To see the full original newsletter with all the photos click here to get the pdf: March 2022 Newsletter
NEXT MEETING: 8 March at 7 PM at 9th and Lincoln IN PERSON! Program: see what we all still look like? While technically not required, masks are still a good idea. Discussion: April Tuber and Cutting Sale, how to prepare dahlia plot, how to wake up tubers. If you have hardened off cuttings or tubers to donate to our benevolent DSC, please bring them for a mini sale. Remember: anything that comes through the meeting door is FOR SALE. All swaps and shares should be conducted OUTSIDE IN THE PARKING LOT.
ZOOM ADS WEBSITE DISCUSSION
Erik walked us through the 2022 New Introduction pictures. Wow! We saw some really beautiful offerings. You can peruse these in your leisure by going to the American Dahlia Society website dahlia.org Karen asked, “When do the outrageous prices come down?” We have all noted the gold rush happening every time another commercial grower opens their on-line “store.” They sell out in half an hour despite crazy high prices. They can ask for an get big $$ because there is a shortage of reputable sellers right now. What determines price? First of all labor: dahlias have to be dug up, washed, divided, washed again, soaked in 5-10% bleach, slightly dried, sulfered or cinnamoned, labeled, stored in vermiculite or shavings, monitored and finally sold, boxed, labeled and mailed: a LOT of steps. A LOT of time and labor. It’s amazing that tubers are so inexpensive! (if you can source them) Secondly, not all dahlias are equally fecund; some make 4-5 tubers per clump; some make NONE! Some can only be continued year after year by making cuttings; Porcelain and Belle of the Ball prove notoriously poor tuber producers. So scarcity drives up the price. Thirdly, how well does this dahlia perform in shows? Some people will only grow dahlias that are proven winners; no “pretty flowers” sentiment, just competition dominance drives their selection. Lastly, reputation. Right now Kristine Albrecht’s KA brand is golden. Any of her hybridizations go for extra $ because of her extra cache. KA’s Khalisie, KA’s Cloud, KA’s Champagne and KA’s Peppercorn justify their crazy bounties; they stun! Blomquist varieties grow particularly well in our Bay Area so they, too, have a little extra $ tacked on. Erik also explained the Cream of the Crop (dahlias which won 15 blue or higher awards during the previous award season) and The Fabulous 50 (the top scoring 50 dahlias in the entire United States.) BTW, sweet little pink micro peony, Elvira, reigns #1 this year. Deborah crowed that the ribbons Elvira wins are just the same size as Best AA or Best Novelty and Elvira can be grown in a pot on a 5th floor south facing balcony. (Now that Elvira is #1 in the whole US of A, she’s bound to be more expensive, too….)
MARCH MARCH OF FABULOUS DAHLIAS
February has been so beautiful, that “Mud Months” hardly bespeaks this month. Nevertheless, these snazzy dahlias came from all sorts of sources collected during 2021. Check thedahliaaddict.com for where to purchase them.
GREENHOUSE: SAME FUNCTION, MANY FORMS
Erik strolled us through a wonderful discussion about greenhouses and how to produce healthy dahlia plants earlier than just putting them in the cold earth and crossing ones fingers. A couple 1x1x3” sprigs in a plastic baggie constitutes a mini greenhouse. Putting a 60 litter clear soda bottle over a newly emerged sprout in your garden provides a little bastion against the wind and bugs, thus a mini greenhouse. Tara pointed out that Wayfair.com offers all kinds of greenhouses and cold frames from $35 up. Kevin found their $79 model on the street for FREE. Such luck. Deborah makes a cold frame by unfurling visqueen over her south facing balcony; it protects from rain and wind while allowing the plants to acclimate to outside temperatures. What about light? Extra light means plants get extra energy; thus, they grow faster. Optimally, one might set lights for 18 hours a day. Some people string shop lights on a shelf. Ideally plants like to be as close to the light as possible up to within 2 inches. Ken Masurat uses a clever system: notched risers suspend his shop lights; as the plants grow, he raises his lights up the next notch. Other people keep their lights at a set level and find ways to lift their dahlias up. Deborah stacks milk cartons to her desired levels. Devorah covers cardboard with tinfoil and tacks it on 3 sides of her shelves to increase the amount of reflected light. Clever! Another friend had 2 small fans in his greenhouse run by photo voltaic batteries. When the sun shines, his fans blow air around. Smart. Another Devorah trick: Spread cloth over metal struts (like big croquet hoops) for early outside planting. Kevin of Corralitos Gardens had hoop tunnels 50 feet long. Coyotes loved to swoop through these or ambush another coyote buzzing through, creating a real mess, but so fun to watch. This photo is from Allemany Gardens just off 280/101 split.
2022 DAHLIA CALENDARS
Deborah has 3 extra calendars from the Capitol Dahlia Society in Washington D.C. They are $12 or best offer at this point.
Our Sarah had another eloquent letter to the editor published urging some sort of compromise in the JFK access situation. Sarah also waited 4 hours to present her plea at a recent Commissioners Meeting. She reports that 99.9% of the speakers were OPPOSED to banning cars on JFK. Good to hear.
ADS PHOTO WINNERS
Congratulations to 3 DSC members who won prizes in the national American Dahlia Society 2021 Photo Contest. Out of almost 500 submissions in 10 categories, our 3 members won big! Here is Deborah’s Honorable Mention with Jenna and Pennhill Watermelon. Louise scored twice: Our superstar, John Evre, hit 3 out of the park.
HOW TO DEPLOY GOPHR CAGES
Once your plot soil is ready, you can begin dropping your gopher cages in preparation for planting. Sue has sunk her first two tiers already. 1. Retie your flattened cage into a cylinder. If you bought pocket cages, open them wide. 2. Adhere the bottom with twisty ties or zip ties. 3. Dig hole deep enough that the cage fits snugly with 1-1 1/2” above ground level. 4. Place cage in hole and snug soil in around it. 5. Half fill the cage. Now everything is ready for planting. Add your secret sauce and your dahlia and fill up the cage to the surface. When Deborah removed 100 cages from the Warden’s, she noted several which had gopher marks showing how far into the cage a critter could nibble; but the cages foiled the gophers EVERY TIME! Nibbled tubers still had strong necks and enough body to process and pop into milk cartons. Great instructions on how to fab your own gopher cages live on our website dahliasocietyofcalifornia.org in the 2018 May newsletter.
PANOPLY OF BEAUTIES
Here’s a second tranche of amazing dahlias from 2021. Enjoy.
MARCHING INTO PLANTING!
Last month to ameliorate your soil. Phil just worked in 30 bags of chicken manure. Kevin pulled up his weed cloth and sifted the dirt for each hole to eliminated stones, glass, roots, and other junk in his tough dirt. Sue raked bags of coffee grounds on her hillside tiers. The end of March is the time to turn under any cover crop.
GERMINATION: I’ve noted @20 clumps with new shoots at the Dell despite two horrible vandalizations. Twice I arrived at the Dell to see clumps uprooted, tubers strewn about and stems crunched and scattered in disarray. Slowly, I ruled out malevolent humans—it just didn’t seem to have any purpose or plan. Then Sarah pointed out that this sort of random destruction looked like what her new puppy gleefully perpetrates at home. Could this be frolicking coyote pups? A better thought than crummy human beings randomly smashing stuff. If you spot a shoot coming out of a clump you left in the ground, what should you do? I build a little berm around the clump, so when I give it some water, the water stays where I want it and doesn’t run off. I also give each clump a tablespoon of my special Dr. Earth fertilizer with extra calcium and mycorrhizae. AFTER I water, I sprinkle some Super Sluggo Plus to forfend predation from slugs, snails and ear wigs. How do you get your tubers to germinate? Somewhere between 62-68 degrees is each tuber’s wake up! temperature. I pop all my tubers into a loose potting soil in milk cartons and pile them up in my loft, the warmest spot in my home. I have heard that atop water heaters, refrigerators, sunny windows, and certain ovens with pilot lights are also good spots to encourage your tubers to emerge from dormancy. You could try Erik’s Happy Baby technique. Place your tubers on a tray with newspapers below. Place a damp (not wet!) towel on top and put them in a warm spot under a light: cozy, warm, with a pleasant drink. But beware of too much moisture. Dormant tubers have no roots; they cannot absorb water; they rot. NOT GOOD. So I put them in good potting soil which has some residual (but not much) hint of moisture, close the cover and let them find their favorite sprouting temperature. This spate of 70 degrees weather in early February wreaked excellent results!
FIELD DRESSING: When you finally see new shoots from your sophomore dahlia clump, what will you do? If you leave the whole Megillah in, many more hungry tubers will be competing for fewer nutrients than last year. You could pull the entire clump and use the green sprouts as indicators of where to divide. This plan has the advantage that you could subsequently add a bunch of fertilizer and compost to the entire area. Or you could try field dressing: splitting part of the clump off right in the ground and administering your “secret sauce” of additions to the remaining hole. This way you leave some of the tubers with all their fine roots undisturbed. Because it is so well established already, it may bloom earlier. The danger here is that you might leave TOO MANY STEMS which will result in an unwieldy bush and smaller blooms. Your choice……
LATE SEASON CUTTINGS: Early warmth has supercharged growth in my late season cuttings. After a week in the greenhouse, I move my 4×4” pots out to a hardening off area next to the greenhouse atop my compost pile. The walls of the greenhouse protect from the wind and allow about 1/2 day of direct sunlight; the compost generates a little extra bottom heat. If these get a little spindly or leggy, I cut off the top three nodes and re-pot those like a new apical cutting. The remaining compact 4×4” then is ready to go to my upper deck for fully hardening off. Where I took the tip cutting, two more shoots will grow. By the time it’s ready for sale or for planting, the entire 4×4” will be almost root bound and ready to go kerblowie when it gets into unfettered soil.
Now is the time to try your hand at seeds, dahlia’s genetic lottery tickets. Each seed is an entirely new gene combination. Most seeds produce open centered little blooms, but occasionally you get a wonderful surprise—a really lovely competition variety. Place seeds on a paper towel. Cover with a soaking wet paper towel. Put in a warm spot and check in 2-3-4 days. When the seed has sprouted, use tweezers to pluck it up and put it in either a 1x1x3” or a 4×4” pot. Give a little water. When your utterly unique dahlia grows 12” high, transfer it —pot and all— out to the garden. Cross your fingers! In his final years, my dahlia godfather, Bob Bloomfield, said the only thing that still excited him was the anticipation of seeing what his seedlings would bring him each season.
Yours in dirt,
Photo Credits: Dietz, Evre, Hendrickson
Distribution: Devorah Joseph
Snail Mail Benefactress: Pat Hunter