Gardening: Dahlias the darling of all kinds of gardens

Nanzy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

If big and bodacious in the garden turns you on, you can’t miss with dinner plate dahlias. These plants can climb 6 to 8 feet in height, producing brilliant blossoms that are 10 to 12 inches or more in diameter. Hence, the name dinner plate.

Because the stems are on the brittle side and the flower heads pack a bit of weight, these tall beauties must be staked and it’s best done when planting. Without support, strong winds or heavy rains — and we have been plagued by them the past several growing seasons — will trash these lovely plants.

Dahlia growers recommend using substantial materials for the stakes such as metal, wood or bamboo. Large, heavy-duty tomato cages sunk well into the ground at the back of the border will also work in areas somewhat protected from wind.

If staking is not part of your job description, or you lack space, look for modern varieties such as the Gallery series that produce compact plants of 12 to 20 inches in height and a profusion of blossoms about 4 inches in diameter for months on end. I chose the variety Art Nouveau that offers up gorgeous double blossoms in shades of violet purple to lilac pink to use in my OPC display garden. These lovelies are great for use in large containers as well as landscapes or beds.

For those who prefer a simpler look in flowers, the Dreamer collection and Bishop family produces single flowers and fabulous deep dark foliage.

But the best news is dahlias come in all colors, with the exception of blue, so they can be used in any color scheme.

If you plant dahlia bulbs, expect them to begin blooming about 8 to 10 weeks after the growth begins to emerge — they make great late season drama queens. Plant them horizontally (lengthwise) in moist soil and do not water until the bulb sprouts. But for those who want color coming early in the season, shop for plants already in bloom at independent garden centers. If given six or more hours of sun daily, planted in moist well draining soil, fed a bit of low nitrogen fertilizer every three weeks and kept deadheaded, they will bloom until frost.

Dahlias are tender perennials with a Mexican heritage so they love warm weather. Do no plant them outdoors until the nights are frost-free and the soil reaches a minimum of 60 degrees.

For more information on how to grow dahlias, go to

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at detroitnewscom/homestyle.