GARDENING: Brian Kidd is planning for summer withÂ dahlias
For years flowers have been blooming earlier, but this year things are back to normal '“Â in fact people tellÂ me everything isÂ late and it's all because ofÂ our weather.
However, we must keep looking forward and plan for summer displays, and one of the boldest flowering plants is the dahlia,Â one of the best to grow for cutting asÂ they produce lots of blooms regularly without fuss.
Most always have threeÂ flowers ready to cutÂ from early July. They only last four days in water but once past their bestÂ you can cut another trio. This continues until the autumn when it turns cold.
When choosing which to buy,Â look at the picture on the packÂ then check the height to which they will grow '“Â important if it's a smallÂ border.
Look for plump tubers, tip the pack and shake. The peatÂ in the pack will fall away and you may see signs of a yellowish green shoot atÂ the top. If not, you may see rounded buds. TheseÂ indicate the tubers are alive.
Early blooms are encouraged if tubers are potted into 4.5inÂ 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'reÂ taking cuttings do it when shoots reachÂ threeÂ inches.Â Cut off the shoots required leaving at least one on the tube,Â then make a sharp cut below the lowest leaf joint and putÂ the cuttings into a seed compost adding 50 per centÂ sand. ThisÂ encourages good rooting. Keep themÂ warm all the time. AÂ boxÂ covered with glass makes a good propagator. Cover the glass with newspaper to stopÂ scorching and cuttings will root inÂ threeÂ weeks. Once rooted, potÂ themÂ into individual small pots and growÂ on until the middle of May when they'reÂ 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 spotÂ '“Â a cold frame isÂ goodÂ '“Â for 10 days so foliage canÂ toughen. The soil into which the plants willÂ be grown is best dug at this time of year and well-rotted manure or well-made compostÂ incorporated whenÂ digging takes place.
If manure is not available use a fertiliser such as blood, fish and boneÂ atÂ 4ozÂ per square yard,Â forked in over the dahlia border 10 days beforeÂ planting. This gives the fertiliser time to start to work. Push in stout canes the same length asÂ the height the dahlia will grow to. Plant them using aÂ hand trowel.
If the hawthorn where you live has finished flowering, it's safe to plant dahlias ifÂ the wind isn't cold. Dahlias love a well-drained sunny spot but need muchÂ water in hot weather.Â
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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.Â All the wood that finishesÂ flowering needs to be pruned off.
Take a large branch andÂ pull it towards you. Near the base there should be a strong shoot without any side shoots. This branch should be prunedÂ 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 11Â months. Honestly!