Gallery Sisley is compact, making it ideal for containers. Photo by Dalbert G. of Berlin Heights, Ohio. See the original image in the Dutch Gardens Photo Center.

February is here and if you haven’t done so already, now’s the time to order your dahlias. Since the selection of dahlia bulbs and plants is usually limited at local garden centers, I always order my dahlias by mail. This gives me access to the full range of colors, forms and sizes.

Dahlias have become a staple in my cutting garden. They mix well with other midsummer and fall bloomers, and easily hold their own in a vase. Few annuals or perennials can compete with their dramatic blooms.

If you’re relatively new to growing dahlias, it can be a bit overwhelming to wade through the dozens and dozens of choices. The American Dahlia Society sorts dahlias into categories based on their flower form. The number, shape, and arrangement of the flower’s petals determine its form.

The ADS recognizes 20 different flower forms, from the familiar cactus dahlia with spidery petals to the aptly named pompons. Some dahlias resemble peonies, some look like waterlilies, and others could be mistaken for daisies or coneflowers.

For bouquets, I especially love the quilled white-and-purple-accented flowers of ‘Blackberry Ripple’ and ‘Dutch Explosion’. ‘Halskraag’ means collar in Dutch and is an appropriate name for the eye-catching blooms of this unusual form. Each flower has a row of shorter petals that encircle a center disk, which is often in a contrasting color.

Dahlia flowers range in size from 12″ across to the diminutive double Pompons and Mignon Singles that measure less than 2” across. Although not a formally ADS-recognized category, most dahlia purveyors offer the largest blooms as “dinnerplate dahlias”. They typically reach 8” or more across. It only takes a few flowers of yellow ‘Kelvin Floodlight’ or deep red ‘Zorro’ to make a stunning bouquet!

The more petite, windowbox dahlias have their own special charm. I use them for small arrangements, mixed with mums and dwarf asters. With colors ranging from white, golden-yellow, and cherry-red to pink and lavender, the Mignon and Pompon mixtures also make cheerful bouquets.

If it takes your garden soil awhile to warm up in the spring, you may want to get your dahlia bulbs started in nursery pots. Once the plants have leafed out and the soil in your garden has warmed up, you can dig a large hole and carefully place the developing root ball right into your garden.

To ensure your dahlia-growing success, here’s a how-to article with lots of helpful tips and techniques.

-Ann Whitman, Staff Horticulturist