Dahlias for beginners

STL_noviceJanuary 11, 2012

Just moved from Kansas City to St. Louis, MO, though originally from here. In Kansas City I had a garden that I had been working on for a few years, but due to financial reasons I had to leave my house and move back to St. Louis to recoup and be closer to family. Losing the house was one thing, but losing the garden was a huge blow (this could be a topic all on its own.) I was always a bargain plant shopper and last July I picked up a strange little half dead plant at an Ace Hardware. It was on the mostly dead plant sale rack. I paid a dollar for it and put it in the ground. At first I thought it was a peony, but as it grew it turned out to be a Dahlia, the first one I have ever grown. It was a short plant with roughly 3 inch flowers, but by the end of summer it has sprawled out and was covered in violet/purple blooms. It was a flowering machine. Now I am living in an apartment, but the landlord allows gardening in the back yard. I have been thinking about doing a small annual bed and the idea of planting Dahlias keeps popping in my head. I have been doing a little research and I never knew Dahlias came in so many different shapes and sizes and colors. The yard is a blank slate, good southern exposure and probably terrible soil. Where do I begin? Thanks for any advice you can offer!!!

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I'd go to Swan Island dahlias in Oregon. They have both a catalog they will send you, or you can go to their website to look at the 340+ varieties they sell. I bought from them last year, and all tubers but 1 grew healthy.

I'd avoid Dan's Dahlias, as I had a bad experience there.

Usually you will find better varieties from these Western US growers than you will find in your local garden centers.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2012 at 5:30PM
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I notice the tuber sale list on the Colorado Dahlia Society list shows a dahlia society with a tuber sale in St Louis. http://www.dahlias.net/adscontacts.htm . Tubers purchased at a tuber sale are more the price to learn with, PLUS you'll get lots of good advice.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2012 at 9:21PM
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Hello STL,
for an easy first Dahlia season you could go for shorter varieties with single, semi double or smaller flowers, so you don't need to stake. And if you suspect the soil to be poor, perhaps just start with few Dahlias and direct sow something like Marygolds (TAgetes patula, tall, single ones) around them. So you could improve the soil by digging all plant matter into the soil at the end of the season. And if the Dahlias do well, then go for more/fancier ones next season. Before we got an allotment I grew short Dahlias in window boxes and they were pretty tough.

Have fun with your new delight, bye, Lin

    Bookmark   January 12, 2012 at 2:40AM
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Thanks for the information! I checked out Swan Island, ordered the catalog. I also looked into the St. Louis Dahlia Society, but their website has been down for maintenance. I did find that they are holding a Dahlia sale at the Missouri Botanical Gardens in May....Are Marigolds easy to direct sow? Is it possible to direct sow dahlias? I never focused too much on annual flowers before. When I had the space I focused more on perennials and veggies, but I always found that I liked the annuals more when I did plant them. I guess it's the way they just produce and produce. A mix of both is good. Also, now that I am in a space that isn't mine I would prefer to just focus on things that I can enjoy for this year, save the seeds and plant again next year someplace else if I have to.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2012 at 5:19PM
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STL, I'm also a pretty novice gardener...live next to Kansas City now but used to live in St. Louis. I came to dahlias by way of Mystic "Illusion" found in a local nursery. It's much shorter than most of the dahlias and has black/purple foliage. I've been growing them for two years in a half barrel, this winter I tried storing the tubers (fingers crossed, haven't had the courage to check on them yet). I know my apt in StL had AWFUL soil so maybe one of the smaller varieties would be good to start with. Boy, I wish I could go to the MO Botanical Garden sale...miss that place!

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 9:44PM
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steve22802(7a VA)

STL_novice, some of the mail order companies are indeed good and I've had good results ordering from Swan Island, but mail order in general tends to be expensive and can be hit or miss on quality depending on the company. For a novice I would actually recommend just going to Walmart or Lowes and getting whatever they have in packages. Often the packages are transparent and you can sometimes find tubers that are already sprouting in the package so you know they are viable. The varieties will be very limited but for a novice this isn't such a big deal. I've had great success with Arabian Night, Kelvin Floodlight, Akita, and Onesta from chain stores. Plus if they don't sprout the chains are good about giving you replacements or refunds. Once you get hooked you can always explore the near limitless varieties in the catalogs.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 9:52AM
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