I never knew what a dahlia was, never mind how to grow dahlias, until I started following flower farmers on Instagram. Then I started to learn more about cut flower gardens and what varieties to grow, I did my first intentional growing of cut flowers last year, and was instantly hooked!
I’ve had so many questions about what I did and how I did my trial cut flower garden plot in the bottom 1/4 of my vegetable garden last year, so here I am, sharing it. I always order spring bulbs from Vesey’s, because our playschool has fundraisers biannually anyway, and I also picked up some dahlia tubers I saw at our Walmart. I didn’t have a plan, I just randomly planted dahlias, gladiolus, anemones, ranunculus, sunflowers and lilies in this flower garden of mine. I loved what I saw, definitely decided what I liked and what I didn’t like, and this year I’ve dedicated about 1/2 of my garden to cut flowers.
What To Grow
This is a very personal decision and will also depend on where you live and what plant hardiness zone you’re in. We are in zone 5 near Calgary, Alberta so I can grow pretty much anything I want, keeping in mind that our growing season is shorter than farther south of us.
Here are some flower varieties to consider growing in your cut flower garden:
- sweet peas
- tulips (planted in fall)
- daffodils (planted in fall)
- irises (planted in fall)
- peonies (perennials that take 3 years to establish)
For your first year, I suggest to plant a little bit of everything to see what you like, and to see what grows well. For example, I grew anemones very successfully last year and got a wonderful first cutting off of them, BUT when they started to grow their second blooms…these awful blister beetles appeared out of nowhere and they ate up all my anemones. The little pests just loved them and I hesitated to plant them again for this reason, but I did get them in late this year.
I don’t care for irises or daffodils, so I don’t plant them. All the flowers I grow are for my personal use and enjoyment, so I am not going to spend my flower dollars on something that I don’t really love.
When to Buy
Buy your fall bulbs and corms that are safe to plant in your zone, in the late summer and early fall, and plant when they arrive in the fall.
It’s a good idea to buy high-quality tubers, bulbs, corms and seeds from reputable growers, but in all honesty I’ve never had a problem growing from the varieties I’ve bought at Walmart, Peavey Mart and Vesey’s. A special note for dahlias specifically, you need to start planning in the summer of what varieties you want to add in your garden, as certain varieties can be hard to track down and sell out fast. I will give a list of growers and resources to buy from at the end of this post. You order a lot of your dahlia tubers in the fall to secure your list and then pay for them from growers in the spring when they have their inventories.
How to Grow
We have a very short 100 day-ish growing season in Alberta, so it’s recommended to start sowing seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before the last frost. I don’t have fancy lights and heating pads and a lot of the things that are required to get certain seeds going…so I just plant directly in my garden and hope for the best. I started my first zinnias inside last year and they are known for not transplanting well, and I proved that theory. Only about 10% survived the move outside and the ones I planted direct grew much faster and stronger not having to deal with transplant shock.
The dahlia society recommends to pot all of your tubers at this time too, otherwise you won’t get blooms here until August and will only get to enjoy them for a month or so, so this year I did pot about 40% of my dahlias and it really only gave a few of my tubers time to sprout and get a head start before the rest of my tubers arrived in the mail anyway. One of the tubers was about 6″ tall but had some major transplant shock and isn’t really any farther ahead than the other tubers I planted directly into my garden. It’s really a game of trial and error, so next year I’m just going to partially fill some bins with soil/peat moss and place tubers in to see if I can get them out of dormancy and get eyes sprouting before I plant them so at least they are that far ahead.
For spring planted varieties, it’s a good idea to give the soil a good tilling so the roots of the plants aren’t working through rock-hard, compacted soil. Adding compost, manure and a granular fertilizer at this time is a great idea too. To be honest, even married to a farmer with a degree in crop science, I have never had problems growing things in my garden and have never amended my soil, BUT I know that I need to do that this fall and your plants will be as healthy as your soil is. I’m going to get a soil sample done and see what should be added. I’ve only ever added my own compost, but I don’t make enough for my whole garden anyway. I have not really ever had a problem with tulips or lilies coming up the next spring in any kind of soil that I have on our acreage; those and peony roots are the only things that interest me that I plant in the fall. I don’t ever prep my soil for bulbs, I just dig a hole and plant away, but there is bulb fertilizer you can purchase for planting.
Be sure to check your soil temperature and do not plant anything until the soil is consistently 15ºC/60ºF and there is no risk of frost. Honestly, the warmer your soil, the faster certain crops will germinate, such as corn, beans and dahlias. I was too eager to get my dahlias in the ground this year, and although the soil temp was appropriate, I think had I waited a few more weeks, I would have had a faster growing crop. Again—lots of trial and error, always learning!
I like to lightly water where I’ve planted my flowers to encourage germination, but if you’ve planted dahlias do not water until they sprout through the ground to avoid tuber rot. I fertilize my dahlias with a no nitrogen (first number in the fertilizer) 0-10-10 fertilizer every 3-4 weeks once buds are forming, and I use all purpose Miracle Grow for the rest of my flowers and vegetables. I will do a more detailed post on planting and growing dahlias, but this is the general gist of what I’ve learned thus far!
Where to Buy & Cut Flower Resources
I highly recommend following a lot of flower farmers on Instagram. This is where I have learned SO MUCH about what to do and what not to do, especially in my area, so find local flower farmers to follow and they have all been so good at answering any questions I have. In Canada, you can buy seeds from the United States but you cannot buy tubers, bulbs and corms. You can only buy said items within Canada per agriculture regulations.
Growers to buy from and follow on social media:
- Floret Farm (USA)
- Antonio Valente Flowers
- Connie’s Dahlias
- Creekside Growers
- Ferncliff Gardens
- Oakridge Dahlias
- Mistik Acres
- Whistling Prairie Flowers (slowly starting to sell)
Growers on social media:
There are so so many more, but these are my favourites! Be sure to watch their Instagram stories, I have learned invaluable lessons!