Yes, This Happened: Flower Gardening Fail With Dahlias

By Tonya Barnett | July 21, 2020
Image by Nikki Tilley
by Tonya Barnett
July 21, 2020

For most seasoned gardeners, the prospect of adding a new crop to the garden is exciting. As a cut-flower grower, I frequently add new plants to the flower cutting field. Browsing online, it is easy to be swept away by the beautiful imagery of bloggers and professional growers. When I saw the large rows of dahlia flowers in full bloom at a local farm, I knew I would need to grow them myself, but little did I know that it would be such a challenge.

Failure in the Garden Growing Dahlias

Growing dahlias for the first time was quite the learning experience. After being lured in by several dinnerplate varieties, I settled on selecting ten different types for the garden. When spring arrived, I planted them after the last frost. I had done some reading, but mostly assumed that the plant would be as easy to grow as other common summer flowering bulbs.

In the months that followed, I was met with one disappointment after another. From bug damage to plants which were completely devoid of blooms; to say I was disappointed, would be an understatement.

Through research, I learned that most dahlias will require staking. I devised a plan that I would use large wooden stakes. I set the stakes at planting time and patiently waited for the tubers to begin growing. By the time the weather had warmed, over half the sprouts had been eaten by slugs. Though slugs are normally not an issue in my garden, the wetter than usual spring had made my garden their personal buffet. As the plants grew, I consistently staked them and fertilized as scheduled.

Soon, I had managed to grow plants that were 6 feet (1.8 m.) tall. The problem? No blooms. As it would turn out, I had been fertilizing my dahlia plants with too much nitrogen. Additionally, the hot mid-summer temperatures in my garden caused the plants to become stressed. Next, the plants were overcome with beetles and began to show signs of disease. Though growing instructions had called for a full sun location, many quickly wilted when temperatures climbed above 90 F. (32 C.).

By the end of the growing season, only two dahlia plants were left in my garden. Even though I had technically followed all the advice that I had found online, it took a complete failure in the garden to realize that growing dahlias, in my southern garden, needed extra care and attention in order to truly thrive.

As my most recent plantings of dahlia flowers continue to grow and bloom profusely, I am always thankful for learning my lesson the hard way. Take your flower gardening fails, or any other, in stride. While they may be disappointing, they’re also teaching moments that help us become better at what we love doing most – gardening.

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