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“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” – Margaret Atwood

One of the best flowers for container gardeners is a dahlia. There are hundreds of varieties and dozens of colors and sizes. Some plants can have 40-50 blossoms a year if they are picked frequently. They are great cut flowers when used in bouquets or corsages as well as in flower arrangements. They are fun and very, very easy.

Dahlias were selected and hybridized by Aztec gardeners in the 16th century and widely used in Spanish monastery gardens. These were the common daisy-like flowers. Europeans found dahlias so exotic that they stole the seeds. Empress Josephine of France stole the seeds, and then banned them when a member of her court stole tubers from her. Other countries were also thieves including Sweden in 1789. Finally, in the 19th century the seeds and tubers were brought to New York. They were in such short supply that fortunes were made and lost dealing with them. Modern breeding has led to huge blossoms, new colors and amazing forms.

Growing dahlias is as easy as picking them. They like steady moisture, full sun, and well-drained soil. For fullness, pinch the tips after the first month. You should also pinch off the first buds for larger flowers. Tall varieties of dahlias need to be staked. Tomato cages also work well. Small varieties are ideal for container planting.

Dahlias work well in landscaping when grown in a mass. In our area, dahlias are tender perennials and must be dug up after the first frost. Clean the tubers and store them in vermiculite, peat moss, or sawdust and place them in a cool place or refrigerator. Dahlias can also be raised from seed by starting them indoors six weeks before the last frost.

When you purchase your flats of annuals this spring, pinch off all of the flowers. The reason to do this is the plant will put more effort into root growth and it will also produce bushier growth. Try it and you will be amazed at how the plants will fill in. Impatients are one of the plant you don’t need to pinch since they are called “busy Lizzy” for a reason.

The “Terrific Tomatoes” program will be held from 10 a.m. to noon May 25 at the Reedsburg Public Library, 370 Vine St., Reedsubrg. The program is free and open to all ages. This is also a great opportunity to buy your tomato plants. The Sauk County Master Gardeners will have their annual tomato plant sale where each plant is only $1.

Contact Phyllis Both by email at or by telephone on Monday mornings at the Sauk County University of Wisconsin-Extension office, 608-355-3253.

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