Dazzling Dahlias

dahlia.jpgNursery shelves are loaded with tubers,
corms, and bulbs these days. It’s a great time to start a lot of
summer-blooming varieties of plants. Some of the showiest are
dahlias. These members of the sunflower family grow from
underground tubers that are dormant during winter months. So in
early spring they can be safely tucked into the ground and will
soon sprout up to be in bloom by midsummer.

Dahlias come in a wide variety of sizes and flower types. There
aresome that grow to more than 6 feet in height, while others
barely top out at a foot. Single and double types abound, from
miniature pompoms to others that are referred to as cactus types
whose petals are rolled and spikey. Flower color also ranges widely
from palest white to deepest orange and red. Many also sport one or
more contrasting shade at their petal tips for some truly
spectacular displays.

Dahlia plants are rather heavy feeders, so a well-prepared
planting hole will produce a strong plant and lots of flowers.
Aficionados of the genus recommend digging a one-foot- deep hole,
mixing a handful of balanced fertilizer in the bottom of the hole,
and adding four inches of plain soil over that. Drive a sturdy
stake the length of the projected height of your particular variety
into the ground and position the tuber a couple inches away from
the stake. Cover the tuber with another three inches of soil and
soak the hole with water to settle. As the sprouts emerge, slowly
add more soil on top until the hole is filled. This soil can be
amended with compost or other composted wood products such as bark
or sawdust. Spacing will depend on the ultimate size of the
variety, anywhere from one foot apart to four or five feet for the
largest ones.

Besides being nice additions to the landscape, dahlias are great
as cut flowers, lasting for a week or more in a vase. Start with a
couple from your local source, but if you find them addictive,
there are specialty and mail-order nurseries that offer many more
from which to choose.

March Tips

• Start warm-season veggies like tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers
now for planting out next month. • Start summer-blooming annuals
for cutting later. These include cosmos, sunflowers, zinnias, and
more. • Prune boxwood, pittosporum, and other evergreen hedges now.
They will soon burst out in new growth. • For worm-free apples,
hang sticky-bottomed, pheromone-laced traps in the trees just
before the blossoms open to capture male codling moths. • Place
yellow sticky cards now to trap whitefly before they become
established.

Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer
your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent,
122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to vahayes@lotusland.org.

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