Dahlias make a welcome return to the border – Brian Kidd

Dahlias are enjoying a much-deserved return to popularity.
Dahlias are enjoying a much-deserved return to popularity.
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This is the time of year when there are some truly awful jobs. One of them is digging out dahlias burned by frosts. Quite a few areas have not had a frost yet but here at Waterlooville we had a nasty one a week ago and although I was hoping it would not kill the dahlias –  it did. The stems, leaves and flowers have all turned  brown.

The frost damage brought back lovely memories of my childhood.

My dad grew lots of dahlias and he always told me they would be killed by frosts before bonfire night.

And he was right. We always allowed the stems to dry off and then used them on a bonfire to lighten the night sky in our garden. Wonderful memories. I had a lovely mum and dad.

Some varieties of dahlias seem to be hardier than others. Let me explain.

If you left dahlias in the ground last winter and they grew again last spring, these seem to be hardy.

But if you bought new varieties, they will have produced lovely tubers (those potato-like swollen roots) but if left in the ground they might be frozen during the winter and will not grow again next year.

But never fear, we can save them. And this is what you do.

Cut the stems down to just four inches above the level of the soil.

Snip the old stems into short pieces and put them into the compost heap.

Dig out the tubers, wash off all the soil (do this on a nice day to make this job at least a little enjoyable) and tie a label to the stem. If you can’t remember the name, make sure you put the height and colour on the label.

Now leave the tubers in the sun for a day and then put them into peat or perhaps the compost from a growing bag used for tomatoes. Cover the tubers with two inches of compost.

If you spot any signs of rings of brown, downy mildew on the stems, puff on some sulphur powder. This will stop that fungus spreading.

The tubers are best kept in deep trays, the sort used for mushrooms are ideal. They can often be found at the market – just ask the bloke if you can have some!

Keep the tubers in a frost-free place all winter and make sure you keep the peat dry.

At the end of February, sprinkle water on to the peat and as long as the weather is warm, new shoots will appear.

Great! We are off to another brilliant summer and dahlias are one of the best flowers for displays from early July right up until those autumn frosts kick in.

Dahlias are invaluable for the summer border, in patio containers or as cut flowers.

With many excellent recent introductions, they offer a wide range of flower types, often with very showy, double forms in warm vibrant colours.

Dahlias are enjoying a much-deserved return to popularity and their flowers were really good this summer. They provide ground cover all through the summer. Let’s hope they will be as good as ever in 2019. Follow this advice and they surely will.

THIS WEEK’S TOP TIP

Look out for rats and mice, particularly if you store potatoes, onions and root crops in an allotment shed. Keep some rat bait in a nailed down metal saucer. When the bait is gone, you have vermin. When it remains, you know you haven’t!