Dahlia catalogs from a number of commercial growers will appear regularly from early-December to mid-January. These growers provide a great service for those of us who definitely desire to grow a specific variety. Many of us comb these catalogs at great length in order to structure our portfolio of garden/exhibition quality blooms. Additionally, one can visit dahlia suppliers on the internet. Supplier sites usually will include good information and pictures.
The purchaser needs to be aware of the possible outcomes, however, when buying a dahlia tuber. The following suggestions provide parameters for selecting and purchasing new or different stock.
- Buy dahlias you like. When a person sees a dahlia s/he enjoys for the first time, s/he usually says something like “Oh, isn’t that pretty. Color and form usually play an important part in this initial holistic evaluation of the spectacle.
- Buy from a reputable grower rather than from a wholesale garden center. Ask other experienced growers what commercial growers have good stock, free of disease with strong growing habits. If possible, buyers can also attend tuber and plant sales that local groups hold in the spring. These activities offer a great way to meet local dahlia enthusiasts and learn the names of dahlias that grow well in the region.
- If you feel so inclined, buy some dahlias that you can show. Not every dahlia, however beautiful to the eye of the beholder, has the qualities necessary to compete on the show table. Usually yellows and whites compete more readily than do other colors. Understand that variegated and bicolored dahlias, although striking, rarely win more than a blue ribbon. Also, blends often have a difficult time winning higher awards. Ask experienced dahlia exhibitors for their recommendations.
- Understand that the same named stock is not necessarily equal. For instance, one commercial grower may have strong Edna C stock while another may not. Conversely, the grower with weaker Edna C stock may grow much better stock of Hamari Accord. Be selective. Go to gardens and inspect carefully. How tall is the bush you wish to purchase? How healthy is it? What is the appearance of the foliage? Find the best stock possible. The price of a tuber can vary significantly. To the degree that the budget allows, disregard the price discrepancy and purchase the most vibrant stock. (When I buy new stock, especially of a variety I intend to show, I will purchase from as many as six different growers. I then observe and record how each grower’s stock performs in my own garden.) Keeping records increases one’s enjoyment and empowers a gardener’s expertise.
- Many growers see a new variety for the first time at a show. What is not seen, however, is the plant itself. A buyer must realize that these keen exhibitors have provided maximum care, and devised methods to improve the quality of their exhibit in every imaginable way possible. A buyer should know that dahlias grow differently on the coast where it is cooler and usually more humid than inland. Attempt to find out what dahlias grow well in the climate where you live. Realize that there are thousands of varieties from which to select.
- Check the latest ADS Classification and Handbook of Dahlias, determining which varieties are doing well in the shows. This process provides the buyer with another check and balance. For certain, you can determine what regions are adequate for growing a certain variety. If you do not own a copy of this handbook, ask an ADS judge to show you how to use his/her copy. S/he will be most happy to explain the process.
- Rather than being too scientific in selecting a certain dahlia, you should also have a venturesome spirit. Buy a new variety and be the first to show off your find or be the first to have the knowledge that the variety you guessed about is not suited for your garden. Be aware, however, that it sometimes takes three years to acclimate a variety. For whatever reason, some varieties, even proven ones, grow better one year than another. Patience in the world of dahlias can reward a grower prodigiously.
- Attempt to grow a variety of forms, sizes, and colors. To maximize your enjoyment, take a judging school class or attend a seminar where you can learn more about dahlias. Remember, you can learn substantially from other dahlia growers while attending an educational event. Furthermore, it’s fun just to be around others who enjoy the same subject that you do.
Suggestions for a Beginning Dahlia Grower:
Quality Exhibition Varieties:
Zorro ~ ID Dark Red
A C Ben ~ SC Orange/Yellow
Lismore Moonlight ~ Yellow
Irish Glow ~ Red
Pop Willo ~ Bronze/Yellow
A C Casper ~ White
Vassio Meggos ~ ID Lavender
Islander ~ ID Dark Pink
Northwest Heritage ~ Yellow
Hannah Baker ~ Dark Pink/Yellow
Just Married ~ Pink/Yellow
Hamari Accord ~ SC Yellow
Hollyhill Chloe ~ SC Dark Pink/Orange
Edna C ~ FD Yellow
Pam Howden ~ Orange/Yellow
Cameo ~ Yellow
Parkland Rave ~ FD Lavender
Hollyhill Black Beauty ~ ID Dark Red
Hollyhill Jitterbug ~ SC Orange
Midnight Star ~ Dark Red
Destiny’s Teachers ~ White/Purple
Rose Toscano ~ FD Orange
Brookside J Cooley ~ ID Yellow
Weston Spanish Dancer ~ C Flame
Verrone’s Morning Star ~ White
Fancy Pants ~ Lavender
Sir Richard ~ Dark Pink
Chimacum Troy ~ Purple
Alloway Candy ~ Pink
Irish Blackhart ~ Dark Red/White
Clearview Daniel ~ Yellow
Cornell ~ Dark Red
Mary’s Jomanda ~ Dark Pink
– Wayne Shantz