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The dazzle of dahlias ... from a pack of seeds.

FOR A FRACTION OF the cost of tubers or nursery sixpacks, you can grow dozens of dahlia plants from seed to brighten your summer landscape. You'll be surprised at how easy they are to grow: start them indoors in flats or cells, and you'll have vigorous seedlings in just eight weeks.

Sunset head gardener Rick LaFrentz tried seed-starting dahlias last year for the display gardens at our Menlo Park, California, headquarters. He grew dwarf varieties (12 to 14 inches tall), including single-flowered 'Coltness' and double 'Redskin', which has dark reddish foliage.

For the back of a planting bed, try taller kinds, such as cactus types and 'Showpiece', which can get up to 5 feet. They're just as easy to grow and also bloom the first year.

In mild climates, you can sow seeds in January and have transplants by March; in cold-winter climates, wait until February or March to sow seeds.


The papery, 1/3-inch-long seeds are easy to handle. Fill a sixpack or other seed-starting tray with a peat-type potting soil, moisten it well, and plant one or two seeds per cell. Cover with about 1/16 inch of soil and water lightly.

Place the trays in a warm spot (65|degrees~ to 70|degrees~) until the seeds germinate, in 5 to 20 days. When the seeds sprout, move the trays to a bright window (no direct sun) or place them under grow lights; you can also start them in a greenhouse. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. If you plant two seeds per cell and both germinate, snip off the weaker plant.

When the seedlings have at least two sets of true leaves, they're ready to plant in the garden. Move the trays outdoors to a shady area for several days, then slowly expose them to more light over the next week.

Once the dahlias are acclimated to full sun, plant them 10 to 12 inches apart in a sunny location. Mix plenty of organic matter into the soil first. Water regularly.

To keep dahlias blooming continuously, remove faded flowers before seeds form, pinching or cutting stems off at the base (don't just remove the flower head). If spider mites become a problem when the weather warms, spray with insecticidal soap.


Most nurseries carry dahlia seeds, but you'll have a wider selection if you buy them by mail. The following sources offer free catalogs; a packet of seeds costs $1.25 to $4.95 (plus shipping), depending on variety.

W. Atlee Burpee & Co., 300 Park Ave., Warminster, Pa. 18991; (800) 888-1447. Sells 'Redskin', 'Rigoletto' (double flowers on foot-tall plants), and two tall types.

Territorial Seed Company, Box 157, Cottage Grove, Ore. 97424; (503) 942-9547. Sells 'Coltness' and 'Redskin'.

Thompson & Morgan, Box 1308, Jackson, N.J. 08527; (800) 274-7333. Sells 13 varieties.
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Author:Swezey, Lauren Bonar
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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