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Dahlias love garden friends

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Thank you to Longfield Gardens for sponsoring this post and feeding my love of dahlias.

Over the next couple weeks I will go through all the dahlia tubers I overwintered and plant them up in pots along with all the new tubers I just had to have. Starting dahlias in pots works well for me in part because I mostly grow them as garden plants. 

I realize how strange that sounds. Of course they are plants, but sometimes the diva reputation of dahlias leads gardeners to think they demand segregation, their own perfect little plot of land where they can do their amazing flower thing without the hoi polloi flowers from the rest of the garden interrupting their show. But I’m all about plant inclusion here so you won’t find any dahlia-only areas here.

HS Date dahlia with ageratum
‘HS Date’, which has dark foliage, looks great partnered with ageratum and even Limelight hydrangea in the garden.

Some dahlias are certainly better suited for such garden mingling. Shorter varieties that need less aggressive staking and particularly those with beautiful foliage work best. Some of the big flowering “dinnerplate” dahlias, which are often quite tall, can be just too much look to fit into a border, but it can certainly be done.

I’m always sensitive to texture in the garden and most dahlias fall into a medium texture category, which for me can translate to sort of a busy look. I get around this by planting dahlias in clusters, usually several of the same variety, but occasionally planting very similar varieties together. 

dahlias planted in border
See the happy orange flowers in the middle? That is ‘HS Date’, one of my favorite varieties to mix into the garden. Three plants are planted in a clump there. Farther down the line is ‘Crichton Honey’ where there are five or six plants clustered together. The lime-green sort of ethereal plant behind ‘Crichton Honey’ is Amsonia hubrechtii, which provides great texture contrast.

Although I don’t do as much of it as I should, planting dahlias with a foliage accent is another great look. In my garden the Amsonia hubrechtii in the middle of the bed provides great texture contrast with its fine needlelike foliage that turns golden yellow in early fall when the dahlias are still blooming. An obvious combination would be to grow some tropical foliage like cannas or colocasias, especially purple-leafed varieties, next to dahlias to let those amazing flowers shine.

canna and dahlia
Although the Tropicanna canna is planted in a pot in the garden, you can see how that bold foliage provides a great foil for dahlias to show off.

Truth be told, I’m in favor of mixing all kinds of plants together in the garden, and that goes for dahlias combined with annuals and even edibles. I love how one of my favorite dahlias, ‘Crichton Honey’ looks with ‘Wild Magic’ basil (a patented, sterile variety I buy as plants every year). 

‘Wild Magic’ basil, at the bottom of the photo, is a beautiful edible that I love to mix with dahlias.
red dahlia
This photo, taken on Mackinac Island, features a garden on top a tall retaining wall. Mixed with colorful annuals, that red dahlia stand sentinel over a beautiful garden. You could get a similar look with ‘Babylon Red’ dahlia, although make sure to stake it.

GOOD VARIETIES FOR GARDEN GROWING

You can incorporate any dahlia into your garden, but I like some better than others for this purpose. The dahlias that offer a little something extra, such as dark foliage, always get a gold star for garden worthiness. Among my favorites are ‘HS Date’ (shown above), but you could go for a softer color palette with something like ‘Bishop of Dover’.

bishop of dover dahlia
‘Bishop of Dover’

The very easiest dahlias to incorporate into a garden are the Gallery series of very short  varieties that never need staking. In my experience they are also the first to start to bloom and they keep going all summer. Make sure to place them at the front of the bed so they don’t get lost. ‘Gallery Art Nouveau’ is a favorite of mine, but if you’re looking for something a little less punchy ‘Gallery Serenade’ would work beautiful in almost any color combination.

Gallery Art Nouveau
Two years ago I grew ‘Gallery Art Nouveau’ right off the patio (shown to the left in this photo) and echoed the color with a pink petunia.
gallery serenade dahlia
‘Gallery Serenade’ beautifully edging a bed and planted alongside pink lilies. (Longfield Gardens photo)

Ball dahlias are probably my favorite form, but there’s something about the unexpected shapes that really creates a great look in a garden. The singles and collarettes, which I think of as singles that have been fancied up a bit, offer a nice contrast to more complicated flowers and a great way to create some color echoes in the garden. ‘Impression Fantastic‘ would look stunning combined with some delicate white flowers, or even a small yellow-flowering plant. Since it’s short it won’t need any staking.

Impression fantastico dahlia
‘Impression Fantastico’

Dahlias might have a diva reputation, and I won’t lie that for some varieties, it’s well-earned, but so many varieties are no more difficult to grow than anything else you might plant in the garden. So grow them there!

21 Responses

  1. Ok I am so random in saying this but I did not know that hoi polloi was spelled ” hoi polloi ” LOL
    However, I have also jumped on, or more appropriately crawled onto, the dahlia bandwagon and purchased some tubers and potted them up. So far I have 3 pots with foliage poking through the soil! I have zero idea what varieties they are as I purchased them in a bargain bin at WalMart 😀
    I reckon it’s a good thing I love flower surprises.
    Gardening is FUN!

  2. I have never really been a fan of dinner plate dahlias. They are too big to use as a cut flower… and even in the garden they look out of place…. Like something that belongs in Oz! Much prefer the decorative size dahlias. I, like you, believe in inclusion… so my dahlias are always planted in beds with other flowers around them. I see you enjoy the tall Ageratum as well. I grow it every year from seed because you can’t find it at local garden centers. They only seem to carry the short, boinky little Ageratum…. And what good are they really? 😁

  3. ps I had one dahlia that I didn’t pull out – by mistake – and I never touched it – never fertilised it, never pinched it, never divided it and it flowered gangbusters every single year for 15 plus years. Don’t know if the new varieties are that hardy. I live in New Zealand so I think I am abt your US equivalent of your zone 9.

  4. I think the world has gone mad on Dahlias haha
    Can you believe when I moved into my new house abt 20 years ago – I pulled out all the dahlias !! I didn’t like them . Was I crazy? lol
    Now I am buying 1 x tuber at $7.50 NZ dollar each! ( abt $10 US dollars) They better grow well 🙂 I want them all now – they’re like Tulips – you just want them all !
    I am mad over Colarette and anemone dahlias – haven’t grown any yet – first time this year – because the bees meant to love them
    Love the photos of your garden above – really pretty

  5. Hi Erin, My garden is either going to be drop dead gorgeous this year or a garish plant assault on my backyard. HS Date dahlia, Wild Magic Basil and my usual Clio Magenta Cleome planted with existing Pycnanthemum muticum (short-toothed mountain mint). I hope the mountain mint blends it all together. I plant the Clio Cleome every year because I don’t have to deadhead it and by summer I’m enjoying golf and cooking for my friends on my patio. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve looked for easier plants that look amazing. I can’t wait to see the Wild Magic Basil put on her show. Have a great summer and thank you for helping my mental health during Covid with your blog and videos.

  6. I bought some HS Date and Bishop of Dover. They have done great starting in pots, but now have put out in my new “dahlia” bed. I have a question though, do these specific dahlias need to be staked?
    Thanks!!
    Cathy Jackson, Muskogee Okla

  7. I love Erin’s videos so much. They are all very informative PLUS she presents the subject matter (whether it be dahlia care, her fenced-in raised beds, to the new garden area she’s planting with a wide variety of plants) with gentle humor and even includes mistakes she’s made and learning from. I’m new to the dahlia world and am now totally enamored by these flowers with their wide variety of colors and shapes. And now I’ve just discovered Erin’s blog posts; they’re great and gives me great inspiration. Well done, Erin! I’m a fan for life!
    P.S. I hope you don’t mind if I write again. I have a question about some cora vinca that I’m growing from seed.

  8. Erin, I really like the way you garden. I’m so tired of watching videos of gardeners who only show themselves planting containers from the nursery. I love that you also plant seeds, divide plants, save tubers, and transplant. It’s wonderful to see and thanks so much for passing your knowledge onto us!

  9. I never thought of Growing Dahlias until I found your Channel. I’m not a fan of the Dinner Plate Variety. But I LOVE the smaller ones and am hooked on them now. I only have a few, so they do have their own spot in the Garden for now. I am adding to my collection and have enjoyed trying to winter them over. Love the challenge and the money savings by doing that. I also winter over my Geraniums each year to save money. Going to try seed starting this year also. Thank you for all your Inspiration and Sharing your knowledge.

  10. I grew six dahlias last year, and this year will have 32! I just received my order from Longfield Garden Friday and was so excited I started them inside in pots after rewatching your video. I love the combination packages they offer, and the tubers are beautiful! So excited to see them grow this year, will need to look for shorter varieties for the front border. You have me sold!

  11. I love your videos, and I am growing Dalias in pots! My husband made me a great potters bench, and I can’t wait to plant my Dalias in the backyard next to my privacy fence. I live in Ohio, so I won’t be planting them for a few more weeks just too be safe.

  12. Oh what wonderful fresh ideas! Do you plant the dahlias into the ground after starting in pots? Or do you place the potted dahlias into your flower beds.

    1. I prefer to start mine in pots. That is mostly due to the fact that I find myself with a garden full of yellow lilies even though I have never ordered a yellow lily. Quality control has slipped a bit over the last few years. I will be the first to admit that I have mislabeled a few seedlings over the years. I also like being able to move the plants around to decide where I think they look best.

  13. OMG Erin, first you get me sowing seedlings of Purple Hyacinth Bean Vines, next it’s Calamintha nepeta I must have, and now I’m ordering the small front of the border dahlias!!
    I too am a sucker for never-have-grown-that-one flowers, so I think I must stop trying all these new ones you are talking up!

  14. Thank-you so much, this took me a whole different way of thinking about them with combining with others and the color combinations.

  15. Erin, on top of your YouTube videos which I’ve been enjoying for a while now, your blogs have added a whole new dimension to my garden addiction. Thanks kindly.

  16. Because of Erin I have found that my garden is not complete without dahlias. For the first time last year I dedicated a small plot for my tubers. Not sure how it would go (grow) and it turned out to be the best decision ever. They were stunning. What I love is that when many containers and plants begin to show signs of ‘age’ – dahlias are peaking and continue on well into early autumn. I will never be without them…..

    1. Gorgeous! I am jn charge of growing all white dahlias for my nieces wedding on July 30th. I live in zone 6a in Massachusetts. New to dahlias and forcing to ensure blooms late July. Any suggestions would be much appreciated. I have heat mats , lights etc.

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