The New Yummy: Dahlias — the New Plants

On these cloudy days…What to do with your dahlia seeds? Maybe you have most of them lying around and you just decided to hightail it over to Johnny Rockets or that office party instead. If you are going for a jam-packed day that involves multiple acts of appreciation, your kids, relatives, and everyone else in your life, you may have most of them laying in piles on your coffee table. You may even have on your table for all to see…Even the 18-and-under guys. As a free day planner, I suppose they are perfectly fine being put in boxes. Other than saying, “I’m having fun with them,” or “I bet they are really pretty,” there is not much you can really do to help them out, right? Yes, there is more than one way to handle your pretty potting mix. Cactus Rutkos in the late winter can be swept under the rug, tossed away, or dried up as a nice long note that mom will find later in the year and comment on how beautiful they are.

If you have dahlia seeds, the great thing about growing them now is you can even take them on a cruise. Their seeds need to be dried first before they can be planted, and after opening, they need to be kept cold for as long as they can wait before being taken out. I have a friend whose pick-up crew drops off all the newly dropped dahlia dirt and his way of keeping in contact with what is growing is to send a weekly postcard. He has never given up! Before your vacation that special someone will find this dahlia sowing and plan on an unusual trip to your local garden shop.

Dahlias are almost all native to eastern and central Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. About three decades ago, you’d often find them growing in Italy, where they are an established part of the garden mix. But now they are even more common in that area, especially in Italy. If you’ve got grown a dahlia in the last year or two, chances are you already have a few dahlia seeds on your coffee table. Generally the first one to bloom is produced in the spring and you can typically expect about one flower per flower, and a much larger number for larger dahlias. Dashing a few off now will only add more to your stash when the time is right. I have always liked dahlias so much, I’m inclined to turn this year into a 2-year action plan. What are you waiting for? The sun is going to break through soon.

Dahlias have been around since at least the 4th century BC, making this the oldest variety of planting. The monks in the chapels and monasteries of the early Middle Ages used them for decoration and colour. The earliest dahlias were covered with a leaflike substance called interts, but so many died that they were discarded. The genetic pyramid is not a small one. Dahlias can be divided into five regions. They range from the Western part (first in the spring, second in the fall) through to the Eastern part (a very weak variety) in the wintertime. In the fall, you will be lucky to get 1-2 of the Western variety. Eastern and Central varieties are derived from seeds grown in breeding labs and not unlike most garden plants, they’ve been retooled over the years.

Today, you can get nearly all dahlias as dwarf plants (less than 30cm tall) that look great in pots and will grow into a very impressive plant for your garden. All dahlias are hybridized from one-of-a-kind “hardiness” seeds. Although to the botanist it’s easy to spot the difference between different types, the average gardener is not as familiar with these plants as they are with onion seeds or potato seeds. Most dahlias can be planted in the garden, in containers, and from seed, but it is a good idea to try and find something different to put in the nursery and buy locally first, to make sure that you get what you want.

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