The Southern Expert’s Secrets to Gorgeous Dahlias
For Lee Hemmings Carlton, it was love at first sight with dahlias. Although the flower grower had studied horticulture in college, it wasn’t until she moved to the mountains of North Carolina in 2008 that she discovered country dahlias in 2008. “I saw them in a vase and thought, ‘What are these?'” she recalls. “I was hooked.”
Lee Hemmings Carlton is a grower and owner of Goldenrod Gardens in North Carolina. She is a fan of dahlias and grows these beautiful flowers by the thousands every year.
The owner of Goldenrod Gardens in Beech Mountain gushes about these flowers like some mothers do about their children. “They are some of the happiest flowers I have ever seen. “Every one is gorgeous, colorful and unashamedly delicate,” says the dahlia breeder who grows nearly 10,000 stems each year with her small team. “The sheer variety in them astounds me. They are sorted by size, grouped by shape and color, and come in all colors except blue. There are some dahlia forms that range from half an inch to an inch in size with tons and tons of tiny petals, while other flowers can be up to 10 inches across. This is an exceptional range for the flower. Zinnias don’t have this, and neither do roses.
About 15 years after that first memorable encounter with dahlias, Carlton has nurtured and grown a remarkable variety of them, combing through young growers’ catalogs and experimenting with seeds and tubers for a dizzying array of sizes, shapes and shades. In addition to supplying flowers to area floral designers, it sells tubers to home gardeners across the country so people can start or diversify their own collections. Here, Dahlia Whisperer shares her straightforward secrets for coaxing tubers to grow into eye-catching beauties and extending the life of cut flowers.
Her best tips for growing delicate dahlias at home
The right time
“Plant them when you want tomatoes. The soil temperature should be between 60 and 65 degrees.
“Overwatering tubers is the number one cause of death. If it’s time to plant but you’re due for a week of rain, I would put it off. Make sure your soil is well-drained, too.”
Know your environment
“Test your soil to see what you need to add. When growing in an area with hard red clay, consider planting it in raised beds or large containers.
Avoid fertilized soil
“Bagged potting mixes like MiracleGro can fry the tuber into mush. Don’t add fertilizer until after the plants start growing.
Her secret to flowers that last
“It is best to collect the flowers in the morning when they are cooled from the night before and well hydrated. Temperatures below 80 degrees are ideal.”
Drop it into the water as quickly as possible
“Dahlias have really big, hollow stems. So when you submerge them in water, it squeezes those hollow stems. You want to do that immediately after picking; don’t just leave them in your pretty garden basket.”
Allow time to chill
“Take the flowers to a cool place, and let them humidify for a few hours or overnight so they can recover before you start arranging them. I have a walk-in cooler, but air conditioning goes a long way, too.”
Keep them hydrated
“They will drink the most during the first 36 hours they are in the vase. I am always amazed at how needy dahlias are. I recommend adding flower food unless you plan to change the water every day. Do not put cut dahlias in hot water, especially in a warm place I feel like this is a slow boil.