll contact you soon, Jamie).

Other tips included adding bone meal to the tubers when digging, not watering the plants until they start to sprout out of the ground, making sure to patrol young shoots for slugs and snails on a nightly basis, going to meetings on the topic—Whatcom County Dahlia Society’s next gathering happens at 7pm Mon., April 3 at the Laurel Community Grange; and at 4pm Wed., April 5, and 10am Sat., April 8, Blaine Community Orchards for Resources and Education will talk about how to have dahlias blooming from July through November—and checking out a blog on the topic by Mount Vernon’s Floret Flower Farm (http://www.floretflowers.com).

I did, and gleaned that I should select garden spots with freely draining soil, amend beds with two to four inches of good compost or manure, dig holes 4-6 inches deep, consistently water the plants—but again, not before I see the first shoots, because it can lead to tuber rot—and to snip out three or four inches of the growing center when the plants are a foot tall to encourage low “basal branching,” which apparently increases flower production and overall stem length.

Armed with this newfound knowledge, I now feel more confident about attending this weekend’s tuber sale. And when I ask the Whatcom County Dahlia Society gardeners a few more questions, I’ll have a much better idea of what they’re talking about.

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