Top Annuals for the All-Season Cutting Garden

Annuals for the cutting garden/Photo: Julie Hove Anderson Photography

As a landscape designer, I’m well versed in perennials and the kind of annuals you buy from a nursery. But when it comes to growing annuals from seeds, my experience centers mainly on zinnias. So recently, I was delighted to attend a webinar given by ButterBee Farm owner Laura Beth Resnick on the top annuals she grows for her cutting gardens. Continue reading

Identify Plants In A Snap With These 6 Top Apps

 What's That Flower app

Now that we’re all spending more time at home, it doesn’t hurt to know what’s blooming. And finding the answer is easier than ever with one of the dozens of plant identification apps available. But which ones work best and provide the fastest, most reliable material? I decided to do a comparison. Continue reading

The Secret To Creating Fabulous Fall Containers

Cool-season flowering plants

In my view, autumn doesn’t have to spell the end of the show in the garden. Fall containers offer countless ways to still enjoy seasonal splashes of color. Moreover, these mini gardens no longer have to be all about flowering kale or mums. With a little ingenuity, you can create autumn planters every bit as beautiful as their lush summer cousins. Continue reading

Flowering Kale: The Coolest Cool-Season Ornamental

Long before it became a trending food, flowering kale was a garden star, delivering a pop of color to fall’s graying landscape. The plant is not only prized for its striking foliage but it’s also one of only a few species that thrives in cold weather. Indeed, flowering kale likes cold temperatures so much that it often stays attractive well into winter. I can’t think of a better choice for fall gardens and containers. Continue reading

Lespedeza: The Best Fall-Flowering Shrub You’ve Never Heard Of

lespedeza thunbergii

Lespedeza. Judging by the sound of it, you’d think it was an island off the coast of Italy. And the plant that bears its name certainly looks Mediterranean. Yet, I had never heard of this magnificent, fall-blooming shrub until a client of mine showed me a pair in her garden. Here’s why I’ve been a fan ever since. Continue reading

The Late-Summer Delights Of Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’

sedum autumn joy in the garden

Are you looking for a dependable plant for your late-summer garden? Look no further than sedum ‘Autumn Joy.’ Come August, its flowers are just starting to adopt a rosy-pink hue. And the blooms last for weeks, maturing to a dusty red that’s the perfect compliment to fall. Continue reading

How To Pronounce Botanical Names (Hint: It Doesn’t Matter)

Just the other day, I was working with a bunch of Master Gardeners preparing a garden for the county fair when one of them noticed a bare space. Sure enough, in one of the central beds, a group of plants had recently given up the ghost on a prominent corner. In no time, we all agreed that a lacy evergreen would be the perfect replacement. And that’s when I suggested chamaecyparis. Continue reading

A Guide To Deadheading Key Types Of Flowers

Regular deadheading keeps the blooms coming all season long

Have you ever been frustrated by a flowering plant that suddenly stops blooming? It’s time for a haircut. Continue reading

Dreamy Dahlias: 10 Ways To Identify Your Perfect Type

A cactus dahlia blooming in my garden

Without some advance planning, fall usually spells the end of the summer garden. But I’ve learned from experience that if you plant dahlias in late spring, they’ll flower all the way through autumn. Lately, I’ve been waking up to crisp mornings only to discover more and more blooms. Who knew October could bring so many fresh flowers?

DAHLIAS BRING OUT THE CHILD

For some, dahlias may not be all that big a deal. But for me, the first time I saw the majestic, 10-foot flowers left an indelible memory. It was the 1960s, and I was a kid growing up in Delaware. Smack dab in the middle of suburbia, on the corner of two heavily-traveled streets, there was a small working farm. In the summer it produced fruits and vegetables. But in September, it became a sea of dahlias.

And these weren’t your everyday dahlias, mind you. Many were the gigantic, dinner plate size; the kind that drives a kid mad with desire to jump out of the car just to be among them. Standing as tall as adults, they gently swayed in the breeze, solemnly saluting us as we drove by. 

Craning my neck out the window, I’d watch until they gradually disappeared, slowly dissolving into a sea of rainbow colors.

And thus began my love affair with these beautiful flowers.

SO MANY TYPES, SO LITTLE TIME

Dahlias are classified as tender perennials, meaning they may be annual or perennial, depending on the climate. They typically start blooming in August with other late-summer flowers. But perhaps the best thing about them is that they don’t stop blooming until the first frost, or roughly right around Thanksgiving.

And in spite of their reputation for towering stems and gigantic blooms, the plants come in all shapes and sizes. Dahlia types can range in height from the very tall specimens of my childhood to just under one foot. Planting the tubers is easy. Just dig a hole 6 to 8 inches deep and drop them in with the ‘eyes’ facing up. Three or more tubers per hole usually gives the most colorful effect.

FLOWERS AS BIG AS A FOOT

Still, it goes without saying that the most notable feature of all dahlias are the flowers. These can range in diameter from 2 inches to almost one foot. And among these, there are specific dahlia types, each with its own specifications. For example, there are species with single, double and semi-double petals. And there are unusual shapes like spherical or cactus. There are also types that resemble flowers such as anemones, peonies or orchids.

waterlily dahlia 'Pam Hayden'

Waterlily dahlia ‘Pam Howden’

Despite the variety, however, one thing all dahlia types have in common are their dazzling colors. These flowers come in a seemingly infinite array, including all shades of pink, red, scarlet, orange, purple and yellow. Moreover, the flower petals often come painted with strips or tips of another color. (There are also creamy ones as well as many brilliant white species.) 

In sum, with so many options to choose from, how do you decide? One way is to familiarize yourself with the most common types. You may be surprised to find that some don’t look like the ‘typical’ dahlia. 

THE TEN MOST COMMON DAHLIA TYPES

Single-flowered dahlias feature a single row of flat or slightly cupped ray petals surrounding a central disc.

single-flowered dahlia

Single-flowered dahlia

Semi-double dahlias have two or more rows of petals surrounding a central disc.

semi-double dahlias

Semi-double dahlias

Mignon dahlias are similar to single dahlias except their petal florets are rounded and their disc flowers have no more than two rows.

mignon dahlia

Mignon dahlia with burgundy/black foliage

Anemone dahlias have an inner disc made up of tubular shaped florets and an outer ring of one or more rows of flat ray petals.

anemone dahlia 'Polka'

Anemone dahlia ‘Polka’

Orchid dahlias have open centers with just one row of ray florets surrounding a disc. The petals are often overlapping and curled for most of their length.

orchid dahlia

Orchid dahlia

Collarette dahlias have one row of flat petals surrounding a disc as well as an inner wreath of shorter petals called the ‘collar’.

collarette dahlia

Collarette dahlia ‘Mary Eveline’ plum red petals with white ‘collar’

Ball and Pompon dahlias are shaped like balls and feature double flowers with rounded or blunt tipped florets. Pompons are slightly smaller than ball dahlias.

pompom dahlias

Orange ball dahlias – notice the slightly flattened shape

pompom dahlia

The perfectly round pompon dahlia ‘Franz Kafka’

Decorative dahlias are doubles that feature flat, oval petals with tips on the end. Formal varieties have regular, evenly placed petals, while informal varieties tend to be arranged in a more haphazard way. Both varieties grow to over 40 inches.

decorative dahlia 'Lisa Dark Pink'

Decorative dahlia ‘Lisa Dark Pink’

Cactus and semi-cactus dahlias have narrow pointed petals that roll back on themselves, giving them a spiky look. Cactus types are rolled for their full length, while semi cactus types include a mix of flat and rolled petals. Both reach an average height of around 40 inches.

cactus dahlia

Orange cactus dahlia

semi-cactus dahlia 'Aloha'

Semi-cactus dahlia ‘Aloha’

There are many other varieties, including peony, waterlily and stellar, not to mention the celebrated ‘Dinner Plate’ which falls under numerous categories. The Miscellaneous Dahlias category alone includes hundreds of varieties.

Ready to add dahlias to your garden? Every year, among the ten top things I want to achieve or change in my garden, I resolve to plant more. Here’s how.

WHEN TO PLANT DAHLIAS

Dahlias are sold as tubers and need to be planted after the ground has warmed up and there’s no danger of frost. I usually plant mine in the late spring just around the time my tulips have faded. Plant the tubers in well drained soil in full sun for best results. You can also pot them up indoors a couple weeks beforehand to give them a head start.

dahlia tubers

Dahlia tubers need to winter indoors in a cool, but not cold, space

Dahlias are considered tender in my neck of the woods (Zone 6), but hardy outdoors in zones 8 to 10. That means that once they’re done flowering in the fall (or right after the first frost), I must dig them up. I then label them and store them in a dry spot in the basement. Click here for the USDA Plant Hardiness Map to see where you fit. 

Want to learn more? Visit Longwood Gardens’ annual dahlia show, held each year in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Looking for a great place to buy tubers? Check out the beauties at Eden Brothers, one of my favorite online sources.

 

 

The September Garden: How To Wind Down On A High Note

My September garden

The end of September can be a tough time for gardens. Leaves lose their deep green luster, stems start to brown and many perennials have simply lost their will to survive. Add to that the fact that the lower the sun gets in the sky, the more dull colors can appear and suddenly, the same flowers that looked so vibrant in summer begin to take on a more muted, less enthusiastic look. Continue reading