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 Collarettes. Anemone-flowered dahlias are daisy-like flowers with one or more rows of petals and a pincushion of tubular florets in the center. Collarette dahlias have a collar of flat outer petals and one or more layers of smaller petals around the center. Both types are prolific bloomers and come in lots of pretty colors, usually with contrasting centers. Heights vary from 2 to 4 feet. Anemone-flowered and collarette dahlias are popular for bouquets because the blossoms mix so well with other types of flowers.
Ball and Pom Pon. These perky, perfectly round flowers have a honeycomb of tightly rolled petals. The blossoms are 2" to 4” across -- a perfect size for mixed arrangements. Ball dahlias and Pom Pon dahlias are well suited to flower beds and the long-lasting flowers are great for cutting gardens, where they’ll crank out armloads of flowers from mid-summer through fall.
Border. Border dahlias are the ideal size for lining a walkway or adding late summer color to pots and planters. The bushy, compact plants stand just 12-18” tall and never need staking. They usually start blooming earlier in the summer than most other dahlias and literally cover themselves with flowers.
Cactus and Semi-Cactus. Tightly curled, ray-like petals give cactus dahlias a distinctive appearance. Planted with other decorative and dinnerplate types, they add an exciting variation in texture and form. Cactus dahlias are a favorite with flower arrangers and make ideal companions for gladiolus, lilies and other late summer flowers.
Decorative. This is the largest category of dahlias and offers the widest range of colors and styles. You'll find many excellent heirloom varieties as well as a steady stream of new introductions. Decorative dahlias can be grown in perennial gardens, display beds, cutting gardens, large containers and vegetable gardens.
Dinnerplate. If you like BIG blooms, these are your dahlias! Dinnerplate dahlias can reach 5 feet tall and produce flowers that measure 10" across. The plants need room to reach their full potential, so give them plenty of space at the back of a flower bed or in a cutting garden. To help support the large flower heads, stake the plants at planting time and tie them in as they grow.
Single and Peony-Flowered. 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. 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.
To learn more, you may be interested in: All About Dahlias, How to Plant Dahlias, How to Deadhead Dahlias (video), How to Grow Border Dahlias in Containers, How to Lift and Store Dahlia Bulbs and How to Pinch and Stake Dahlias.