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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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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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