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To create a new dahlia, start now by touching anther to stigma (it's easy).

To create a new dahlia, start now by touching anther to stigma (it's easy) The plant-breederhs art may seem cloaked in mystery, but its mechanics are straightforward enough for any gardener. Dahlias are good flowers to start with because you see the results of your work in just a year. Here we show how dahlia fancier Frieda Parker breeds her plants.

Start in mid- to late August or early September to be sure seed from your crosses ripens before you dig and store tubers for winter.

For parents, select two plants whose characteristics you think would go well together (realizing that, even so, the result is largely up to chance). Then decide which bud you want to serve as the "mother" (it doesn't really matter which you choose).

A day or two before the mother flower opens, put a bag over it so bees won't pollinate it if it opens before you get to it. When it opens, take the bag off, pick a flower head from the "father" plant, and powder it against the mother. Put the bag back over the mother flower--bee protection again--and check it every few days, tearing off any moldy florets you find. When pollen in the mother dries out, remove the bag so seeds can ripen normally.

In October, when seeds become dry and papery, pull them away as shown above (step 3). Store through winter in a cool, dark, dry, frost-free place.

In early February, plant seeds in a flat of equal parts peat, sand, and vermiculite, with a handful of composted manure thrown in. At room temperature, they'll sprout in a week or so. As seedlings develop their first pairs of true leaves, transplant into 2-inch pots. As plants grow, transplant into 4-inch, then 6-inch pots.

In May, plant the young dahlias in the garden, giving them a dose of 5-10-10 or similar fertilizer at transplant time. A month later, fertilize once more. Flowers will appear in August, and by the time you dig the plants in fall, tubers from the new crosses will be almost as big as those from mature dahlias.
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Publication:Sunset
Date:Aug 1, 1990
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