Non-stop Dahlia blooms and fall garden clean up – Gardening with Ciscoe

Dahlia’s give your garden a great color boost. Master Gardner Ciscoe Morris shares tips to extend the life of your blooms. #NewDayNW

SEATTLE — Few perennials can match dahlias when it comes to producing non-stop flowers. Their gorgeous blooms add beauty to any area of the garden, and if you get in half the trouble I do (How did I fail to notice those sheets drying on the clothesline when I turned on that sprinkler?) you’ll appreciate having the long-lasting cut flowers for use in Bouquets. The blooms come in almost every color imaginable with size varying from golf ball to dinner plate. Most local nurseries carry a great section of potted, ready to plant specimens. Keep an eye out for the rarer varieties with red or purple leaves. They’re exceptionally attractive with masses of colorful flowers that contrast beautifully with the wine-colored foliage. Plant your Dahlia in as much sun as possible in well-drained soil. To keep them blooming non-stop, keep the root zone well mulched and water regularly. Fertilize every 6 weeks by scratching a mixture of alfalfa meal and organic flower food into the soil around the root zone, and remove spent flowers regularly.

Most people dig and store their Dahlias tubers in winter, but I leave mine in the ground. After the foliage dies back in fall, cut the stems to the ground and mulch over the roots with a thick cover of evergreen fern fronds. The fronds are great insulators and they repel water, preventing the tubers from rotting in our cold rainy winters. Although I’ve lost a few in excessively cold winters, most survive to produce beautifully the following year. If over time, however, your Dalila begins losing vigor and produces fewer flowers, it’s a sure sign the tuberous roots are overcrowded and need dividing. Dig up the rootstock in fall after the leaves and stems turn black. Tap off the soil and dry the clumps in a frost-free area for at least 3 days before beginning the dividing process. First, discard any rotten or shriveled tubers. Next, divide the rootstock, either into individual tubers or into chunks containing a few tubers. Make sure that the tubers in the division are attached to a stem from the previous year, as those are the only ones that will produce growth the following spring. Wrap the divisions in several layers of newspaper and place them in open paper bags or cardboard boxes and store them in your unheated garage. Check the divisions now and then and if any tubers are shriveling, spritzer them with water from a spray bottle. If any long stems emerge from the tubers in storage, snap them off right before replanting in early May. Then relax. You’ll have more than enough flowers for the spectacular bouquets to make up all of the trouble you’re undoubtedly going to get into next summer.

Finally, don’t be too fastidious when it comes to cleaning up your mixed border for winter. By this time of year,

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