Tuber Talk

Dahlias for the win

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Around this same time last spring, I wrote of a journey I was about to undertake involving the growing of dahlias and the desire to contribute homegrown flowers to a dear friend’s mid-September wedding.

I’d never grown the plant en masse before, and was a tad wary about my abilities to deliver the blooms for the bride.
Step one, of course, took place when I procured the bulbs. Although I’d done some research before showing up for the Whatcom County Dahlia Society’s annual tuber sale at Bloedel Donovan—which this year takes place Sat., April 7—I wasn’t prepared for the long line of avid gardeners snaking out the door of the community center, and for the astounding array of locally harvested goods to choose from.

Luckily, the bride and groom were with me, and were able to point to the samples that caught their interest. We chose a variety of shapes and hues—from dinner-plate-sized to teeny-tiny, in a rainbow of colors—and were able to secure most of our favorites before they could be cleared out by other dahlia enthusiasts. (Hint: Come early, and with a general idea of what you’re looking for.)

At the time of purchase, we were given both verbal and printed tutorials on growing the plants, and that came in handy throughout the following months. Among the advice I heeded was to hold onto the tubers until temperatures rose. I waited until Mother’s Day weekend, and chose a full-sun spot with freely draining soil. I amended the bed with a few inches of compost, dug holes 4-6 inches deep, and added a layer of bone meal before I covered up the plants.

Another important step was not to water the plants until I saw the first shoots come up, because that could lead to something horrible called “tuber rot.” I took that pointer to heart, and most of the 10 plants I cultivated survived the summer.

I’m happy to report that by the time the nuptials rolled around, an array of red, orange, yellow and purple blossoms from the seven dahlia plants that survived the summer were successfully integrated into the wedding bouquets, in vases of flowers spread throughout the reception, and in boutonnieres for the groomsmen—along with other contributions from throughout our backyard, and from additional friends who also donated their own blooms to the cause.

Sadly, I didn’t correctly follow the instructions about digging up and storing the bulbs for the winter, and none of last spring’s tubers survived. Luckily, I know where to go for more—and who to ask to ensure I’ll be more prepared next fall.

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