The Gold Coast Bulletin - Gold Coast Eye - - CONTENTS - WORDS: KATE HE F FERN AN

Around this time ev­ery year pot­ted dahlias be­come avail­able at gar­den cen­tres and I am re­minded that I should have sourced the tuber­ous bulbs to plant out last spring.

It’s still not too late to en­joy a month or so of re­main­ing flow­er­ing time from the pot­ted va­ri­eties, and later store the bulbs ready to plant next spring.

Gar­den­ers in the know and with bet­ter tim­ing than me, will have or­dered on­line from the grow­ers. Spe­cial forms and new re­leases can be bought as sin­gle bulbs, and the more com­mon forms are of­ten sold in mixed mul­ti­ples.

Dahlias, which orig­i­nate in Mex­ico, have long been a favourite flower of mine, a re­minder of a gar­den­ing child­hood. These stun­ning flow­ers first found their way into Spain in the late 18th Cen­tury.

Span­ish botanist and later direc­tor of Mex­ico’s first botanic gar­den Vi­cente Cer­vantes was on expedition in Mex­ico (then New Spain) and found sev­eral species with sin­gle flow­ers. The seeds were sent to Jardin Botan­ica in Madrid where the Genus was named for An­ders Dahl, a Swedish botanist.

Dahlias also have a rich Aztec his­tory that pre­dates Span­ish ar­rival in South and Cen­tral Amer­ica. The tuber­ous roots of the wild na­tive dahlia were a food source and the hol­low stems were used as pipes.

There are around 30 species and thou­sands of cul­ti­vars to choose from. Most will se­lect by flower form – they come in a va­ri­ety, in­clud­ing tightly packed, slightly rounded petals of the per­fectly formed pom­pons and ball forms.

The large open cac­tus forms have re­verse pointed petals, which re­sult in a spiky look, while the flat­ter and slightly open flow­ers of wa­terlily forms def­i­nitely re­sem­ble their name­sake.

The smaller flow­ers of Col­larette dahlias (pic­tured) are ex­tra spe­cial be­cause of the flat outer ray of petals and the in­ner cen­tral ray of shorter petals that are of­ten a con­trast­ing colour. The deep bur­gundy fo­liage forms in­tro­duce an im­me­di­ate con­trast and are a per­fect foil for the bril­liant coloured flow­ers.

Once planted, dahlias re­quire stak­ing, and the di­vided fo­liage will soon cover the stake. Plant dahlias near veg­etable beds and fruit trees as they are great to at­tract bees needed for pol­li­na­tion.

Most can be grown in pots and then rested un­til the next sea­son. They are won­der­ful, long-last­ing cut flow­ers, the taller grow­ing forms for longer stems or the shorter pom­pons and Col­larettes for glo­ri­ous posies.

Like many great flow­ers that have been bred ex­ten­sively, there are a num­ber of pests that need mon­i­tor­ing. If af­fect­ing plants badly they will re­quire con­trol. Look for prod­ucts based on low toxin soaps for mites, nat­u­ral soil bac­te­ria Bacil­lus thuringien­sis for cater­pil­lars, and the bac­te­ria Spinosad for leaf miner and thrips.

Nat­u­ral bac­te­ria break down quickly in sun­light so it’s best to spray later in the day for the best re­sults. Or­ganic gar­den­ers rec­om­mend egg shells and saw­dust to im­pede snail move­ment.

I may have missed the per­fect tim­ing for plant­ing tu­bers, but I plan to shop for pot­ted dahlias for the veranda this week, and mark my calendar as a re­minder to or­der my bulbs on­line for next year.

Kate Hef­fer­nan is a hor­ti­cul­tur­ist, ed­u­ca­tor and hon­orary life mem­ber of Friends of the Gold Coast Re­gional Botanic Gar­dens. You can lis­ten to her ra­dio show Gar­den Talk­back on ABC 91.7FM. De­tails at kate­hef­fer­

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