Know and Grow Your Favorite Dahlias
Dahlias make it easy to keep your garden colorful from late summer through fall. As other annuals and perennials are starting to fade, dahlias turn on the flower power in an all out effort to dazzle and amaze -- all the way to the first frost.
With thousands of dahlia varieties to choose from, part of the fun of growing these summer-blooming bulbs, is discovering new colors and flower styles. Learning to identify them by type makes it easier to recognize the different varieties and figure out which ones you find most appealing.
To appreciate the full range of possibilities, you can visit the American Dahlia Society website, where you'll find hundreds of varieties indexed by color, flower form and flower size. For a quick overview, here's a look at the eight most common flower styles.
Anemone-Flowered and Collarette Dahlias. These blossoms offer lots of interesting texture and usually display two or more colors. Both types attract bees and butterflies. Anemone-flowered dahlias have a pincushion of tubular florets at the center, surrounded by several rows of more traditional petals. Collarette dahlias have two different petal lengths: an outer row of standard petals and an inner row of short, frilly petals.
These dahlias are popular for bouquets because they are such easy companions for other types of flowers. The bushy plants are prolific bloomers and you can count on them to produce dozens and dozens of blossoms from midsummer to frost. Since they rarely grow much more than 30" tall, these dahlias work well in containers and smaller gardens.
Ball and Pompon Dahlias. These perky, perfectly round flowers feature a honeycomb of tightly rolled petals. This structure makes the blossoms durable and very long-lasting. The plants are also incredibly productive. You can expect them to crank out armloads of flowers all season long.
Ball dahlias are the larger of the two. Their flowers measure 3 to 4" across and are ideal for casual mixed arrangements. Pompon dahlias are cute little buttons, just 1 to 2" across. They are fun for small, hand-tied bouquets and are great for adding pops of color and texture to larger arrangements.
Border Dahlias. Border dahlias are the ideal size for lining a walkway or adding late summer color to pots and planters. They have a bushy, compact growth habit and stand just 12-18” tall so never need staking.
Though border dahlias are small in stature, they produce an abundance of full size flowers that measure 3 to 4" across. You'll see far more flowers than foliage with these showy little plants. They simply cover themselves with blooms all season long. Though the stems are shorter than other types, the flowers are perfect for table-side or windowsill bouquets.
Cactus and Semi-Cactus Dahlias. Tightly curled, ray-like petals give cactus dahlias a distinctive look. When mixed with other decorative and dinnerplate types, they add sophistication and excitement to any floral arrangement.
Cactus dahlias have slender stems, so you'll want to stake the plants to help support the fluffy flower heads. In the garden, they are great companions for lilies, glads, garden phlox other late summer flowers.
Decorative Dahlias. This is the largest category of dahlias and offers the widest range of colors and styles. You'll find many wonderful heirloom varieties as well as a steady stream of new introductions.
Decorative dahlias are excellent cut flowers and an essential addition to every cutting garden. Most have a stocky growth habit, which also makes them suitable for perennial gardens and large containers.
Dinnerplate Dahlias. If you like BIG blooms, these are your dahlias! Dinnerplate dahlias grow 4 to 5 feet tall and produce flowers that can measure as much as 10" across. These are large plants and they need plenty of room to reach their full potential.
Plant dinnerplate dahlias at the back of a flower bed, against a fence or outbuilding, or even in your vegetable garden. To help support the large flower heads, be sure to stake the plants at planting time and tie in the stems in as they grow.
Single and Peony-Flowered Dahlias. Single dahlias have daisy-like flowers with one row of petals around a contrasting center. Peony-flowered dahlias have two and sometimes more rows of petals around the center. These plants are typically 2 to 3 feet tall and may have regular or dark-colored foliage.
Single dahlias are highly attractive to bees and butterflies. They are a good choice for containers or flower gardens, where their airy flowers perfectly complement late summer perennials including sedums, asters, and rudbeckia.
Waterlily Dahlias. These blossoms have rounded petals that spiral around tight, slightly flattened centers. Their flawless form makes them popular cut flowers. The plants are typically just 2’ to 3’ tall, yet they produce large blossoms that measure up to 5” across. Waterlily dahlias perform well in large containers and are also good for perennial gardens.