FS 95    Published April 2000
December 2014

Dahlias are a native flower in
Mexico. Hernando Cortez found them to
be a long-established favorite in the
gardens of the Aztecs when he invaded
Mexico in 1519 to establish the colony
of New Spain. Seeds of these Mexican
flowers reached Spain in 1789.

About this time, the name dahlia
given them in honor of Andreas Dahl,
the famous Swedish botanist who
established order from a condition of
chaos in the plant world.


You can grow dahlias in almost any
garden soil, but they do respond to a
little extra care. An ideal planting site
must receive several hours of sunlight
each day—and it must have good soil

The dahlia is a heavy feeder. There-
fore, a good, loose, organic soil is
essential for a large, efficient root

Keep your soil loose while the plants
are growing, especially during the early
part of the season. Light, sandy soils
require the least preparation if they
contain enough organic matter to hold
adequate moisture.

You can supply this organic matter
by using manure or peat moss, or by
adding any kind of vegetative refuse
such as leaves or lawn clippings.

Sowing a cover crop like red clover
or annual ryegrass in the fall and turning
it under in the spring also is a good way
to add organic matter to your soil.

Heavy clay soils also benefit from the
addition of organic matter. When you
work it into the entire garden or bed,
organic matter helps loosen the soil.

Lime also tends to loosen the soil, but
don’t apply it more often than every
3 or 4 years—
and never with fresh
barnyard manure.


Nitrogen is needed for the
heavy bush growth of dahlias and
for large flowers. If too much
nitrogen is applied, weak growth,
late blooming, and poor keeping
quality of the tubers results.

is essential to all
plant functions and is a very important
fertilizer. It hastens blooming, stiffens
stems, increases root development, and
balances any excessive nitrogen applied.

increases root development
and the general vigor of the plant.

A good fertilizer practice would be to
apply 5 or 6 pounds of a 0-20-20
fertilizer per 100 square feet or a
handful under and around the hole
where each tuber is to be planted. Mix
the fertilizer so that it does not come in
direct contact with the tubers.

If nitrogen is needed, you can apply it
later as the buds form. Scatter it lightly
about a foot away from the plant.
Ammonium sulfate or ammonium
nitrate would be a good fertilizer to
supply nitrogen.


You can propagate dahlias from
seeds, cuttings, or root division.

Single-flowered dahlias produce lots
of seed. It is from seed that new variet-
ies are produced. Early-sown seeds
make plants that bloom freely in late

If you save tubers formed by the best
of these seedlings, you’ll have better
results the next year.

Propagation by cuttings is done early
in the year. Place tubers in light soil or
sand and give them some bottom heat.
When the third or fourth set of leaves
forms, place the cuttings in clean, moist
sand in a propagating bench.

In 2 or 3 weeks, the cuttings will
root, and you can pot them in small pots.
Grow them in a 60
to 65
F temperature
until all danger of frost has passed. Then
gradually harden them off and plant
them out in the open ground.

Division of the roots probably is the
easiest method of propagation. Use a
sharp knife. The eyes from which shoots
emerge are not in the tuber but on the

Division of the roots probably is the
easiest method of propagation. Use a
sharp knife. The eyes from which shoots
emerge are not in the tuber but on the


Don’t plant your dahlias, whether
you use plants or divisions, until the soil
has warmed up and danger of frost has

Extreme hardening of the plants may
occur if planting is done too early, soil is
cold, plants are too dry, there is exces-
sive water present, roots are injured, or
plants are not properly hardened off
before setting out.

It is not easy to bring a hardened
plant back into healthy growth.

For field planting, a furrow or trench
about 5 or 6 inches deep is quite
satisfactory. Lay the root in the trench
and cover it with 2 or 3 inches of soil.
Fill in the rest of the soil as the plant

Place large varieties 36 inches apart
in the row and smaller types from 16 to
24 inches apart.

Set potted plants about 1 inch deeper
than they have been growing. If you
soak your potted plants a few minutes
before planting out, they will need no
further watering at that time, and
puddling of the soil will be eliminated.

Frequent, rather deep cultivation in
the early part of the season is beneficial
to the plant. Later, you can decrease the

Don’t let your plants suffer for lack
of moisture. When you water, do a
thorough job—and then wait until there
is need for another application before
watering again.

How to handle cut flowers

You can lengthen the life of cut
dahlia flowers considerably if you take
certain precautions when you cut them.
Cut only fully matured flowers for best
keeping qualities.

Cut flowers early in the morning
before they start to wilt, or in the
evening after they have revived from the
effects of the sun and wind. Cut with a
sharp knife so that the water-carrying
tubes are not crushed.

Cut your flowers at least 8 hours
before you expect to use them. Place the
stems in deep, cold water in a cool,
draftless room. If you cut off an inch of
the stem under water, it will take up
water better. This also applies when you
use the flowers later. Use only clean
water and clean containers.

Digging and storing tubers

When the dahlia plant is blackened
by frost or continued cold rains, it is
ready to lift. Cut the top down to about
6 inches. Lift the plant carefully to avoid
injuring the tender tubers. Remove as
much of the soil as possible without
injuring the tubers, and allow them to
dry for a few hours in the open air.

Store in a cool, dry, frostproof place.
If the air is very dry, pack the clumps in
barrels or boxes in peat moss or sand, or
wrap them in newspapers.

Use dry packing material. It takes up
moisture at first and then has a tendency
to prevent drying out at the end of the
storage season. Some varieties shrivel
under these conditions, but others
remain firm.

Insects and diseases

Insects usually are not a great problem for Oregon dahlia growers.

Cucumber beetles may be a pest, and
red spider mites sometimes become

The most serious diseases of dahlias
are caused by viruses.
Mosaic disease is
a virus typically characterized by
yellowish or pale-green bands along the
midveins and branch veins of affected
leaves. Certain varieties of dahlias
develop dead streaks on the midvein and
a distortion of the leaf.

Infected plants often are stunted, with
many lateral shoots, short flower stems, and poor flowers. Cuttings and root
divisions from diseased plants will be

Mosaic also is spread in the field by
aphids feeding on diseased plants and
then working on healthy dahlias.

There are three possible controls of
dahlia mosaic: (1) grow only tolerant
varieties, (2) control aphids, and
(3) propagate only from selected healthy
plants and grow them away from
diseased dahlias.

Ring spot
has become a serious virus
disease. The leaves of the affected plant
have a disfiguring ring, chevron, or
watermark pattern showing as a yellow
band or white or brown lines. The
degree of injury varies with the variety.

Certain ring spot symptoms in dahlias
are evidence of infection with a virus
disease known as
spotted wilt.
virus affects a wide range of plants,
including tomatoes.

The best control for spotted wilt is to
use stock free of ring spot symptoms or
to use seedling plants.

Since pesticide registrations change
frequently, resulting in more or fewer
available pesticides and changes in
permissible pesticide practices, this
publication doesn’t make specific
pesticide recommendations.

For current recommendations, refer
to the
Pacific Northwest Insect Control
published and revised
annually by the Extension Services of
Oregon State University, Washington
State University, and the University of

In addition, detailed instructions for
pesticide use are provided on pesticide
container labels and in other literature
provided by pesticide manufacturers.

For more information

Pacific Northwest Insect Control Handbook
Pacific Northwest Plant Disease Control Handbook
are published annually—be sure to use the latest
edition. Order either book from:

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