Q: I grow dahlias up in Putnam, Ct. I saw on your website that two exhibitors at your show have won prizes with Penhill Watermelon. I was going to plant a bunch of these this year but am now wondering if I have made a bad choice. Another Connecticut grower has recently disparaged this selection because the colors were all washed out. I did a google of this selection and I saw it received an award somewhere out West in a category classification "under cloth". I'm taking that to mean that it likes shade. My garden is 15 minutes from my house and shade-growing is not practical. I'm beginning to think this shading issue might be why an earlier Penhill Dark Monarch was such a huge disappointment a few years back. It's color was almost completely washed out. Unfortunately, except for the reds, there is almost no mention in catalogs about "shading" needs. Any chance anyone reading this message has a recollection about whether these Penhill Watermelon winners needed shade?
A: Thanks for your interest and question. I'll try to answer. Penhill Watermelon is a bit difficult to grow. Its color can vary greatly and while shading (netting or umbrella) is helpful it doesn't always help. Its blends is not that stable. Yes, most Penhill's require some type of shading to get good color. If shading is not an option I would try yellows or whites in the giant AA sizes. Giant dahlias like Inland Dynasty, Walter Hardisty, Aitara Majesty do well without shade.
Your second question. It's not a myth but the truth and it works both ways. If you refer to the classification book you will note quite a few varieties do well on the West coast but no or few wins here in the East. Likewise some varieties do very well here in the East but are non winners in the West. Here are 2 examples in the same form and color class. 529 CHIMACUM TROY Mini Ball Pr. 107 awards in the West none in the East. 529 ORETI ENVY Mini Ball Pr 28 awards here in the East none in the West. There are 2 ways to keep yourself alerted to this. One is the ADS classification Handbook and the other is contact with your local dahlia society where experienced members can assist. - Steve Nowotarski MIDS
A: The problem here is that you apparently never divided the clump. Each tuber (containing part of the main stem) must be separated before being put in soil. What will happen here is that the clump will send up multiple shoots creating a "dahlia bush", not the desired effect. One tuber - one plant. - Tom Cleere MIDS
A: The reason you have many shoots coming from 1 clump is that you planted the clump rather than dividing it. A good rule is 1 tuber with a growing eye. It is quite possible that clump you planted had several tubers with eyes. Each eye will send up a shoot. If the clump was from your garden last year it is best to place the clump in some potting soil (damp) and wait for the eyes to start growing. This makes it much easier to dived the clump. Today I worked on a clump from my last years garden and it had been in a tray with potting soil in a warm part of my house (on top of my hot water heater) I was able to remove 6 tubers with growing eyes which translates to six plants in my garden. There are still about 4 more noticeable eyes on the clump that I will let grow awhile before I separate them. Looks like 10 plants from one clump.
Q: Some of the tubers I have sitting in soil now have sprouts that will be rather tall before it is time to put them in the ground. Yes, I have already pinched off the center. Do you suggest I try to put them in the ground the middle of May, or hold out until June, when we are sure to be frost-free? Has anyone ever tried to put out a dahlia plant with a row cover on it in mid-May?
A: I have many tubers with the same situation. After pinching out the center, I pot them up in an 8" plastic pot. I try to keep them as cool as possible. Planting out now is only inviting trouble the ground is too cold and too wet. To plant out before the ground warms up to 70 is just asking for rot. Right now mine are on the patio, in pots but one needs to watch the weather forecast. I find that keeping them cool restricts the fast growth until I am ready to plant out late May early June in my area. I have thought about row covers somewhat like a cold frame but don't know anyone who has tried it, maybe next year. - Steve Nowotarski MIDS
Q: I have cut off some sprouts on tubers that have sent up multiple shoots. I have followed your directions to try to root them. Assuming I am successful, when I plant them in the garden, how deep should I try to bury the cutting?
A: I plant my cuttings when rooted very much like tomatoes. I try for 2 sets of leaves above the soil line. The axial where I removed the leaves produce some of my best tubers next fall. - Steve Nowotarski MIDS
Q: I have seedlings that are three weeks old and about 3" tall growing under grow lights. These are seeds I bought from Thompson and Morgan in two packages marked "Giant" and "Cactus" So far the giant ones are smaller than the cactus seedlings. My question is what and how much to feed them and when to move outside. I live in zone 8 in the Seattle area. I have been growing dahlias for several years but this is my first adventure with seeds. Any advice would be very much appreciated as I have become fond of these little devils. Have not lost any so far.
A: Welcome to the world of seedlings, one of the most fun parts of dahlia growing. It's just like a box of Cracker Jacks, never know what the prize is. If you seeds are growing well carefully transfer them to 3" peat pots or just any 3-4" pot filled with a good potting soil. I usually water well after transfer with 1/2 strength liquid fertilizer. Using a week solution often is better than a heavy application. I would do this in the evening to give the little guys a chance to recoup at night. After they settle down and show more growth (about 4-5 days) it's time to harden them off OUT of direct sun. If it gets cold then bring inside at night. Once the soil warms to 70 you can plant out. Don't worry about size of plants at this time. Plant size has little to do with flower size. Have fun and let us know you results. - Steve Nowotarski MIDS
A: The new dahlias should be treated like seedlings of any other plant. If fertilization is necessary, use 1/4 to 1/2 strength, as too strong a dosage will kill tender plants. Seedlings must be "hardened off".........slowly adapting to outside temperature, sun and wind. When planting choose an overcast day so not to expose to harsh and drying sun. Keep watered well for first two weeks. Basically you follow the same course of care as with any plant grown from seed. Dahlias grown from seed will flower this year and form tubers by fall. Good luck! - Tom Cleere MIDS
Q: I harvested my Dahlia tubers last fall, for the first time, now I find after being stored all winter that they are dry and shrivled. Should I soak them. Are they any good? Any advice you can give will be greatly appreciated, for I love this flower.
A: It all depends on how shriveled and dry they are. I would first cut a tuber in half and see if there is any soft tissue. If there isn't nothing can help. On the bright side if there is some life we can bring the tuber back. Using some moist (not wet) potting soil in a tray, place the whole tuber under the soil but leave the crown out of the soil. If they are to live it will take a few weeks to get some sprouts so be patient. Light is not as important as heat (bottom heat, like on the hot water heater). Keep soil moist and just maybe the tubers will make it. Watch our web site next fall as we will address this problem of proper storage with lots of "how to" pictures. - Steve Nowotarski MIDS
Q: I checked my boxes of Dahlias, Cannas, and Amaryllis this afternoon. I had dug them up, washed them off, dusted them and wrapped them last fall. I live in zone 5 in Southern Ontario and we expect our last spring frost to be in early June along with the full moon then.
A: Glad you had such a wonderful display of dahlias last year. As to your question, I always start my tubers in April in my house. I like to get them started to be sure they are good and alive after a cold winter. About the 1st week of April I unpack them and remove any rot. If you stored the whole clump I would place the clump in a tray with some moist (not wet) potting soil and wait for the growing eyes to break through. Then with a sharp knife I separate the tuber with the growing eye from the clump. A little Sulfur powder on the cut will prevent any rot. I then place this tuber in a 6" pot with the growing sprout just below the soil line. Keep it moist in a warm sunny spot in the house. As you approach your planting time harden these plants off by placing them outside during sunny days and bring back in at night.
Q: I've had some tubers sitting in shallow potting soil (very shallow) and some have a good deal of growth. My ? is how do I plant them. some are only 2-3 inches and others are 6-8. Should the growing tip be above soil line or does it not make a difference. And should I take off the leaves. I am planning on putting most in the ground and only a few in pots.A: Your tubers showing significant growth can be tranferred to pots at this time. The tuber should be 4" under the soil level (even though you are covering growing stem). It's too early to consider planting outside (wait until end of May). Other than making cuttings there is minimal advantages to starting tubers early. Unless you possess ability to care for plants until late May, my suggestion would be to make your tuber/plant purchases at our June meeting. Looking forward to hearing your success stories later this year. - Tom Cleere MIDS
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