Planting and growing Dahlias (Mexico's National Flower)
About Planting and Growing Dahlias
The dahlia was first discovered growing wild in Mexico by Europeans and has become Mexico's national flower. It is a member of the Compositae (daisy-like) family and was brought to Britain late in the 18th century. Today, the dahlia is a popular summer flower grown in all countries with a mild climate. The first wild dahlias in Mexico had yellow centres and red petals but now many different colours, varieties and sizes are available particularly in the shades of red, yellow and purple.
The naming of the plant itself has long been a subject of some confusion. Many sources state that the name Dahlia was bestowed by the pioneering Swedish botanist and taxonomist Carl Linnaeus to honor his late student, Anders Dahl, author of Observationes Botanicae. However, Linnaeus died in 1778, more than eleven years before the plant was introduced into Europe in 1789, so while it is generally agreed that the plant was named in 1791 in honor of Dahl, who had died two years before, Linnaeus could not have been the one who did so. It was probably Abbe Antonio Jose Cavanilles, Director of the Royal Gardens of Madrid, who should be credited with the attempt to scientifically define the genus, since he not only received the first specimens from Mexico in 1789, but named the first three species that flowered from the cuttings.
Slugs and snails are serious pests in some parts of the world, particularly in spring when new growth is emerging through the soil. Earwigs can also disfigure the blooms. The other main pests likely to be encountered are aphids (usually on young stems and immature flower buds), red spider mite (causing foliage mottling and discolouration, worse in hot and dry conditions) and capsid bugs (resulting in contortion and holes at growing tips).
Dahlias grow naturally in climates which do not experience frost, consequently they are not adapted to withstand sub-zero temperatures. However, their tuberous nature enables them to survive periods of dormancy, and this characteristic means that gardeners in temperate climates with frosts can grow dahlias successfully, provided the tubers are lifted from the ground and stored in cool yet frost-free conditions during the winter. Planting the tubers quite deep (10 – 15 cm) also provides some protection. When in active growth, modern dahlia hybrids perform most successfully in well-watered yet free-draining soils, in situations receiving plenty of sunlight. Taller cultivars usually require some form of staking as they grow, and all garden dahlias need deadheading regularly once flowering commences.
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