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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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For week of March 3:

* Celebrate the city flower! Catch the 100th Sacramento Camellia Show 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 2, and 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 3, at the Scottish Rite Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento. Admission is free.

* Between showers, pick up fallen camellia blooms; that helps cut down on the spread of blossom blight that prematurely browns petals.

* Feed camellias after they bloom with fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants.

* Camellias need little pruning. Remove dead wood and shape, if necessary.

* Tread lightly or not at all on wet ground; it compacts soil.

* Avoid digging in wet soil, too; wait until it clumps in your hand but doesn’t feel squishy.

* Note spots in your garden that stay wet after storms; improve drainage with the addition of organic matter such as compost.

* Keep an eye out for leaning trunks or ground disturbances around a tree’s base, a sign of shifting roots in the wet soil.

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* If aphids are attracted to new growth, knock them off with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap. To make your own “bug soap,” use two tablespoons liquid soap – not detergent – to one quart water in a spray bottle. Shake it up before use. Among the liquid soaps that seem most effective are Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soaps; try the peppermint scent.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Make plans for your summer garden. Once the soil is ready, start adding amendments such as compost.

* Indoors, start seeds for summer favorites such as tomatoes, peppers and squash as well as summer flowers.

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