How to get the best color out of dahlias?

TruNorth7(8b (SF Bay Area))June 19, 2012

Hey there,

I'm popping over from the Plumeria forum to find out how to get the best color out of my dahlias.

For plumeria, we want HEAT and humidity to have darker blooms, but my dahlias are not responding similarly. I have a few "Hawaii" tubers that, rather than having the swirls of pink and orange, are yellow with white tips once fully open, though buds have tinges of pink.

They came from a very reputable nursery, so I'm not concerned I got the wrong variety. Any particular fertilizer? All the dahlias I've grown in the past have had great color... just not this one.


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I can tell you that I grew some beautiful dahlias last year, and last year saw record heat and humidity in our area! It was over 90 to over 100 F just about every day in June and July, and often very humid too. In August it was usually in the mid-upper 80's, same in September. But I got beautiful flowers on all 7 varieties.

I just used good mixed soil, a moderate amount of fertilizer, and I kept them watered. That and I started out with quality tubers bought from dahlia growers like Swan Island. Thats very important. We even had 2 hurricanes blow through, which dumped like 10+ inches of rain each in September.

I'm forced to grow my 17 varieties in pots this year, so i hope I have good results this year.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 12:58AM
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^^Another thing, when I went to order my tubers online from the western growers last year, I had already looked through the online catalog at the pictures of each flower, which was how I picked the varieties I chose.

But when my order arrived, they sent me a physical paper catalog, which was much more convenient. I went through there, and wrote down the varieties I planned on buying this year, based on the catalog pics of the flowers' appearances.

But then out of curiosity, I went online a decided to do a Google images search for each variety I had chosen to see how they turned out for the average growers. I was amazed and disappointed at the images I was confronted with from the google images pictures from average growers. I'd say that at least half or more of the varieties I had written down to buy looked bad or terrible in these pictures! The flowers often/usually looked very different from how the catalog pics look.

So then I did the same google images search for the varieties I was then growing(which were now flowering) to see how they looked when grown by the average Joe. Once again, many/most of the pictures I saw of those flowers looked anywhere from not-so-good to flat-out-lousy!

I was now growing those varieties I was seeing, and mine looked great! Not only that, but most of those varieties had come from the same grower I'd bought mine from(Swan Island). I knew the tubers weren't the problem, because most came from the same source, because they were Swan Island originals. But mine looked good, so I couldnt figure out why many of them looked bad!? It was a mystery......

What I was seeing were flowers that were way too washed out looking in color, or too thin, or the colors weren't what they should have been, or the flowers weren't the right shape or form, or they were sloppy, etc.

So it must have been something that these people were doing wrong while growing their dahlias that caused this "phenomenon" to occur.

I will be curious for the results I get this year, because 2 of the new varieties I am growing were of the same varieties from Swan Island that had looked lousy in most of the google images pictures(Maarn, Pinelands Princess). So I cant wait to see whether they will come out looking good, or bad.

But I'm growing in pots this year, so who knows what is going to happen.....

But I'd say to make sure the ph is neutral in your soil, which is one thing I had tested last year at the local cooperative extension service(havent done it this year). Mine was between 6.5 - 6.9 last year, which is ideal. It was a custom soil mix I made from bagged soils. Also, its OK to give a good dose of nitrogen early on the growing life of the plants, but you need to cut back on the nitrogen when nearing bloom time to a low, slow release nitrogen or an organic nitrogen.

I really dont know what else couldve caused the bad looking flowers that many people posted online. You'd think that those people wouldve chosen their BEST looking flowers to post, so if those were the best ones they had, I'd hate to see how bad the worst ones were.....

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 10:43AM
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steve22802(7a VA)

My experience last year showed me that dahlias are actually much happier in my climate with less than full sun during the heat of summer. In July and August it was very hot, sunny and dry and the result was that I got lots of misshapen and faded blooms. Instead of being fully double many varieties showed their disc florets which is not their intended appearance. Some varieties seem to be more prone to exhibiting disc florets than others. For me Bliss is the worst, and Touche is pretty quick to show florets as well. When the weather cooled last fall all my dahlias looked much better with richer colors and far less showing of disc florets.

Regarding bad pictures of dahlias on the internet, part of the problem may be that a lot of people don't know much about photography and expect their camera to do all the work. Lighting and white balance can make a huge difference in how the colors of a flower appear in a picture. I think that many people mistakenly believe that a sunny day is a good day to take pictures of flowers in the garden. This is not the case. Too much sun will give you washed out colors and blown highlights. On an overcast day the diffuse lighting makes for much better photos. This can be replicated by holding a diffuser over a flower but I doubt that most people bother to do this.

- Steve
Harrisonburg, Virginia

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 12:50PM
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You can buy 'bulb and bloom' food and the best ratios for dahlias generally run 4-9-9 or 5-10-10, which simply means more good stuff for the blooms and buds than for the plant. But the actual growing area, location and space can produce tremendous disparities in color. My Fire Magic is currently blooming and is a vibrant reddish color - not even close to the 'fuschia' color in the Swan catalog much less what other on line vendors show for FM. Add in your particular sun variances (4 hrs, 6hrs or 8 or more hrs) and you may get unusual colors as well.

But then I live in SF where the fog usually blankets the area from late May to Sept and colors don't get washed out. However, that said, this year we have had a tremendously sunny Spring and one of my Patty Cake blooms opened and wilted within 4 days due to the sun it got. Same with my Neon Splendor - it opened that gorgeous orange shading and wilted within 4 days! Normally they stay bright for weeks.

So you can only use photos as guidelines - even the Swan Island catalog tells you the actual plant color may look different from their catalog due to the type of paper and inks used by the printers.

But Steve and Highlander are correct too. You would be amazed at how different the same dahlias look if you only look at photos. Steve is correct - many growers take pics in mid day and the colors are all washed out. The combination of different inks and time of day the pic is taken can play havoc on what you actually get.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 10:43PM
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Davidinsf, would love to see a picture of Fire Magic and any others you have blooming.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2012 at 7:32PM
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