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My top 5 dahlias (for now)


They say the first step is to admit you have a problem.

So I admit it: I have a dahlia problem.

I grew about 100 dahlias this year, and I estimate there were between 25 and 30 varieties. I try not to count these things too carefully because denial is easier if you don’t have real numbers.

group of dahlias

Now that the end of dahlia season is just weeks away (if I’m lucky), it’s the time of year when I make decisions about what dahlias are worth saving, and which ones I’ll grow again next year and which ones I’ll rehome. Which leads me to a little exercise I call: Playing Favorites.

In this case, if I what dahlias would I grow if I could only grow five varieties?


Penhill Dark Monarch dahlia

In my limited dahlia palette, I’m only allowing myself one real biggie and in this case the deep pink ‘Penhill Dark Monarch’ is just barely edging out its sister ‘Penhill Watermelon’. Both have striated petals and the changing colors of Watermelon, which I grew for the first time this year, really has won my heart. But there’s a depth to Dark Monarch that I like and I feel like it does a better job holding those heavy blooms up. These are both really big dahlias that need serious staking.

Penhill Watermelon dahlia
Runner-up ‘Penhill Watermelon’ is big, bold, a little curly and some flower are pretty much as big as my head.


Nuit d'été dahlia
‘Nuit d’ Été’ brings deep color and great texture.

You have to have some variation if you’re only going to grow a few varieties, so I think a dark dahlia is called for. ‘Nuit d’ Ete’ is a cactus that brings a great texture variation as well. It’s not perfect:  It’s taller so really does need staking and I wish the stems were a bit stronger. But for color and shape, it’s tough to do better. ‘Jowey Mirella’, a perfect ball that is almost as dark is a close runner up. 


cafe au lait dahlias in various colors
These are all Café au Lait.

You knew it was coming right? I like be a little bit unpredictable so it pains me a little to put everyone’s favorite dahlia on this list. But every time another large (but not huge) dahlia comes into my life that I think might displace ‘Café au Lait’ from the list, I find a reason why Cafe is better. It changes quite in a bit in color, from buff to almost medium pink, but all are very agreeable colors that seem to go with everything in a vase. It’s also a nice size for a vase. Very large dahlias just don’t play well with others in bouquets. Runners up in this category are ‘Breakout’ and ‘Labyrinth’.

Cafe au Lait bouquet
A bouquet of Café au Lait dahlias showing off late-season buff color.
Cafe au Lait dahlia
A perfect pink ‘Cafe au Lait’ bloom.


HS Date single dahlia

Many people don’t even realize the bright orange single flower that very nicely bends over the path (no need for the Deflopper) with the dark olive, almost black, foliage is a dahlia. But it is. HS stands for Happy Single and I can’t think of a better name for this series, which includes several other colors. I’ve grown at least three of them and have decided that the clear orange of ‘HS Date’, which seems to have larger flowers than the others, is my favorite. 


crichton honey ball dahlia

My weakness for ball dahlias led me to ‘Crichton Honey’ several years ago and she still charms me to this day. The colors vary widely from pure salmon to butter yellow to tangerine and often all three at once. It flowers early and puts out tons of flowers right until frost and needs very little staking. I have photos of ‘Crichton Honey’ on most things The Impatient Gardener, so it’s likely the dahlia people most associate with me, just because they see it the most. It always gets a spot at the front of the patio garden where I love to see it mingling with the purple foliage of ‘Wild Magic’ basil.

garden with boxwood, dahlias, hydrangea
That’s ‘Crichton Honey’ at the front tucked behind the big purple plants (‘Wild Magic’) basil.

It wasn’t easy to choose. At any moment I’m falling in love with another dahlia. So with that in mind, I am going to put a big asterisk right here: This list is bound to change. Because I’m willing to do the hard work, and grow way too many dahlias, all in pursuit of more favorites.

26 Responses

  1. Well Erin…Thanks to you, I have 7 potted HS Date dahlias I’m planting in my Denver suburban garden. Does the HS Date need staked like other dahlias? Thanks for talking me into dahlias. You also talked me into Wild Magic Basil.

  2. I live in Saskatchewan Canada colder conditions then very hot summers can I use large peat. Pots to start the ones that you put plant and all in the ground

  3. Love all the dahlias. Have you ever tried propagating your dahlias from cuttings? I watched a swan island dahlias video on it and was wondering if I could use it to increase my stock. You might not need to, maybe you’re at capacity right now. 🙂
    I have really loved your YouTube channel and have been enjoying digging around on your blog.

  4. I planted a ton of dahlia tubers and started some from seed. My from seed ones turned out beautiful with lots of surprising shapes and colors. In hoping to save all of the tubers for next year.

  5. Erin,
    I’m not sure where to post this question, so I hope you’ll see it here. We’re supposed to get freezing temps tonight (Zone 4b, SE MN), so I am thinking ahead to storing my dahlias. I bought the wood shavings you suggested in a video, but that got me wondering. We have a lot of mice coming into the house right now since it’s getting colder out (there’s a field right behind the house.) Do dahlia bulbs attract mice?? Do I have to worry where I put them over the winter? I don’t want any mice nests in the bedding.

  6. I’m glad you had at least one single on there, as the others are just about useless for pollinators. Next year will be my first year growing dahlias. I blame this overwhelming need on Rusty Burlew and you! That HS Date is on the list, for sure, as is Bishop of Llandaff. Do you have any experience with that one? I want the dark foliage, and I’m a sucker for a deep, deep, red.

    1. I haven’t grown Bishop of Llandaff but I’ve grown one of “Bishop’s children” as so many of the progeny of that famous dahlia are called. I forget which one, but it was fine. I think I leaned more toward the HS series because, if I recall, they are shorter than the Bishops. But I’m pretty sure the only red in the HS series is ‘Flame’, which I also have, but it’s not a dark red like Bishop is.

  7. That Penhill Watermelon is gorgeous. I have several of your top list too, and had a successful dahlia season. I like Stars Favorite for my cactus, but that deep red Bloom and black foliage of Nuit D’Ete is definitely something to think about for next season. I only grew and planted around 30 dahlias, but I love how they hold up through the fall when everything else is done. Greetings from Waukesha. Robb

  8. I don’t have any of those so I need to go shopping! Closest I came is I do have one of your runner ups – Labrynth! I was just re-watching your dahlia storage videos. My dahlias were hit with a very early frost/freeze a couple weeks ago. I was set to start digging up this weekend but new growth is flushing out all over them so feeling bad to be ripping them out so early. Not like there’s time for them to bloom again and at least I’ll be able to take some extra time and actually be a bit organized with their storage. Last year I didn’t dig them up until almost end of October and it was so rushed to get them in. It doesn’t feel like this fall will be as kind this year…more frost coming in next few nights. – Mary from Ashland, WI

    1. If there’s new growth, I think I’d hold off on digging at this point. You want them to have time to sort of “suck” the nutrients back into the tuber before storing. Last year an early snow and rather obnoxious cold had me out there at 9 p.m. with a headlamp on digging as many dahlias as I could. The next day I went back and had to shovel snow to get at the rest. Remarkably almost all of them survived.

  9. I’ve been on the hunt for Chriton Honey for two years now because of you. I actually got it in a collection this year, but it rotted (I blame 2020). The hunt continues! Thanks for feeding my addiction.

  10. Wow, those are mine too, but my Cafe au Lait was a bit disappointing, still very nice, just was not expecting it to be purple. How about your Peachy Salmon, one if my favorite of yours. Still hunting it down. I think they changed the name to Sierra Glow.

    1. There were a lot of Cafe au Lait mistakes this year. Not sure where it all went wrong, but a lot of people got the wrong tuber and I’m certain you did too. (I ended up with Red Labyrinth instead of Cafe au Lait, but it’s still beautiful.) I found that Peachy Salmon from Triple Wren Farms I believe and I think they hadn’t properly named it at that point so it wouldn’t surprise me if they changed the name now.

  11. Whoa! I did not see that Penhill upset coming! I thought for sure watermelon would make the cut. I’m going to have to add the nuit cactus variety to my wish list. I feel like such an accomplished gardener after finally growing these beauties successfully this year, thanks to you

      1. Bought my very first dahlias and Watermelon was my first choice, so I’m happy to see it “almost mad the cut.” Figure that is pretty high praise. Excited for my firs blooms

  12. I grew my first dahlias this year, and they were quite the surprise! According to the label, they were supposed to be pink. They are definitely orange (!) and totally stick out in my mostly pink garden. I was disappointed, but they are growing on me. Who knows – maybe I’ll let them stick around next year. (Too bad I have no idea what they’re called.) I need to re-watch your storing dahlias video first. Thanks for the nudge to give dahlias a try.

  13. I ordered too many dahlias already, but Crichton Honey is calling my name! It’s sooo beautiful! Makes me think of warm sunny days and a glass of lemonade.

  14. Well, you’re responsible for my (and I’m sure that of many others’) beginning dahlia obsession! In my zone 8a garden my Lowe’s unknown variety plants bloomed much earlier, and fizzled with the heat, but after a good cut back and a little cooler weather I’m getting a few new blooms. I’m ordering a couple that I’ve fallen for, as well. Interestingly, for a while I thought the HS in all of that series stood for “High School,” as in High School Date, etc. It fits! I like all of your favorites, too!

  15. 100 dahlias!!! That is a lot. Where did you plant them all? Has your veggie garden been turned into a dahlia garden?? What you have shown here looks beautiful. I really like that huge one you are holding. FUN.

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