Hello flower lovers! I’m partnering with Longfield Gardens on this post, but you know the drill: all words and dahlia obsessions are my own.
We interrupt your regularly scheduled holiday activities to talk about something that is, dare I say, even more important. And if you know me, you probably know that the only thing that could tear me away from my Christmas cookies is dahlias.
I know it seems impossibly early to be thinking about dahlias but specific varieties sell out quickly and take it from one who knows, there is nothing worse than needing a specific dahlia (and it is a need) and not being able to find it.
I fully recognize that not every gardener is quite as insane as I am about dahlias, so I thought it might be helpful to offer a few suggestion for a variety of dahlia “starter kits” that might be helpful for gardeners who want to give dahlias a try without turning into some kind of dahlia maniac (like, um, me).
All of these dahlias can be found at Longfield Gardens, which is where I start my dahlia shopping. (Longfield Gardens is sponsoring this post, but I was a customer long before I connected with them professionally.)
BIG AND BOLD
Ask someone to picture a dahlia and my guess is that a big dinnerplate variety is what comes to mind. So if you’re after the quintessential dahlia experience, go big or go home.
Remember, however, that big-flowering varieties are needy buggers, more so than any other dahlia, in my experience. You can’t skimp on the sun, staking or regular watering. I grow these big varieties in a south-facing bed alongside the house, so they are protected from the wind fully on one side, but I still employ a serious staking system.
I’d kick off this group with ‘Breakout‘ for its easy-going nature. It’s free-flowering and goes with almost any other dahlia with the exception of a bright orange variety. A perennial favorite of mine is ‘Penhill Dark Monarch‘, which can do a bit of color changing, but generally falls in the medium pink arena. And I’d round out the grouping with deep, rich ‘Thomas Edison‘.
Feel free to swap out any of those for the absolutely astounding ‘Penhill Watermelon‘ which blew me away last year.
When I mass plant dahlias, my go-to varieties are usually ball types because the form just lends itself to looking bountiful. And most ball dahlias seem to be generous with bloom production. I like to look for varieties that grow a little shorter (30 inches is my sweet spot, but I’ll push it to 36 inches tall if I have to), and I prefer those that keep their centers closed a bit more.
Forced to choose, I’d start with ‘Jowey Mirella‘, a deep, dark, sultry number I grew for the first time last year and it just produced like crazy. Then I’d add in ‘Linda’s Baby‘, which is just perfect in every way, and ‘Petra’s Wedding’, because you wouldn’t believe how often a white ball dahlia would come in handy when making an arrangement. ‘Maarn‘ is a particular favorite of mine as well, but its true orange color doesn’t go well with my other choices in this category.
I think of these dahlias as some of the best there are, but they defy common dahlia definitions. All of these would work really well planted in a perennial or annual garden bed because to me they say “flower” more than they say “dahlia.”
There are two varieties that are no brainers here including ‘Labyrinth‘, a dahlia that fell utterly head over heels in love with two years ago. The shine is off that love just a bit only because my eye is always caught by the newest girl in the garden, but I’ll always have it. It has bigger flowers and I grow it with the dinnerplates, but it’s extremely floriferous.
The next no-brainer is ‘David Howard‘, which I think should be in contention for the best dahlia … ever. It has lovely orange flowers with just a tinge of rust, but best of all, beautiful dark foliage. The contrast is striking.
Choosing a third variety for this group is nearly impossible because there are so many good options, but forced to choose, I’d pick ‘American Dawn‘ because it has the most lovely color combo. I found that it works with so many other flowers in a vase or in the garden.
Dahlias are not typically thought of as great flowers for pollinators but if you choose varieties with fewer petals and open centers, they are a big hit with bees and butterflies. The single dahlias I grow are among the most often visited flowers in the garden. But steel yourself a little, because if you’re new to dahlias you might not even recognize these as dahlias. They are, and they are quickly becoming some of my favorites.
There is no way that ‘HS Date‘ wouldn’t be a the top of this list and you probably new that if you’ve been following my dahlia story for any amount of time. Gorgeous flowers that hold so well in a vase, pollinator magnets and oh, did I mention that it has almost black foliage that is mind blowing? Yeah, it’s that good.
Next up I’d pick ‘HS Flame‘, which is one of the only red flowers I truly love in my garden. It has that same dark foliage and the addition of a yellow center. My last pick in this group would be a collarette type, which I’m just personally starting to get into. ‘Kelsey Annie Joy‘ is all pinks and peaches and really what’s not to love?
PERFECT FOR CONTAINERS
A lot of people choose to grow dahlias in containers either because it’s the only place they can grow them or because, well, they want some fabulous dahlias all front and center. This requires careful selection. Big dinnerplate varieties are probably not the best choice because 1. They will be even taller and require more staking in container that brings them up off the ground, 2. They typically start blooming later in the season so that’s a long time with a container missing a star, and 3. See the mention earlier about them being extra needy.
So what you’re looking for is one that is a reasonable size, puts out a lot of blooms and starts blooming early in the summer. I give bonus points for interesting foliage because I think that’s even more important in a container.
So, forgive me for being repetitive here, but I go back to ‘HS Date‘. As long as you dead-head the spent flowers regularly (every few days, please), it will keep putting out new flowers.
But I also think you should look at the Gallery series of dahlias, which is really perfect for containers. Not only are they short—between 12 and 18 inches tall—they bloom all season and keep producing flowers.
You really can’t go wrong with any of them so I say pick the color you like best but ‘Gallery Art Deco‘ is a longtime favorite of mine and I think that ‘Gallery Bellini‘ packs a big punch in a small package. If you don’t want to grow these in containers, plunk them at the front of the border and they won’t let you down.
White gardens are experiencing a bit of a moment, and I think that so long as they are in sun, dahlias can be a major player in them. Look for texture and form differences to make a great combo here. I don’t grow nearly enough white dahlias but if I were, I’d do a combo of ‘‘Fleurel‘, ‘White Onesta‘ and ‘Tsuki Yori No Shisha‘. The first is a classic dinnerplate, the second is a charming waterlily type (or close to it) and third is a wild fluffy number unlike anything else you’ll grow.
(Sidenote: I chose those three and then went back and realized that Longfield Gardens has those as a combo, so you can save a bit of money buying them that way.)
Let’s say you want the dahlias. The ones that everyone talks about. These are the ones you want, and this group starts with the queen of the dahlia prom: ‘Cafe au Lait’. You know it, you love it (Fun fact: It is actually illegal in 30 states not to love ‘Café au Lait‘). But it’s popular for a reason. Its color changes throughout the season so embrace those changes. Next up is ‘Kelvin Floodlight‘, a giant yellow that I haven’t grown but if I had a dollar for every time someone told me I should grow it, I’d have a lot more money for dahlias.
And I think I’m going to put ‘Rip City’ in this last slot as one of the most popular dark dahlias and a great grower.
So that’s my guide to choosing dahlias based on your need, but if you’re into cutting your flowers, I highly recommend you check out the Flirty Fleurs collections at Longfield for an idea of how different varieties can come together in arrangements. They are so inspirational.
OK, so what dahlias are you picking up this year?
I was excited to see that Longfield added totally tangerine and Linda’s Baby to their selection
Excellent article. Dahlias stopped me on December 23rd! I enjoyed the flow and the content so much that I’ve made a purchase through Longfield Gardens this afternoon. I can’t wait for my Assorted “White Collection” to arrive. I’ve found it challenging to find good, strong, tall white dahlias. I hope I’ve found it here. Thanks for getting me pumped up for summer on December 23rd. Merry Christmas everyone (but please stay vigilant…we want to see you in the garden next summer). timmyd
I love all the Dahlia’s too. Now I am thinking more about summer than Christmas and this year that is ok! Thanks for putting your favorite combo’s out. In the past I just picked some I liked and popped them in wherever I could fit them…..I think a bit more planning this year will be good!
I am not a flower gardener but you have inspired me. So I am starting with Mikayla Miranda from Swan Island. We shall see what I can produce in my front yard south facing, only sunny spot on my property. It might be just what my garden needs. Thank you for all your expertise.
I’ve been watching your channel and started with HS Date, it bloomed beautifully. I just placed an order with Longfield Gardens, Flirty Fleurs Ravenna Collection which includes Break Out, Penhill Watermelon, & Penhill Dark Monarch. I also ordered Labyrinth, and Lady Darlene & Mingus Alex collection. I want more! I’ll start with these and add to my collection next year. Love your channel! Thanks!
This is the first time I will be planting dahlias that I have actually ordered and not just picked up off a cart at the grocery store. I’m going with cafe au lait, Linda’s baby, HS flame/date combo, and finally Gallery Pablo. I picked these for various heights and color. I wanted to try a variety of size and all with hints towards the warmish colors. I have a sunny spot for them and my stakes are ready to go come June. I also saved a lot of my plastic pots from last year to get them started inside. Looking forward to April when longfield will be shipping them to me.
They all look so beautiful I’m having trouble deciding which ones I want. I already ordered Rocco and lilac time for my purple section of my front garden but now I need to decide the others.
Uma mais linda que a outra. Olhando as footos até senti o perfume caracteristico das dálias. Obrigada, Feliz Natal. Mery Christmas. FRom Blumenau, SC Brazil.
I’m just getting into dahlias. I want them all! Based on your recommendations, I ordered way too many for our small garden. We don’t have much sun on our property. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. I really need it!
Happy Holidays from Idaho! After watching your Dahlia Youtube videos last year I took the plunge and ordered my first Dahlias and I ordered them from Longfield. I was so extremely nervous and watched your how-to Dahlia videos more than once, because it was a bit of an investment and I so wanted to have those spectacular flowers in my garden. Well lets just say that my Dahlia bed from summer thru to our first frost was SPECTACULAR and I am hooked!!!!! I just put in my Spring 2021 order for Dahlias with Longfield, I was so pleased with their product and overall ease of ordering – I am ordering a MOTHERLOAD of different varieties and consider it a Christmas gift to myself 😉 Thank you for inspiring me and helping me grow a more beautiful garden – it brings me such joy and happiness. Looking forward to watching you in 2021!!
You’re KILLING me! No where in my yard do I have full sun! ARGH! But I thoroughly enjoyed the article and photos. Living my “dahlia life” through you. *Sigh*
I’m taking the leap, with HS Flame/HS Date combo, Rip City, Petra’s Wedding, Kelsey Annie Joy, American Dream, White Onesta, and combos Flirty Fleurs Lucerne and Verona. I have lots of sun waiting for these babies on our 5 acres! Thanks for your experience and knowledge of this extraordinary plant!
Love the insight! I ordered Kelsey Annie in December, one of those knee-jerk reactions as soon as I saw it. Definitely adding Art Deco now! Thanks for the great info!
I’m growing my first dahlia this year and starting with “Eveline”. I love the edging and center topped with purple. I can’t wait! Thankfully, I snagged a tuner before they all sold out.
Thanks for this great article! Just found it, unfortunately after I already spent my whole dahlia budget. This year I added Benjamin Matthew, Bride to Be, Penhill Watermelon, Café au Lait, Isabel, Labyrinth, and Happy Butterfly. My list for next year just got a whole lot longer!!!
Thank you for this article, Erin – I always appreciate your dahlia posts. Would you consider an update post on how over-wintering has been going the past few years? As a zone 4 grower, my hesitation with dahlias has always been the over-wintering process.
Can,t wait for spring