Dahlia Black List

steve22802(7a VA)October 1, 2012

It's quite common for growers to show off their favorite dahlias but it would also be useful to know which varieties are poor performers and should be avoided. Here's my black list so far.

Color Spectacle

Peggy Jean

Mingus Leroy


For me, these all had a high percentage of misshapen flowers. I hope that other growers will add their underwhelming varieties too so we can all avoid them.

- Steve

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msbumble(z6 NJ)

Most of the pom pons with 1 1/2" blooms have been disappointing for me. No misshapen flowers, more like no flowers. Specifically:
Koko Puff - not a single flower in 2 seasons
Crossfield Ebony - not many flowers
Dot com - one or two flowers maybe.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2012 at 12:24PM
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steve22802(7a VA)

Thanks, msbumble, I'd like to acquire several pom pons next spring and it's helpful to know which varieties to avoid.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2012 at 9:22PM
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Hi Steve,

Thats a tricky one. I tend to assume when I have problem plants that is either my fault (I tend to plant to closely together) or due to weather/ sun factors. I know that I have had dahlias do badly for me that do splendidly for people in different climates. I have also had such different results from the same plant in different years. Last year my Sonic Boom had only 3-4 blooms and all of them were open centered, while this year it has done quite well.

Also this year the weather was so much hotter than usual, I wouldn't want to cull anything because of poor performance. My Juul's Alstar has always been one of my earliest and most prolific bloomers, but this year I have had two blooms off of three plants! They are now covered with buds, but our weather is predicted to drop down to the mid 20's this weekend, so I dont expect to see any of them make it. I suppose if I hadnt gotten any blooms from a plant two years in a row I would give up on it.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2012 at 7:16AM
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I agree with Mandolls.

If I threw out every underperforming dahlia I've ever grown I would hardly have any left.

I have had dahlias not bloom at all or give me 4-5 anemic blooms. Often I move them to another location or switch them from pots to soil and they overwhelm me with blooms.

Happened this year on several plants. My Loverboy never gave me more than 5 buds each for 2 years so I moved it to soil and it was the most productive dahlia I have ever had. I must have had well over 100 blooms this summer and it actually still has blooms on it now. I had assumed that there was something wrong with the soil, pot or location it was originally in but I planted another red one (Barbarrosa) in the same pot and it is October and still blooming also! So apparently it was NOT the soil or location. Go figure.

But this has happened to me on at least a dozen occasions and the only thing most people say is you simply never know how or why a dahlia responds or doesn't. I've had dahlias underperform for 1-2 years and then spring to life AND the reverse - they bloom big and large for a couple of years and then suddenly start petering out. Smaller blooms, less vibrant coloring, fewer buds overall until they start circling the drain.

I should add I hardly ever deviate from my pattern of feeding and watering so it is NOT a case of changing the growing parameters. The only thing that changes is whether it is a sunnier or foggier year in SF and my belief is after 1 or 2 years, dahlias adapt to their environment very easily and still can bloom profusely even if it is a cold, wet and wintry summer.


    Bookmark   October 4, 2012 at 11:57PM
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Noni Morrison

Take a good look at your dahlia leaves and see if your plant is being overcome with Virus. I am assuming that the longer a plant has been in cultivation the more virused it is. My Pompons from Swan Island have nearly all been virused but look up the dates when they were first developed...1928..1950....

I Am looking for new and healthier poms for next year. I have several picked out from catalogs. I did get a nice yellow one From Les and Viv Connell...can't remember the name of it at the moment but I am liking it a lot. It was much newer then the Old Swan ISland varieties.

I removed bout 1/4 of my patch due to viruses this year...ones I have been growing for years. I am on a quest for really healthy dahlias for next year! Some of them were blatant with big yellow circles on the leaves...some just were not so viforous with some viral streaks, spots and lines on the lower foliage, a few never grew taller then a foot with crinkled foliage.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2012 at 12:31AM
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steve22802(7a VA)

I had several Onesta's develop curled leaves and stunted growth. Does that sound like a virus? Other Onesta's were normal. I believe I'll trash the one's with curled leaves in case that's a sign of virus.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2012 at 8:29AM
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Noni Morrison

It can be a sign of virus but it could also be an insect infestation or other damage to the leaves. The ones I Got rid of were both very short and with curled up leaves. Never grew over 1' tall and should have been 4-5'. Also, these of mine never bloomed.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2012 at 5:12PM
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ptpulley(8b Western WA)

It's interesting that you noted Bliss as one of your dahlias to blacklist, because it's one of my favorites. I've had it for 7 or 8 years and it's always fantastic. Very prolific bloomer, nice long stems, lasts a long time in a vase or in the yard. I don't recall ever getting one that's misshapen. Maybe try another tuber?

    Bookmark   October 7, 2012 at 11:38PM
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steve22802(7a VA)

Thanks for telling me, ptpulley. I bought my Bliss tuber directly from Swan Island and I got it because it was specifically suppose to be a good cut flower. Perhaps I did get a bad tuber. I like the coloration in the photo but I got little to no double blossoms. Perhaps we can do some trading in the spring, I would be willing to give it another try.

Another variety that I'm considering composting is Mystique which I got from Swan Island. I get a below average percentage of double blossoms and the coloration often seems somehow off color and faded. I never find myself reaching for this one when putting together cut arrangements. It produced lots of tubers and have quite a few clones of this plant but they all behave in the same unimpressive way.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2012 at 8:00PM
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Noni Morrison

Mystique is one of my favorite dahlias for cutting. I love its constantly changing colors and it is always nice for me. I wonder if it wants something your soil is lacking in or if it doesn't like your climate. Also, sounds like the genetics in yours could be breaking down. I always get nice double flowers on mine, but I have had that problem with some other varieties. Maybe it is just a flower that is better in the NW?

    Bookmark   July 15, 2013 at 8:14PM
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steve22802(7a VA)

I think the hot dry weather we typically have here during midsummer really makes it obvious that some cultivars have better heat tolerance than others. Right now I'm getting lots and lots of useless flowers because the high heat is causing malformation for many of my cultivars. A few of my cultivars have continued to put out well formed flowers despite the heat, most notably Garden Wonder, Vancouver and Dr. John E. Kaiser. I really ought to build a shade structure, I think that would help my dahlias more than anything. So far when acquiring cultivars I've checked catalogs to see if they are designated as good for cutting, but now I think I need to also try to select varieties that are more heat tolerant. I found one web site (linked below) that lists heat tolerant varieties so I'm hoping that will point me in the right direction.

Here is a link that might be useful: HEAT TOLERANT DAHLIAS

    Bookmark   July 16, 2013 at 11:29PM
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Noni Morrison

Just want to report that my dahlias are much healthier this year, after chucking the ones showing symptoms of bad virus infections last year. I bought several hundred new tubers, and out of 435 dahlias am seeing about 5 or 6 with rather nasty virus infected leaves...all from commercial sources that should know better...These are not "Maybe" virused...these are virused as in curly leaves that do not grow past about 6" high, big bright yellow splotches along the veins that have not gone away with the advent of summer warmth, 2 were the same variety and both have the crinkled wavy yellow splotched leaves and short stems...

It makes me wonder...don't these growers inspect their fields and remove sick plants before digging time? Surely these were not beautiful healthy mother plants that produced tubers like this? In 1 case, a new just released variety had the leaves colored in little green squares of different shades...mosaic indeed. I don't understand how this happens in well known commercial tuber fields.

My other question is...the ones who say they have been inspected and are disease free, but send virused tubers...what do the inspectors look for? What am I being saved from getting if the tuber is still too virused to grow? Especially when the producer tells me that they can't be virused because they passed their inspection.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2013 at 4:54PM
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Viruses are in all dahlias at different levels, and when the plant is stressed, or way too overloaded with virus, it shows virus sign. Anyone who has a cold sore can relate. Once you get herpes simplex, it is always in your body, and can reappear if conditions are right (like a really bad week at work).

Here's a really informative piece Ted had written previously that might help explain it. There is also a research site that I can't find right now, which explains the same this but in a much more technical way.

-------- Ted--------
Dahlia virus is not a short, easy discussion. First, the recent evidence is that nearly all dahlias carry virus. There are several viruses that infect dahlias and it is my belief that when a second or third virus infects a plant that it may finally show symptoms. The most common symptoms are patterns on leaves. Your picture is a classic example of a plant that may have a virus affecting it. Having said that, many plants are so vigorous that even with the virus infection and the mottled leaves, they will grow and bloom normally.

There are tests for virus and if you want to spend the money you can verify that the plant is infected and determine which virus(es) it has. My figures are from research done a few years go. I believe that the labs charge about $35.00 for each virus test. Since you are trying to determine which virus it has, you need to select which viruses for the tests. There are about 10 viruses that can infect dahlias but I understand that only three or so are very common. So one would select those three tests and send some leaves of the infected plant by overnight express mail and they will run the tests. So the entire process would cost about $150.00. If you find out that your dahlia is infected with one or more of the three viruses, there is no cure and the plant should be destroyed. I have heard of many tests being returned with negative results. In that case you either have a plant infected by one of the other seven or so viruses or the plant could have some other disease or could have just sported to mottled leaves. So in that case there is definite uncertainty about what is causing the mottled leaves.

The most practical answer is that if a plant is showing symptoms of a virus and it is not "cured" by fertilizer or adding some chemical like epsom salts, that you should pull it out and put it in the garbage. But remember that nearly every dahlia in your field is infected with at least one virus. The difference here is that the plant is exhibiting virus symptoms and will not recover. The other dahlias in your garden may well be infected with the same virus and exhibit no symptoms.

So what is the responsibility of the seller of the tuber? It is very common for the plant that produced the tuber you bought to exhibit no symptoms of virus. The seller sent you what he thought was excellent stock and unknowingly sent you a tuber that exhibited symptoms of virus. If asked, he should replace the tuber next year. It is the cost of doing business.

Currently, there is no practical, inexpensive way a commercial operation can ensure that tubers do not have virus. Reputable growers pull plants that appear to have virus symptoms. That helps but there is no guarantee that the tubers being sold will all be "virus free".

Other cash crops have problems with virus also. Potatoes and strawberries are two examples. At some universities, they have programs that create or preserve virus free stock of commercial varieties. The elimination of virus is possible by means of meristem cuttings and the introduction of chemical or temperature treatment of the plant material. These methods are extremely expensive and time consuming. The resultant plants must be tested for the viruses after they go through the intensive process and many times the virus is not eliminated. Once virus free stock is obtained it has to be preserved. In potatoes, one of the methods is to keep extremely small plants growing in laboratory conditions. Very expensive. If one were worth many millions of dollars and you wanted virus free dahlias, it could be done.

Once virus free dahlia stock would be obtained it could be multiplied by micropropagation in laboratory conditions. There are numerous such laboratories that produce plants by micropropagation but dahlias are not one of them but certainly they could do it for a price.

After all of the work to produce virus free dahlia stock, the varieties would easily be re-infected by the dahlias in your garden that have virus and exhibit no symptoms. So your healthy stock would last no more than a year or two and have to be replaced.

Going back to square one: If a plant has lots of virus symptoms, get rid of it. If someone sold it to you, ask for replacement. Be glad that dahlia viruses do not infect people.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2013 at 7:57AM
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So you have plants showing virus sign. You have a few choices...

- do nothing and hope for the best
- pull it immediately, even if it ends up being a third of your plants
- wait to see if it isn't just the weather stressing the plants out
- try more/less water, or try fertilizing and re-assess in ten days

I had twenty four plants showing sign of virus and/or chlorosis this year, and after recording which ones they were, I supplemented a tablespoon of Epson Salt at the base of all my plants, watered it in well, and sprayed foliar fertilizer every five days. Only two or three show sign on new leaves now, and at much reduced levels then before. My choice is to wait until I see the varieties bloom (new to me this year), and reassess them before first frost to see if the tubers are worth saving.

In addition, when the trader giving me some of the 'virused' tubers was asked, the sister tubers were doing just fine with no virus sign in their garden. Before complaining to the vendor, I would do due diligence to ensure its not the gardening technique that is at fault. We want those vendors to stay in business!

    Bookmark   July 26, 2013 at 9:07AM
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I live in CO. and we have had perfect weather for dahlias, even some rain. My dahlias in raised beds are short. They have only put out tiny growth on what should be the laterals after pinching. I had blooms this time last year in the same place? I am so disappointed and don't know what too do. I heard we aren't supposed to put on dry fertilizer now? Have used Mo Bloom from Swan for foliage feed and still nothing is happening. I gave a tuber to my neighbor of Carmen Fiesta and it grew about 2 feett and is covered with blooms. Problem is, it is supposed to be 4 feet tall?

    Bookmark   July 26, 2013 at 3:32PM
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Pat, your neighbor's plant is two feet, with two or more months to grow. I wouldn't worry about height.

Pinching them back has delayed your blooms by a couple weeks, which should pay off with more laterals for the flowers to bloom on.

Lots of growers aren't getting blooms yet, so it seems to me you're panicking prematurely. All you can do is make sure they have enough water, that you don't over or under fertilize them, maintain grooming, and stand back to let them do their thing!

    Bookmark   July 27, 2013 at 12:05AM
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Noni Morrison

CC, I am otherwise known as "Islander" to you, LOL. So yes, I have followed everything Ted told us about Dahlia Viruses and these are the ones that are definitely severely virused past any healthy care I can give them. I am just waiting to see a flower or two before pulling, but now that the leaf hopper's have arrived (they our worst vector for spreading diseases) I should probably remove them. I think the 2 that bother me most are the 2 tubers from one place that are both seriously diseased, and the bonus from another that is just awful...it is kind of an affront to be given a "bonus" that is so sickly! "here, have this free gift that could spread disease though out your business and take you down"

    Bookmark   July 28, 2013 at 10:58AM
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Cool beans! Thanks for connections the dots for me! LOL!

Well, Ted's piece is great info to have on this forum, even though this is old news to you! :-) Reading it was the first time all the random opinions and facts i had gleaned about dahlia viruses finally made sense to me. Hopefully, it will help out others struggling with this issue.

Yes, definitely a bummer to have a bonus and premium tubers be 'lemons.'

I personally can't see an owner of a dahlia business doing something like passing on tubers with obvious virus overload... Sure, the holland gargantuan companies might, or the large conglomerate corporation that has lots of catalog 'specialist' companies, but small folk that just deal in dahlia?

I wonder if those varieties have tendencies for being easily stressed and succumbing to the virus load. You most certainly provide full-spectrum care to your tuber babies.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2013 at 11:37AM
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Noni Morrison

Yes, I think Ted's advice on dahlias is great and makes the best sense of it I have seen.

I finally pulled a couple of those really bad dahlias and some of the others have improved a bit as they started blooming. The flowers are very nice. I will see how they look at the end of the season. My new introduction that was virused was "Iced Tea" and the leaves are looking healthier now that it is blooming. I do like the bloom. We will see how that goes.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2013 at 9:22PM
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I have read this with great interest. Here are 3 that have never performed right here. Cafe au lait, Sonic Bloom, and Mystique.On these, mostly deformed flowers. We are in extreme drouth here for 3 years. I blamed it on the weather.
I only dig my dahlias every 2 years. I never plant back in the old holes,I rotate from one end of my garden to another. I think it helps to do this. All dahlias look great this year, and we have had some rain and nearly 2 weeks of cooler weather.
I have never had what I would call a virus on dahlias.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2013 at 12:46PM
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steve22802(7a VA)


I've been getting loads of useless misshapen flowers (lots of open centers) from my Sonic Blooms this year too. The color is also too faded for my taste. Dusty pink again, same complaint I have with Mystique. I think Sonic Bloom might have to join Mystique on my personal black list.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2013 at 1:49PM
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so many things to say about disease and under-performance!
1) change the site and the dahlia may snap out of what appears to be a disease.
2) growers always start cuttings from tubers, then grow the cuttings on to fresh tubers.
3) Myth: Disease had nothing to do with how "old" a variety is. In fact, some of the older varieties are resistant and outperform the newer hybrids. Disease is spread by insect vectors like aphids and leafhoppers - any sucking insect that passes this on from leaf to leaf.
4) some dahlias look fine, but are carriers of diseases like mosaic virus and others.
5) later sprouting varieties will perform poorly if they are shaded out by earlier sprouting varieties, so plan your plantings by this and by height.
6) some dahlias need a bit of shade - primarily reds, which can fade in full sun.
7) feeding can help chlorosis tremendously and help the plants be more disease resistant. nitrogen early on, then potash for the flowers. try to avoid too much phosphorous. kelp meal or liquid seaweed fertilizer works wonders.

i grow dahlias for fun and because i am a dahlia addict! :)

    Bookmark   April 21, 2014 at 2:52PM
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steve22802(7a VA)

My main problem is not disease but rather open centered blossoms during hot weather. I've acquired some varieties for this season that are suppose to be more heat tolerant so hopefully that will help. I may also set up a large shade structure as that seems to be helpful in regions with intense sun.

I've personally observed that some varieties really are more prone to having open centers during hot weather. I grew Touche and Purple Joy under exactly the same conditions and almost all of the Touche flowers were useless whereas the Purple Joy blossoms were almost all very well formed.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2014 at 9:04PM
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