To see the full original newsletter with all the photos click here to get the pdf: December 2021 Newsletter
NEXT MEETING: Dec. 14 @7:30 PM at 9th and Lincoln. Program: Election and HOLIDAY PARTY!!! Time to celebrate that we are still here. Unfortunately we still have to mind Covid restrictions, so please ONLY people who have both vaccinations. (Do bring proof on your cell just in case you are questioned.) Because everyone will be wearing a mask, we will not have holiday food this year. If you so choose, do bring a wrapped gift (preferably something related to dahlias and dahlia people). To minimize Covid potentials, we will forego our customary larcenous habits and NOT allow stealing. (However, post game horse trading is not embargoed.) In the past, cool presents have included a tin full of dahlia magnets, a basket of narcissi bulbs, wine, chocolate, dividing tools, a dahlia calendar, a cool spade, loppers, and (inexplicably) a Golden State Warriors t-shirt. Do NOT feel uncomfortable if you choose NOT to participate. This is just for fun. Erik has promised to gift us all with a wonderful slide show of Holiday Parties Past and maybe DigOuts Past. Please feel encouraged to dust off your finery and don your festive duds. Nothing is too sparkly, silly, colorful or outrageous.
DAHLIA EXHUMATION LOU STYLE:
(Please, thank Sarah for this excellent write up of our November meeting.)
There were about 18 people present at the meeting.
Lou gave a wonderful tutorial on digging up and dividing tubers. He patiently fielded many questions and gave some 1:1 help spotting eyes.
His technique involves some tricks he’s learned over 40 years of dahlia growing:
The Two-Shovel Method: When Lou is ready to dig up his tubers, he uses one shovel to dig a 2′ circle around the tuber clump. He then thrusts one shovel deep into the ground on one edge of the circle and the other shovel on the opposite edge and pulls the handles apart, thereby helping lift the tuber mass.
He hoses off the tuber to release dirt and processes his tuber(s) that same day, careful to only work with one specimen at a time, so as to not mix up his tubers or loose the appropriate label.
Lou showed us how quickly he can see the eyes on the tubers. Many of us couldn’t see them, but he assured us they were there! He wants his tubers to have an eye, a strong neck, and firm body (which contains all the energy stores for the plant). He trims off any hair-like roots. He discards the “mother tuber,” which tends to be softer than the “daughter tubers.”
Lou uses an apricot knife or similar small, strong, but flexible knife, scissors, clippers, brown paper bags cut open as cutting surface, a wooden block and three 5-gallon buckets. He warned us to always cut away from our bodies and to always sterilize the equipment in bleach between tuber jobs, so as not to spread disease.
His order of operations once he’s separated the tubers:
1. Wash the tuber off in water.
2. Soak the tuber in a 10% bleach solution for 5-10 minutes to kill off any diseases.
3. Dip the cut ends in everyday ground cinnamon, which acts as a fungicide. (No more toxic products!)
4. Write the name of the dahlia on the tuber using a special pencil called “Bottle of Ink in a Pencil,” which Erik found online. The tuber has to be damp for the special pencil to work.
5. Let dry out for two or three days on a table.
6. Store tubers so they don’t touch in shredded paper, cedar shavings, vermiculite, or other dry product ideally at 40 degrees until you’re ready to plant. Check them every month to make sure they’re not too dry.
7. When Lou is ready to plant at the Dell, he plants two starters on either side of a stake: one a plant that came from a cutting, the other a tuber with its eye facing the stake. He gives them about a quart of water and then leaves them alone for a month or until he gets a couple of leaf pairs showing.
Thank you, Sarah, for this excellent summary and wonderful pix from our meeting.
MUD MONTH SOLACE
Each year I save photos of new/wonderful dahlias to palliate our need for blooms whilst our plots are fallow. Here are some dahlias sighted during 2021 that might delight you. Check thedahlaaddict.com for availability.
COMMUNITY DESIGN MEETING: Dec. 8 4-6 PM. Zoom. This is a mandatory open-to-public meeting to discus the design plans for rebuilding the hillside dahlia garden. By law they have to let the public comment when private+public funds are involved in the project. You need to register at https://tinyurl.com/DahliaSocietyCM Check out the flyer. Erik will present a short history about the hillside; the architect will outline his project; the City will obfuscate a bit; no one will address improved access for Dell gardeners.
SWAN ISLAND TRIAL GARDEN RESULTS
Thanks to Larry Smith in Portland for this wonderful slide show of the National Trial Garden which Swan Island in Canby, Oregon, hosts for all of us. Click on the url and see all the winners and many of the runners up. This is our future.
SARAH’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE
At the height of bloom, Sarah toured Swan Island Dahlias. Here is the lovely slide program she designed for us. Click on this url:
DAHLIA TREE TIME
Our dahlia trees are flourishing. Check out the 25’ tall ones at the Dell. Pat says hers is only 10’ or so, but it’s a double lavender bloom. Phil and Marilyn’s double white dahlia tree is bursting with bloom. Dahlias trees usually begin around the end of October and will shed their glory through April.
BUCKETS OF STORAGE
Paula is experimenting with a new way to store her clumps. Most of hers were planted 5-8 gallon black pots with holes drilled all over: voila! gopher cages! But the early rains made these too soggy. So she hauled them out of their holes. As soon as they dry out sufficiently, Paula will cover them with tarps and let them go dormant for the winter sheltered near her house. In the meantime, our gorgeous weather is producing lovely sprigs for late season cuttings.
Steve sent in these two photos of great dahlia sightings. If you find fun things like this, please share with your Dahlia Society of California. We can all use a few smiles.
Lou and Pat have already cut their plants down. Both Lou and Sue have already pulled several of their clumps out. Sue interrupts her exertions extricating her implanted gopher cages when friendly dogs approach her for the treats she keeps in her pocket. Lou will be putting most of his on the cutting bench again this year if the Park allows them to be in the greenhouse. Pat has decided to leave most of hers in the ground because they started as cuttings last year. Tinnee trekked in to weed her traces and check her clumps. Sarah, Thuy, Mui and Steve have become weed warriors: we want to eradicate as many weeds right now before any more rains, otherwise they will turn the Dell into a lush green pasture. The more we eliminate now, the fewer to yank later. Deborah has been taking late season cuttings and stashing them in her greenhouse and crossing her fingers. Tim took his first late season sprigs to try cosseting. He has access to a heated greenhouse with misters—such luck! Each Saturday the line grows longer as families awaiting their time with the photographer. He stages them on the lawn across from Lou’s section for their holiday shots. Quite the entrepreneur. Coyotes love to frolic before the kids arrive. Sarah and Deborah spotted an unusual bird high in the yucca: grayish, ticked light breast, obviously small hawk. Could it be an out-of-range Mexican grey goss??? Last month, yet another grizzled “Park Person” discovered the benches by the Conservatory steps and proceeded to settle in with strong weed, blasting LOUD music. When Deborah politely requested that he turn it down a little, he started yelling at her. Very scary and disappointing. He showed up again a few weeks later and yelled at Deborah again, “Hey Girlie, today I brought head phones .” You never know where thoughtfulness will strike.
A TRONCHE OF LOVELY DAHLIAS
Especially on bleak days, these beautiful blooms can delight us. Who are your sources for NEW dahlias????
December is both the end of a cycle and the beginning of a new one. As my plants turn brown, I am trimming them down to 5 notches. The notches act as water seals to prevent moisture from seeping down to the crown and thereby ruining your entire clump. Some people cover the stems with aluminum foil for further protection: shiny dahlia condoms. I have begun to place 5 gallon buckets over the tops of the clumps which have gone entirely brown. Because the Dell has such great drainage, I can wait until February to begin digging mine out. In February when they begin sending up shoots, I’ll know EXACTLY where to divide. Paula has dreadfully hard soil, so she HAS To get her dahlias out. Every year as she pulls out clumps she enlarges the hole slightly more and fills it with garden refuse. By the time she plants again, it is slightly bigger and repleat with goodies for new roots. If you want to plant bulbs in your dahlia patch but aren’t sure how to divide your tubers, you can dig up the clump leaving as much soil around it as possible; put the whole clump in a cardboard box; fill the box with dry garden dirt; stack your boxes in a cool, dark spot like a basement, garage or under your house. Your tubers will think they are still dormant in the earth and not wake up until spring tempertures entice eyes to burst forth.
What about a cover crop? A cover crop is something that you sow into the earth after you have harvested your main crop. Ideally, you strew seeds of nitroginators, plants that nab nitrogen from the air and deposit it into your soil down at its roots. Hairy vetch, mustard seed, fava beans, or anything in the pea family. Ideally you let these little nitrogen factories work their magic until about 2 weeks before planting; then you pull up or turn under the cover crop and it becomes compost for the next generation of glorious dahlias. Alternatively, you might simply sprinkle your plot with delicate poppy or scabiosa seeds. They don’t do anything particularly good for your soil but they are wonderful for your soul; they dance and preen in the light and cover your empty brown plot. Annie’s and Baker Creek both offer really exotic poppy seeds right now. Once your clumps are out of the ground, you can add commercial chicken manure or go scrape the bottoms of friends’ pens or dove cotes. This is “hot” full of urea and NOT good for tender roots of emerging new plants. But it ages into golden joy. Do you know someone with bunnies? OH! rabbit poop is gourmet compost! In lieu of these treasures, just course your neighborhood with a bucket and scoop up all the great leaves. DO NOT SCOOP UP EUCALYPTUS leaves: these are poisonous. They will inhibit growth of everything. But ginkgo, pitasporim, jacaranda: all gooooood mulch. The sooner you lay this on your garden the sooner it begins to break down and add available nutrients for your dahlias’ larder.
Cruise the catalogs and thedahliaaddict.com. Check out the Fabulous Fifty and the Cream of the Crop on the ADS website (which our Lou is in charge of!) Order some new varieties of dahlias. Have you grown an anemone yet??? Try one? A collarette? An Orchette? Remember that ball forms (Ball, minimal and pom) last the longest as cut blooms; Formal Decoratives the next longest. I find Informal Decoratives the splashiest fanciest craziest ones. Bi- and Tri-colors always catch the eye. Wee mignon singles can be grown in a 2-gallon pot on your balcony. The tiny varieties win the same size ribbons the massive bruisers win. The big commercial (such as K. van Bourgondien and Holland Bulbs) companies promise 5 for $17.50 but they send you 5 clumps. By the time the clumps have been dug, cleaned, bagged, shipped and delivered almost every single poor neck is broken. John Mani and Bob P succumbed to these temptations. They complained and were sent replacement bags of mangled clumps. They were able to cut off the victims and get a plant from the amputated crown. Opening these packages always makes you cry. Talk to your Dahlia Society of California, San Leandro Dahlia Society and Monterey Bay Dahlia folks; maybe you can effect a trade or a buy. Line up promises NOW. Please let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org) which commercial companies you’ve had your best and poorest luck with. One reason to join a dahlia society is to share this kind of information.
MULCH MULCH MULCH
Yours in dirt,
Photo Credits: Bauig, Bergman, Capps, Cook, Cornett, Dibner, Dietz, Gaensler, Roga, Santose, Smith, Stolich, Wharton
Membership and mail chimp: Debbie Frank
Snailmail Mistress: Patricia Hunter