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It would be cruel to ask me (or any gardener) to name my favorite flower, but I can say without any hesitancy that I can’t imagine a garden of mine ever being without dahlias. They are, to me, the quintessential flower. And there are so many varieties I can’t imagine that everyone couldn’t find at least one (ha!) that they wouldn’t love to grow in their garden.

‘Cafe au Lait’ dahlias in a variety of colors from my garden last year. 

I’ve always loved dahlias but growing them in our zone 5b climate along Lake Michigan, which makes a deal with the devil to offer warm, long autumn at the expense of warm springs, is an exercise in patience. Dahlias are, in general, at their best in late summer, but the cold soil in my garden in spring pushed that back even later.

Several years ago I figured out a way to circumvent this problem. I now pot up tubers in gallon-size nursery pots in mid-April so that dahlias have a good amount of growth on them by the time the soil is warm enough to plant them out. You must never plant a dahlia in cold soil; it will sulk at best and rot at worst.

A collection of dahlias cut before frost a couple years ago. The center flower is ‘Pablo’ and the orange flowers are ‘David Howard’.

My taste in dahlias varies from year to year. There are so many categories of dahlias and varieties within each category, that the idea of never delving into the other options is appalling to me.

Best known are the dinnerplate dahlias, so called for their enormous flowers, although to truly get flowers the size of a dinner plate, you’ll need to be ruthless about pinching out side shoots, allowing all the nutrients and plant love to go to one single, favored bud per stem. This is how dahlias are grown for show and I’m far too greedy a gardener to follow this practice. I’ll take four 6- or 7-inch blooms over one giant one any day. Dinnerplate dahlias must also be staked because their heavy blooms will certainly make the stems topple over. I’ve admitted my staking mistakes here regularly but this is one of those do-as-I-say not do-as-I-do things. Stake them either with some sort of cage or metal support or with individual supports (i.e. bamboo canes) for each major stem when the buds begin to swell, if not before.

Because of the hassle factor, I don’t grow a lot of dinnerplates. I also find that they can be a touch difficult to incorporate into a border so unless you have a specific cutting garden area you have to be a little choosy about siting them. For the last several years, however, ‘Cafe au Lait’ has been the star of my garden. I think I first became aware of this dahlia when Erin from Floret started using them in her amazing bouquets. The color on it will range from buff or blush to almost candy pink and everything in between.

The seductive center of a ‘Cafe au Lait’ from my garden.
‘Labyrinth’ Longfield Gardens photo

I grow ‘Cafe au Lait’ in the skinny bed that runs between the house and the patio (quite the micro-climate there), but the rest of that garden has become quite colorful as I fill it with mostly annuals grown from seed. So this year I’ll be alternating ‘Cafe au Lait’ at the back of that garden with ‘Labyrinth’, which is similar in form and style to ‘Cafe au Lait’ but much brighter. I look at it almost as a more saturate ‘Cafe au Lait’.

‘David Howard’
‘HS Flame’ Longfield Garden photo

I am also fond of dark-leaved dahlias although in a book I’m reading the great Christopher Lloyd (the late owner of the famed British garden and home Great Dixter) said he thought they could be “funereal” (on this point, Lloyd and I do not agree). ‘David Howard’ is an excellent example and of all the dahlias I’ve grown it produces the most flowers year after year. This year I’ll be adding a red-flowered, dark foliage dahlia called ‘HS Flame’, which also has the single petals that pollinators appreciate and looks just a little less fussy than some dahlias. I’ll be devoting a section of the circle garden to this dahlia.


Last year I also grew a dark-leaved one called ‘Roxy’ which was a good performer in a pot for me. All three of these last dahlias I’ve mentioned have the benefit of being lower growing, so in many cases do not require staking, although ‘David Howard’ always grows taller than it should for me and flops by the end of summer.

‘Crichton Honey’

I have an affinity for ball-shaped dahlias as well. There is something so orderly and almost unnatural about the shape of them that I find captivating. By far the best of these that I grew last year was ‘Crichton Honey’, which again varied in color (on the same flower, no less) from yellow to salmon to orange with a bright green center. I also like the tiny pom dahlias, although I’ve not had good luck with these and for some reason the slugs in my garden attack these over all others. I think that’s a coincidence more than anything, but it’s a shame because I think a pom dahlia thrown in a bouquet of more natural-shaped flowers is a lovely thing.

‘Art Deco’

Gallery dahlias are fabulous because they are the lowest growing of the dahlias and are perfect for the front of a bed or a container and will never need staking (hallelujah). Sometimes, though, I find them almost too compact, without a lot of room for them to really show off their flowers. Such problems. Their color and form is somewhat limited as well. ‘Art Deco’ is a lovely deep salmon color. A few years ago I got a mixed bag of unknown gallery dahlias and there was one spectacular one that I didn’t know the name of at the time. I now believe it was ‘Pablo’ and it was outstanding.

‘Serkan’ Longfield Gardens photo

As I said, I’m far to undisciplined of a gardener to stick to just a few varieties of dahlias and this year I’ll be growing a few new ones. First is ‘Serkan’, a blue-purple waterlily variety that will also go in the circle garden. The waterlily dahlias are so unusual compared to other varieties and there’s something graceful about them. I think the flower shape is a good juxtaposition with a lot of other flower forms that may be growing near it.

‘Myrtles Folly’ Longfield Gardens photo

‘Nuit d’Ete’ Longfield Gardens photo

If there was ever a flower to go a little wild with, it’s dahlias and that’s what led me to these next two varieties; they are just a little nutty. The first is ‘Myrtles Folly’, a big, almost fuzzy looking flower with split petals and bright colors. And the second is ‘Nuit d’Ete’, which is said to be one of the darkest dahlias and the cactus form is always interesting. I’m thinking I may grow them together, as dark flowers are no use if you don’t have something near them to set them off so they don’t get lost in the background.

Dahlias will keep blooming if you are good about deadheading them. Here’s some information on how to do that.

Now, onto the fun part. I want to prove to you that:

  1. Dahlias are easy to grow,
  2. Everyone should grow some, and
  3. Once you grow them you’ll fall in love with them too.
Longfield’s Summer Wine mix
Longfield’s Sugar Plum mix

Longfield Gardens has offered to give TWO lucky readers one of their dahlia collections. I picked out two that I thought were fantastic: their Summer Wine mix and a Sugar Plum mix. Right now most of their dahlias are on sale so if you haven’t ordered yet, make sure you do before they are sold out!

Just clicking will get you one entry but you can earn additional entries as well. If you have some sun in your garden or a place you can put a pot in the sun, you can grow these!

Longfield Gardens Dahlia collection giveaway

Longfield Gardens has offered to give away two dahlia collections to The Impatient Gardener readers and has offered me a few dahlia varieties to try free of charge. All opinions are my own. 

36 Responses

  1. I just started planting dahlias this year. They are beautiful. . I only have a few but I think my collection will grow I really want to get a cafe au lair and a labyrinth.
    I’m afraid I’m addicted.

  2. I have had a dahlia garden every year for about 25 years. After another year of unsuccessful storage, I have given up. I am donating this year’s garden, after frost, to my neighbor. I love them, but, no more!

  3. I grew Dahlias in my community garden plot and then put them in my basement for the winter. They did not survive, would love to try again.

  4. Let me tell you about dahlias!! I finally got them to bloom! Oh, and I love your blog and the encouragement I find here. I have read for awhile, but I have never commented.

    Seriously, I live in central Oklahoma where summers are brutally hot, it is windy, and winters are becoming more like a very dry cold spring with the occasional ice storm (usually 1/4 inch or more) a couple of times a season. I have tried for many years to get dahlias to bloom with no luck. The family who owns the local garden center say they are very hard to grow here because of the variable factors of the weather. So, me being me, I said I would try "one more time, and if it did not bloom, I would give up." So, it bloomed…many beautiful blooms! I think it did it just to keep me from banishing it from my garden. Now, I get to figure out a different one this year and try it!

  5. I love dahlias big and small, but I really like the waterlily types for cutting, they last for ages and they are small enough to mix with roses and other flowers in bouquets. Love the photos!

  6. I'm just amassing my dahlias for 2017 (including pulling out last year's from storage) – Café au Lait and Labyrinth are my two favorites. I also just got a Kelvin Floodlight for the cutting garden.

  7. You turned me on to dahlias last year and I followed your suggestions and bought the three varieties you recommended (whose names I forget right now). I also used your method of potting them up (albeit a little late) and then transplanted them beautifully into the garden. Come September, my garden came alive again with the dahlias. Thanks for the recommendations!!

  8. The summer wine mix looks divine. I'd love to admire them in my garden while sipping on some wine. I've only ever grown one type of dahlia and I don't even know what kind it is.

  9. I haven't grown dahlias often because I'm too lazy to dig them up in the fall. I don't know why I didn't think about containers because I garden a lot in pots. I will do it this year! Thank you!!!

  10. no mam i love them all i live in texas and have been doing fruit plating got my mango cherry and pomegranite planted i already have 3 peach trees 3 plum trees 2 lemon trees an apple tree and this i would love to have need to start planting beautiful flowers now

  11. You've really gotten me interested in dahlias over the last few years, but but I have yet to be brave enough to try them! There are so many different kinds, it's a little overwhelming, but but I think love the fuller ones the best, like Critchon Honey and David Howard.

  12. Oops! I didn't see WHAT we were supposed to comment until after I'd commented. I am in love with the Crichton Honey!

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