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Connecticut Garden Journal: Grow a hearty summer and fall favorite - Dahlias

Close up view of a cluster of about ten purple dahlias in full bloom in the garden. Dahlias are a genus of bushy perennial plants that were originally native to Mexico and Central America. With over 42 species and many hybrids, the dahlia has become very popular with gardeners due to it unique shape and brightly colored patterns and hues.
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Dahlia growing tips: They're hardy in zones 7 and above. While you can grow dahlias from seed, for immediate satisfaction, purchase tubers and plant in early- to mid-May in most parts of Connecticut once the soil temperatures reach 60 degrees.

With all the bulbs and spring ephemerals blooming right now, it's hard to think of flowers for late summer. But now is the time to plan for that quieter period when fewer flowers are blooming.

One of the most versatile flowers to grow for summer and fall color is the dahlia. Dahlias hail from the mountains of Mexico and Guatemala. Europeans brought them to that continent and eventually they found their way to North America. Dahlias are hardy in zones 7 and above. Although they might overwinter in warmer parts of the state, it' s still good to dig and store them each winter.

While you can grow dahlias from seed, for immediate satisfaction, purchase tubers. Plant in early- to mid-May in most parts of Connecticut once the soil temperatures reach 60 degrees. Plant dahlias in full sun on well-drained soil. They do like a consistently cool, moist soil so add compost and keep a hose handy for watering. Plant 4- to 6-inches deep and lay the tuber flat with the growth point or “eye” facing upward. Either stake and tie the plants as they grow or plant them close to other tall perennials, such as peonies and baptisia, and let the dahlias use them for support. Pinch the plant when it's 1 foot tall to promote bushiness and more flowers.

Select varieties based on their color and flower shape. The flower sizes can be 2- to 10-inches in diameter and the shapes include cactus, pom pom, peony, orchid and singles. I particularly like the purple and bi-color flower varieties and ones, such as 'Mystic Illusion', with dark purple foliage color.

Charlie Nardozzi is a regional Emmy® Award winning garden writer, speaker, radio, and television personality. He has worked for more than 30 years bringing expert information to home gardeners.
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