Dahlias -Overwintering Dilemmas- 19 November 2019

I’m not usually a ditherer. I have a plan of action and I just get on with it. But the weather this autumn has put a spanner in the works. Unprecedented amounts of rain mean we are five weeks behind schedule with all jobs in the garden. And I am only now managing to sort out and store my precious dahlia collection.

This year, I’ve decided to leave half in the ground – in a raised bed with free-draining soil- and bring half indoors. This way, I’ve cut my losses. I’ll have some plants indoors to take cuttings from next spring, even if the ones outdoors fail to survive.

Here’s what I’ve done with the ‘outdoor’ dahlias:

OVERWINTERING DAHLIAS IN THE GROUND

1. I’ve waited until all the foliage has been blackened by frost. This sends the plant instructions to go into dormancy.

2. I’ve removed half of the foliage and dead flower heads. The remaining foliage has been folded over to cover the plant. Stems are hollow, so if you cut back stems and leave them upright they act like straws, directing rainwater down to the tuber.

3. I’ve put a 3″ deep mulch of compost over the tubers, followed by 6″ of dry leaves or straw.

4. Dahlias need to be kept dry and frost free, so I’ve covered the bed with some cloches, and packed the ends with dried leaves. These 1.3m by 3m beds are mounded up like ridge and furrow farm land. They are no-dig which also seems to aid drainage over winter by protecting the soil structure. No-dig basically means adding a few inches of compost every time you harvest a crop, and simply re-planting through the compost. No back-breaking digging is required.

LIFTING DAHLIAS FOR INDOOR STORAGE

For my indoor ‘insurance policy’ dahlias I’ve done the following:

1. Waited until the frost has blacked the foliage. Checked the soil. It is like suet pudding, wet and claggy. Heavy clay. This is an area of garden due a lot of compost mulch over the winter.

2. I’ve gently dug out the dahlias, being careful not to bruise them. Wounds are vulnerable to rotting, so care needs to be taken.

3. I’ve cut the stems back to 3″ and turned the tubers upside down to drain. They will go into a frost free potting shed.

4. When drained, I’ll store the tubers in dry vermiculite, straw, or compost, in the dark, under the potting shed table. Temperatures need to be 2-3C. Dahlias will survive a few degrees of frost- if they are dry. If it gets very cold, I’ll throw some fleece or old blankets over the tubers.

In February, I’ll place the tubers in seed trays of compost in gentle heat to bring them back to life. When they have shoots 1″ tall, I will split the large tubers in half with a sharp knife, making sure both halves have some stem.

I’ll also take basal softwood cuttings when shoots are 1″ tall, using a sharp knife and taking a small sliver of tuber with the cutting. These will be grown on in a frost free greenhouse and planted out end of May. Cuttings will make good size tubers and will flower in one season.

You can lift and save tubers from seed-grown dahlias as well. Just save the best ones, as seed produces very variable results.

Which option are you taking with your dahlias?

A BIT ABOUT HISTORY

It’s fascinating to hear that dahlias have been grown in Europe for 200 years. They originally came from Mexico and were grown in the botanic gardens in Madrid towards the end of the 18th century.

Dahlias are named after Andreas Dahl, a Swedish botanist, scientist and environmentalist. Plants come in every colour -apart from blue! The smallest are the Lilliput Series and the largest are dinner plate sized, a foot in diameter.

Dahlias are categorised by their appearance; there are waterlily, Pompom, collarette and cactus types. Something for everyone, really.

Here’s some of my favourites from my cut flower garden.

Arabian Night. Deep, dark velvety red. A stunning dahlia for cut flower work.

Nuit de’Ete, a lovely deep red cactus type. Lasts two weeks in a vase.

Nuit de’Ete amongst cosmos, persicaria and Ammi.

An pretty un-named variety grown from a packet of seed. Single flowers are much loved by bees and butterflies.

Dahlia David Howard. The best orange variety. Strong growing with long lasting flowers. Very beautiful in low autumn sunshine.

A very good book on dahlias has been written by Naomi Slade. Highly recommended. Just beautiful to sit and peruse over the cold winter months to come. When we will all need something cheerful to look at.

There’s a review of the book here : https://bramblegarden.com/2018/06/24/dahlias-beautiful-varieties-for-home-and-garden/

My dahlia tubers come from Gee Tee Bulbs: https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/dahlias

Links: National Dahlia Society: https://www.dahlia-nds.co.uk/

In a Vase on Monday ( although this is Tuesday- I still like to join in when I can ) https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/category/gardens/in-a-vase-on-monday/

Follow me on twitter @kgimson

On instagram at karengimson1

Thank you for reading. Please leave a comment below and let me know what you are growing in your garden at the moment.

And, a photo I haven’t shared before. A picture of my mother in law Joan. Regular readers will know that I grow my cut flowers to keep a connection with Joan. It’s something we both love and it’s a way of sharing my garden with her now she is living in a care home.

In a Vase on Thursday 10th October 2019

Rich Venetian shades. Just the joy we need for October days. Temperatures are dipping and nights drawing in, but the cut flower patch is blazing with colour.

Dahlia Nuit d’Ete is flowering well, standing up to the wind and the rain. We had the wettest September for 20 years. And October doesn’t look like it’s getting any drier. We’ve had 134mm of rain in ten days. That amount usually falls in two and a half months! With swamp-like conditions it’s impossible to work on the borders. Luckily my cut flower patch is divided by little slabbed paths, so I never need to step on the soil.

Alstroemeria Laguna and Serenade

In amongst the dahlias there’s pink and red alstroemerias grown in pots. If you pull the flower stems out of the compost when you pick them, more blooms will follow. Pull instead of cut is the message. It seems destructive, but promotes further flowering. These are tall varieties suitable for cutting. I accidentally bought some dwarf types once, which looked pretty in the borders, but were hopeless for flower arranging. So take care when choosing plants.

Dahlia Arabian Night

An old favourite I’ve grown for years. Very reliable and doesn’t seem troubled by rain and wind. Earwigs don’t seem to go for the darker shades, preferring the whites and pale-flowered dahlias. If your plants are being nibbled by earwigs, place upturned pots of straw or corrugated cardboard on canes near the flowers. In the morning you can tip the earwigs and their bedding into a wildlife corner, or amongst fruit trees. Earwigs are voracious predators of aphids and vine weevils. Worth relocating away from your dahlias.

Amaranthus cordatus

Love lies bleeding. An easy to grow annual. Produces pendant tassel-like flowers. It’s also known as velvet flower, foxtail and prince’s feather. Sow seeds in half seed trays in March/April. Prick out seedlings into 9cm pots or full seed trays and plant out after frosts. Flowers all summer until the end of October and sometimes into November, depending on temperatures.

Penstemon Plum Jerkum.

A short-lived perennial. This came as a cutting from a friend. It’s a good idea to take insurance-policy cuttings in late summer. These plants are not totally hardy. It’s the winter wet that defeats them, so plant in well drained soil in full sun and protect from the worst of the weather with fleece. Take cuttings in July and August from non-flowering shoots. Cut below a pair of leaves, where there’s a concentration of hormones to promote rooting. Remove all but the top two leaves. Place the cuttings around the edges of a 9cm pot filled with 50/ 50 horticultural grit and compost. The edges of the pot provide the most free draining position for the cuttings, which helps roots to form.

Verbena Bonariensis

Another short-lived perennial requiring a sunny spot in well-drained soil. I lost all my plants in the Beast for the East big freeze last year. Luckily, it grows really well from seed and cuttings. Sow seed in the spring in half trays and prick out, as above. Or take cuttings in late summer. There are tiny side shoots just above a pair of leaves. Gently pull these down and you will have a short cutting.

Aeonium Zwartkop

Aeoniums are evergreen succulents with a shrubby growth habit. My plants collapsed in the wind and some of the stems broke off. They make a lovely, unusual addition to flower arrangements. It’s all about using what you’ve got in the garden. When I take the posy apart, I’ll cut the bottom few inches from the stems and stick them in a pot of very gritty compost. Kept frost free, the cuttings will readily root and I’ll have new plants to stand out on the patio next summer.

Trifolium pratense red clover

The lovely pink rounded flower on the left is just common clover. This year I grew a patch of wild flower meadow in a raised windowbox on legs. I’m always saying you don’t need acres of land to grow food, flowers, and veg. So I put it to the test. It worked a treat. I filled the containers with Dalefoot seed compost and sowed seeds direct in spring. Red clover flowered all summer, alongside blue harebells, yellow birds foot trefoil, scabious, corncockle, and vipers bugloss. It’s been a joy to watch bees, hoverflies and butterflies visiting my little patch of “meadow.”

Nicotiana mutabilis.

The pretty tubular flowers are colour-changing tobacco plants. These were sown and planted last year. They self-sowed over the winter, and have come up stronger and more beautiful this summer. I’m hoping they will do the same for next year, but I’ve saved seed and sown some more, just in case. Stems grow to 1.5m and produce clouds of trumpet-like flowers. They change colour as they age through various shades of white, pink and lilac. Glorious, and highly recommended. I’ll never be without it now I’ve seen it flower all summer long.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my Venetian shades bouquet, photographed on a windswept day in the garden. Golden beech tree leaves were swirling past my head as I was tying up the flowers. It seems autumn is on a fast forward setting. What is it like in your garden right now?

Links: I love to join in with Cathy’s In a Vase on Monday meme. But Mondays are my busiest working day. So I’m just going to post photos when I can. I’ll be reading all your posts when I get home from work.

IAVOM : https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/category/gardens/in-a-vase-on-monday/

Dahlias : https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/search-results?s=Dahlias+

Alstroemerias: http://www.postalplants.co.uk/catalogue.asp

Amaranthus :https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Amaranthus-Love-Lies-Bleeding-Seeds.html

Penstemon : https://www.rhs.org.uk/Plants/162416/Penstemon-Pensham-Plum-Jerkum-(Pensham-Series)/Details

Verbena Bonariensis; https://higgledygarden.com/2011/11/21/verbena-bonariensis/

Aeonium: https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/details%3Fplantid%3D64

I’m @kgimson on twitter and karengimson1 on instagram. Please feel free to share this post, linking back to bramblegarden.com

In a Vase on Monday 11th February 2019

Spring flowers and a silver birch wreath. A honey -scented display for the summerhouse today.

Arriving home late from work, I’ve run round the garden and picked a few spring flowers to decorate the wreath.

This week, tete-a-tete narcissi and Iris Eye Catcher join the snowdrops in my display. I can report, the little test tubes I mentioned last week are working a treat. The double snowdrops have lasted seven days.

The test tubes arrived attached to a bouquet of orchids, a gift from a friend. As usual, I put them in the potting shed until I’ve thought of a use for them. We are all trying to manage without oasis florists foam, which is not recyclable and adds to pollution.

I twist a wire around the top of the test tube and press it into the twiggy wreath. It stays there securely, despite high winds. Storm Erik bashed the garden, but didn’t damage the display- with the summerhouse turned to face the shelter of the trees. I patch in some emerald green moss and fresh ivy to hide the workings.

Here’s where the flowers are growing, in the wild garden under beech, oak and cherry trees.

Double snowdrops came from Hodsock Priory. Singles, Galanthus nivalis, from Easton Walled Gardens.

Yellow aconites are finally starting to spread. They are slow to establish and like lots of leafmould.

I finish the day walking down the lane to pick willow stems for valentine hearts. And joy! The first lamb, born today. What a lovely surprise, and I’m glad it is a glorious sunny day. Not like last year, when they arrived in a snowstorm. Today is a good day to be born. I stand for a while watching the tiny lamb find its feet. Within minutes it’s jumping, all four feet off the ground. A sight I’ll never tire of, and another sure sign spring is not far away.

Links:

IAVOM with Cathy https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2019/02/11/in-a-vase-on-monday-and-so-it-goes/

Easton Walled Gardens https://www.visiteaston.co.uk/

Hodsock Priory http://www.hodsockpriory.com/

Yellow aconites https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/eranthis/eranthis-hyemalis

Floristry supplies Googies Flower Shop https://en-gb.facebook.com/googiesflowers/

Last week’s IAVOM https://bramblegarden.com/2019/02/04/in-a-vase-on-monday-february-4th-2019/