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Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with dahlias

This red and white dahlia is perfect for Cinco de Mayo. (Photos: Debbie Arrington)

Mexico's national flower beloved around the world

Mexico has given gardeners many of their favorite plants, from agaves to tomatoes. What better way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo than to plant Mexico’s national flower?

The dahlia doesn’t bloom until late summer, but now is prime planting time for these impressive flowers. Once they start blooming, dahlias continue flowering until frost.
Dahlia blossoms come in all sizes.

Grown from tubers, thousands of named varieties in 42 species are available, each classified by flower form and size. The most common are named for what other flowers or shapes they resemble including cactus, pompom, ball, dinner plate, anemone, peony, orchid and single.

Blooms can range from 2 inches to more than 12 inches across, and vibrant color combinations seem endless. They come in every color except true black or true blue. (“Black” dahlias are actually a very deep red.)

Dahlias can find a spot in the front of a flower border – or in the back row. Some varieties stay compact, growing under 2 feet tall, while other dahlias tower 6 feet high or more. They also can make good container plants.

A member of the aster family, dahlias originally grew wild throughout Mexico, particularly in the region around where Mexico City is today. The ancient Aztecs domesticated Dahlia pinnata (the common garden dahlia) as a food crop. The tubers are edible. But it was the flowers that caught the eye of conquistadors.

Another stunner! Plant dahlias now for late summer blooms.
Dahlias were introduced to Spain in 1798 and became a sensation with European flower lovers. A Spanish botanist named the plant after a recently deceased colleague, Swedish botanist Anders Dahl.

In Victorian times, dahlias came to represent everlasting bonds, elegance, inner strength and dignity.

Now, dahlias are treasured for their spectacular flowers, grown around the world. They rank among the most popular cut flowers and are a favorite for weddings.

And they’re easy to grow – as long as they have a sunny spot with good drainage.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of June 4:

Because of the comfortable weather, it’s not too late to set out tomato and pepper seedlings as well as squash and melon plants. They’ll appreciate this not-too-hot weather. Just remember to water.

* From seed, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, melons, squash and sunflowers.

* Plant basil to go with your tomatoes.

* Transplant summer annuals such as petunias, marigolds and zinnias.

* It’s also a good time to transplant perennial flowers including astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia, salvia and verbena.

* Let the grass grow longer. Set the mower blades high to reduce stress on your lawn during summer heat. To cut down on evaporation, water your lawn deeply during the wee hours of the morning, between 2 and 8 a.m.

* Tie up vines and stake tall plants such as gladiolus and lilies. That gives their heavy flowers some support.

* Dig and divide crowded bulbs after the tops have died down.

* Feed summer flowers with a slow-release fertilizer.

* Mulch, mulch, mulch! This “blanket” keeps moisture in the soil longer and helps your plants cope during hot weather.

* Thin grapes on the vine for bigger, better clusters later this summer.

* Cut back fruit-bearing canes on berries.

* Feed camellias, azaleas and other acid-loving plants.

* Trim off dead flowers from rose bushes to keep them blooming through the summer. Roses also benefit from deep watering and feeding now. A top dressing of aged compost will keep them happy. It feeds as well as keeps roots moist.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushier plants with many more flowers in September.

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