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Dahlias – cheerful cheerleaders

As one of the most rewarding summer bulbs, we’re totally into this plant this hot season. If we could pick these flowers and use them as pompoms, we’d be out there in the garden cheerleading our way through this outdoorsy time of year.

We’re shouting out the praises of dahlias right now. As one of the most rewarding summer bulbs, we’re totally into this plant this hot season. If we could pick these flowers and use them as pompoms, we’d be out there in the garden cheerleading our way through this outdoorsy time of year. Maybe that’s why one of the dahlia varieties has been so aptly named. With a slight slip of the tongue, you might forget that the Pompon variety is not a real pompom. Pompons are one of the daintier varieties of dahlia. Their spherical, powder-puff blooms are just five centimetres in diameter, but the punch they pack is way bigger. With petals that curve inward, they resemble colourful golf balls lying in your garden bed, on stems that are about 60-80cm tall. And, because they’re available in so many colours, you can grow them to match whichever team you wish to cheer for, Pompon pompoms in hand. Amusing is saffron yellow with brick red; Bell Boy is a striking signal red; Deepest Yellow is gorgeously golden – and a great cut flower; Lolly Pop comes in lilac-rose, displaying darker tips; and Serenity is a beautiful white that complements any flower bed.

Top Mix and Border are two other varieties that are rather a lot shorter than the tall dahlia’s we introduced you to in the last post (Dinner Plate, Cactus and Decorative). Both start at 40cm high, with Top Mix (available in white, yellow, orange, red and rose) able to reach a height of 50cm and Border growing 10cm taller than that. We have five incredible varieties of Border available at Hadeco: Autumn Fairy is an apricot/orange hue, while Graz is more orangy-red and Carola shows off in a beautiful salmon tone. Bluesette’s purply-lilac petals are always a hit, as are the more pointy soft-pink double blooms of Park Princess.

When purchasing your bulbs in store, be sure that the packets you buy have not been on sale since August as that would mean that they’ve come from overseas, and will lack vigour by the time you have to plant them from mid October to the beginning of December. These bulbs, grown in the northern hemisphere, would have exceeded the recommended storage time because of the difference in seasons between here and there, and will not give you the incredible results that you should get from delightful dahlias. Rather go for our varieties here in South Africa, which will offer much better results.

For a garden filled with dahlia delight, follow the same instructions for planting the taller varieties of dahlia. But, instead of planting tubers 40cm apart, these shorter varieties should be planted 15cm from one another. After planting and covering each tuber with soil, create a shallow indent above each bulb’s spot so that water can gather in this little gape, as dahlia’s are big fans of moisture. And, when the foliage starts to appear, water your plants even more regularly than the initial every third day. In mid summer, before the blooms start to appear on this bushy, herbaceous plant with stout, hollow stems, add superphosphate to the soil and top it with a dressing of well-decomposed manure for the ultimate results.

If you live in a humid area, you may battle with powdery mildew. In this case, be sure that there is sufficient airflow around the leaves. Also keep an eye out for bugs like greenflies and thrips, which go for the young shoots. If you see that your plants have been infected, growth is stunted and you’ve run out of solutions, toss these infected plants rather than using them in a compost heap, as this infection will carry.

When it comes to dahlia’s off-season, it doesn’t mind its tubers being left in the ground, as they’re not averse to winter rainfall or watering, provided the drainage is sufficient. However, if you choose to lift them, do so at the start of winter, cutting the stem 5cm above the ground and lifting the tuberous roots without damaging them. But, just to be sure, dust the tubers with fungicide to allow any hurt areas to dry back, and store them in a cool place for use later that year.

What are you still waiting for? Go plant those Pompons and start cheering for your garden!

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