GARDENING: Brian Kidd is planning for summer with dahlias

Dahlias - one of the boldest plants you can grow .
Dahlias - one of the boldest plants you can grow .

Flower show hailed as a huge success

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GARDENING: Brian Kidd on cold frames and frosted camellias

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For years flowers have been blooming earlier, but this year things are back to normal – in fact people tell me everything is late and it's all because of our weather.

However, we must keep looking forward and plan for summer displays, and one of the boldest flowering plants is the dahlia, one of the best to grow for cutting as they produce lots of blooms regularly without fuss.

Most always have three flowers ready to cut from early July. They only last four days in water but once past their best you can cut another trio. This continues until the autumn when it turns cold.

When choosing which to buy, look at the picture on the pack then check the height to which they will grow – important if it's a small border.

Look for plump tubers, tip the pack and shake. The peat in the pack will fall away and you may see signs of a yellowish green shoot at the top. If not, you may see rounded buds. These indicate the tubers are alive.

Early blooms are encouraged if tubers are potted into 4.5in diameter pots. Fill with potting compost. Bury the tuber but leave the tip about a quarter of an inch above the compost. If there are shoots, don’t cover with compost. Keep in a light, frost-free place, watered carefully, keeping the compost just moist.

If you're taking cuttings do it when shoots reach three inches. Cut off the shoots required leaving at least one on the tube, then make a sharp cut below the lowest leaf joint and put the cuttings into a seed compost adding 50 per cent sand. This encourages good rooting. Keep them warm all the time. A box covered with glass makes a good propagator. Cover the glass with newspaper to stop scorching and cuttings will root in three weeks. Once rooted, pot them into individual small pots and grow on until the middle of May when they're hardened off and planted out.

Dahlias are tender. Cold winds can set them back and scorch leaves. Frosts do more damage, so hardening off means leaving them outdoors in their pots in a protected spot – a cold frame is good – for 10 days so foliage can toughen. The soil into which the plants will be grown is best dug at this time of year and well-rotted manure or well-made compost incorporated when digging takes place.

If manure is not available use a fertiliser such as blood, fish and bone at 4oz per square yard, forked in over the dahlia border 10 days before planting. This gives the fertiliser time to start to work. Push in stout canes the same length as the height the dahlia will grow to. Plant them using a hand trowel.

If the hawthorn where you live has finished flowering, it’s safe to plant dahlias if the wind isn’t cold. Dahlias love a well-drained sunny spot but need much water in hot weather. 

THIS WEEK'S TOP TIP

Everyone seems to have a forsythia shrub, and very good they are too. Don’t be daunted by pruning them when they finish flowering. Think ahead. All the wood that finishes flowering needs to be pruned off.

Take a large branch and pull it towards you. Near the base there should be a strong shoot without any side shoots. This branch should be pruned down to that strong shoot.

Once done, pull back another shoot and prune it in the same way. Repeat this all around the shrub. The result will be lots of new shoots and these will be full of flowers in 11 months. Honestly!