Dahlias break out

For years, I’ve kept my love of dahlias safely contained. Trying to grow them in borders proved impossible as plants disappeared overnight thanks to the resident slugs and snails. Instead, I had just a few in pots – more successful but high maintenance and deeply frustrating as time, cash and space limited my choice. This year, the temptation – fuelled by seeing dahlias in almost every garden I visited – proved too great and I decided to have another go at growing them free range.

Starting a cutting garden was my excuse to grow more.

The excuse was starting a cutting garden – what better than dahlias for that late summer vase of flowers? With that in mind, I chose colours that would work together and with the rooms I planned to put them in.

There are many ways to judge a dahlia: shape, colour, number of flowers and, if you’re planning to cut them, length of stem.

‘Furka’ produced the most flowers.

Two of my choices scored highly in every category: ‘Furka’ and ‘Totally Tangerine’. ‘Furka’ is a beautiful white cactus-type dahlia. It produced dozens of flowers with long, straight stems.

‘Totally Tangerine’ was the best for length of stem and I loved the dazzling colour and crinkled centre to the anemone blooms. Possibly the only drawback was that it didn’t seem to last as long once cut.

‘Totally Tangerine’ has a wonderful crinkled centre.

‘Blanc y Verde’ is another beauty with white flowers tinged with a hint of green. However, it didn’t have as long a flowering season as ‘Furka’. Perhaps it will be better next year.

‘Blanc y Verde’ is a winner.

I also liked ‘Zundert Mystery Fox’, which had neat dark orange flowers and long, straight stems. It was not as prolific as some of the others but well worth growing.

‘Zundert Mystery Fox’ was more beautiful than its name.

The most disappointing dahlia was ‘Nicholas’, which produced only a couple of flowers before the first frosts. The large, somewhat loose, blooms were also difficult to use with another flowers. A shame because I did like the colour.

‘Nicholas’ was the most disapppointing.

The very best colourwise was ‘Henriette’ a beautiful creamy ivory with hints of peach. Her downfall was the stem. The semi cactus flowers are large and need a reasonable length of stem as a counterbalance. All too often the only way to achieve this was by sacrificing another bud slightly lower down.

‘Henriette’ was my favourite colour.

There was a similar problem with ‘Labyrinth’, a mad whirl of pinky-orangey petals that reminded me of an exploding Catherine Wheel. Again, the head size didn’t match the length of stem I could cut, meaning the flowers easily tipped in a vase. Perhaps it was my lack of skill at growing, or my lack of nerve when faced with cutting off yet-to-develop flowers.

‘Labyrinth’ is a mad whirl of colour.

The dahlias never actually made it to the cutting bed, as I hadn’t the heart to dig up sweet Williams that were still flowering to make room. Instead, the dahlias gradually took over the cold frame, getting ever bigger in the pots that I had started the tubers off in and sending roots out into the ground.

Realising the sweet Williams were not willing to budge, I decided to use some spare corners of the veg beds for the dahlias and they spent the rest of the summer season alongside the brassicas and carrots.

‘Henriette’ got very tall.

This late entry into their final beds was, I think, the reason why they fought off predators. By the time they were finally planted out, the dahlias were strapping plants – ‘Furka’ and ‘Henriette’ eventually stood around 4ft tall and needed careful staking. Quite simply, I think they frightened the slugs.

Of course, having broken out there is no way the dahlias will be contained again. This year’s tubers have been dug up and are now spending the winter in the greenhouse in pots of sand, while I’m starting to work my way through the dahlia catalogues and websites. Having started with creams, oranges and white, the pinks and purples are looking very tempting.


  1. If you would like an exceptionally large bright yellow bloom, try Kelvin Floddlight. I have a bed of just this one variety that do not seem to be effected by slugs or snails – they look most dramatic from mid Summer to early November. The last two years I have dug up a few tubors for winter storage and left the majority in the ground. They not only survived but gave better results than the tubors that I overwintered

    1. I’ll look that one up – thanks for the suggestion. I did wonder about leaving the tubers in the ground but was worried about them rotting as the veg beds have had so much compost etc they are not as free-draining as the rest of the garden. I also fear for new shoots and can protect them in pots – and I need the space for veg! The dahlias will have to join the rest of the crop rotation 🙂

  2. You might like to try Bishop of Aukland for a vibrant single red dahlia – the bees love it and it is, in my opinion, an improvement in form to the Bishop of Llandaff.
    Have you tried recutting your dahlia stems under water? This stops an airlock forming in the stem (which prevents water uptake) and makes th flowers last longer.

  3. I always start my Dahlias in pots every spring, partly to avoid slug damage. I rotate them in the garden with tulips, I recently posted an article on my blog describing how I grow my Dahlias in the garden. The national collection based in Cornwall is an excellent source of dahlia cuttings each spring.

    1. I’m definitely going to start them in pots again next year. Had a look at your piece – some great tips on growing and storing. Like you, ‘David Howard’ is a favourite.

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