Like the poinsettia, the dahlia is a western hemisphere plant. It was first found and described among the Aztecs of Mexico. In 1570 King Phillip II of Spain sent Francisco Hernandez to Mexico to study the natural resources of the country (http://www.dahlias.com/dahliahistory.aspx). The first drawings were made of the dahlias by an associate who was traveling with Hernandez and were published in 1651.
The next time dahlias appear in history is 1789, the director of the Botanical Garden at Mexico City sent plant parts to Antonio Jose Cavarilles, on staff at the Royal Gardens of Madrid in Spain. From these he grew and flowered 3 new plant forms, Dahlia pinnata, D. rosea, and D. coccinea. Cavarilles named the genus after Andreas Dahl, a Swedish botanist. The scarlet Dahlia coccinea was crossed with a mauve-flowered species, possibly D. pinnata, which ultimately resulted in the first modern dahlia hybrid. Through the 1800’s and 1900’s thousands of new forms were developed. Nearly 50,000 named varieties have been listed in various registers and classification lists. All of these dahlia forms were hybridized from at least two, and possibly all three of the original Dahlia species from Mexico.
Wisdom and wit from a British poet:
The Dahlia you brought to our isle
Your praises forever shall speak
‘Mid gardens as sweet as your smile
And colour as bright as your cheek.
–Lord Holland (1773–1840)
Characteristics of Dahlias
Blooms are colorful spiky flowers which generally bloom from midsummer to first frost, when many other plants are past their best. Dahlias come in a rainbow of colors. I have yellow, magenta and red at home. They are a range of size, from the giant 10-inch “dinnerplate” blooms to the 2-inch lollipop-style pompons. Most varieties grow 4 to 5 feet tall.
Though not well suited to extremely hot and humid climates, such as much of Texas and Florida, dahlias brighten up any sunny garden with a growing season that’s at least 120 days long. Dahlias thrive in the cool, moist climates of the Pacific Coast, where blooms may be an inch larger and deeper. In the cold climates of North America, dahlias are known as tuberous-rooted tender perennials, grown from small, brown, biennial tubers planted in the spring.
Dahlias may be hardy to USDA Zone 8. There, they can be left in the ground to overwinter. In areas that get frost, including most parts of Zone 5, a killing frost—or a touch of frost—can help the bulb to shut down/go dormant. In cold regions, if you wish to save your plants, you have to dig up the tubers in early fall and store them over the winter.
Don’t be in a hurry to plant; dahlias will struggle in cold soil. Ground temperature should reach 60°F. Wait until all danger of spring frost is past before planting. Select a planting site with full sun. Dahlias grow more blooms with 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight. They love the morning sunlight best. Choose a location with a bit of protection from the wind. Dahlias start blooming about 8 weeks after planting, starting in mid-July.
There’s no need to water the soil until the dahlia plants appear; in fact, over-watering can cause tubers to rot. After dahlias are established, provide a deep watering 2 to 3 times a week for at least 30 minutes with a sprinkler (and more in dry, hot climates). Dahlias benefit from a low-nitrogen liquid fertilizer (similar to what you would use for vegetables) such as a 5-10-10 or 10-20-20. Fertilize after sprouting and then every 3 to 4 weeks from mid-summer until early Autumn. Do NOT over-fertilize, especially with nitrogen, or you risk small/no blooms, weak tubers, or rot.
Reflection: I searched my books on plants in the Bible and plants in Israel to try to find a plant like a dahlia. I could find none. At first, I was sad that I could not relate dahlia to the Bible, but then I thought about creation. Dahlia flowers are part of God’s creation. Because they are not in Israel or any of the holy lands does not mean that they are less valuable. There is a lesson in there somewhere for my life.
Copyright: August 3, 2017: Carolyn A. Roth
Please visit my website at: http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com.