My dahlia growing season started on a low with the snow & frosts & sub zero temperatures in January having a major effect on my overwintering tubers. Although these were stored away at the back of the garage
as in previous years, regular inspecting of the tubers resulted in me losing more than half my stock. Mine was not an isolated case as speaking to other growers many had lost some or in certain cases all of their stock.

On the positive side I managed to start a small number of surviving tubers into growth in trays & pots in the box room of our house. This was after obtaining the agreement of my wife to use the box room for propagating my tubers into growth. In a previous year I had had to endure the anger of my wife
as dormant woodlice in a number of tubers decided with the warmth of the house to make an appearance on the landing upstairs.

Once small shoots began to appear on the tuber the pot would go into the greenhouse & another tuber would go into the box room to start into growth. By the middle of February I had a number of tubers coming into
growth. As the greenhouse is unheated I do struggle if the weather turns cold as although I light a paraffin heater and cover the growing tubers with fleece to protect them from the frost at night little warmth during the day means that further growth is slow.

However by mid March I was able to take a small number of cuttings as well as set up all my remaining tubers into growth in the greenhouse. In addition through being a member of two local Dahlia societies as
well as other contacts I know I was able to obtain new & replacement stocks of growing tubers from which I was able to take further cuttings during March & April.

By mid April the first of the March cuttings had rooted. The greenhouse was getting warmer as the weather improved and my tubers that I set directly in the greenhouse in mid March were coming into growth. There was also signs of life on some tubers I had thought were as dead as a dodo. I was feeling a lot happier.

As April became May it became very hectic continually taking new cuttings, repotting rooted cuttings & then potting on. My allotment plot was ready for my plants. As I take a weeks family holiday towards the end
of May I try to get my dahlias out a few days before I go away so that they have chance to get established. The plants were set out about mid May earlier than they should be. Fortunately no frosts occurred either before or whilst we were away and the dahlias were able to get established.

There was plenty to do on my return from holiday in addition to watering them over the next few weeks I stopped, de-branched, fed, sprayed and tied in my dahlias as well as weeding in between plants. I continued this during July and by the time I went away on holiday for 5 days at the beginning of August the dahlias were looking well with plenty of flowers and buds showing on them.

On my return and with just 1 week to get my dahlias back into order before my first show I had a lot to do. By the middle of the week I felt I was back in control and my daily routine for the next 8 weeks commenced.
Friday cut dahlias for Saturday show. Saturday exhibit at show.  Sunday tidy car, check show schedules for
next show & ensure extras bag is restocked with newspaper, oasis, scissors, pen & paper. Monday to Thursday would then be the day to day maintenance of the dahlias to ensure I would have dahlias for the following weekends show.

The first show was at Burbage near Leicester on the 13th August. It is a big show with classes in flowers, vegetables, fruit, home crafts and others as well as the dahlias. Whilst it is very early in the season for dahlias the show always attracts dahlia exhibitors from near and far due to the £50 1st prize awarded to the winner of the Dahlia Championship Class. This consists of entering 4 vases of 3 dahlias.  Having entered the show for the first time the previous year without success I was determined to do better this year. Having staged my entries and had lunch and walked around the local town I returned for the results. I had not finished in the top 4 in the championship class but as I went round the other dahlia classes I found that I had got a 1st in the decorative class for a vase of 3 Blyton Lady in Red and a 2nd in the ball class for a vase of 5 Blyton Softer Gleam. The season had begun on a high. 

The following 2 weekends were local village shows where there are fewer entries and these brought more successes and numerous comments about how stunning the dahlias were. 

Over the bank holiday weekend I had a further show in Leicester where I staged on the Sunday and went back on the Monday for the results. This was the 5th year of entering and after the achieving great success in the first three years last year was a low point as I had a nil return. However this year having staged 7 entries and feeling that the quality of my exhibits was good I was disappointed only to return with a 3rd. This was a definite low so early in the season.

The following weekend I exhibited at two shows being a local village show and the Rolls Royce Horticultural Show. Little competition at the local village show meant that I swept the board. At Rolls Royce were I have
exhibited for the last 5 years to limited success I achieved my best results to date which included three 1sts one of which was Blyton Softer Gleam & a 2nd Marys Jomanda in the same class.

After these successes the season continued on a high the following week were I achieved a couple of 1st at Long Eatons Horticultural Show and Littleover were my successes included three 1sts one of which was 3 vases of 3 dahlias which won me a trophy for best exhibit. The three vases were Blyton Lady in Red, Blyton Softer Gleam & Marys Jomanda.

I was on a roll and ready for the one show that I look forward to the most each year that was the Harrogate Autumn Show which as well as hosting the Northern National Dahlia Society Championship also had major
championships for chrysanths gladiolis vegetables to name but a few together with many other attractions. I had first entered 5 years ago achieving success in the novices section and last year achieving a 1st and 3rd
in two of the classes. I had to submit my entry in advance. Staging for the show commences on the Thursday tea time overnight till 7.30 the following morning when judging is done. Judging is completed around 10am when you can go and see results. My timetable as always would be to cut my flowers Thursday morning
spending the rest of the day preparing them for transporting in my car from Derby to Harrogate. After grabbing about 4 hours sleep I would set off about midnight to arrive at Harrogate by 2am were I would stage till about 6am. An hours sleep in the car before having a full English and then looking round the other show tents before returning to the dahlia section to see how I had done.

However disaster struck early in the week when gales hit us. Venturing down the following day to the allotment I saw the damage that the winds had done to the flowers. On Thursday morning having looked over my flowers again and knowing what the quality of the other exhibits would be (mine are grown out in the open and are open to all the elements whilst the major exhibitors grow theirs undercover) I knew I could not fulfil my entries and so most reluctantly had to give it a miss.

This was a massive low not only because I couldn’t fulfil my entry but I would also miss the friendship of other exhibitors I know or have met at the show over the few years I have attended and who I look forward to
seeing & catching up with.

The  disappointment was tempered by the fact that I had another show on Sunday at Chesterfield
Chrysanthemum & Dahlia Society annual show where I achieved 3 1sts 4 2nds & 3 3rds.  I was able to find enough quality blooms achieving success again with Blyton Lady in Red & Marys Jomanda together with others that were now flowering and which I had not previously been able to show.

Buoyed on by this success and knowing that the following week would be my last big show at Barrow on Soar Chrysanthemum & Dahlia Society I made a big effort during the week and was rewarded by achieving 3 1sts
amongst my successes plus the National Dahlia Society silver medal and trophy for best exhibit in the show. This was for 3 vases of 5 flowers and again consisted of the varieties of Blyton Lady in Red, Blyton Softer Gleam & Marys Jomanda which served me so well throughout the season.

I continued to look after my dahlias during October and whilst the quality of the flowers was not brilliant I was pleased that I was able to contribute a number of entries to the Derbyshire Horticultural Association own show were I was rewarded with a piece of cut glass for most points in the dahlia section. A veritable end to the showing season.

Whilst overall my season has been my best ever with many highs outweighing the lows. I think I would have exchanged all those highs for being able to go and exhibit at Harrogate.

Roll on next season.     


Following the introduction last year of Dahlia classes to the DHA annual show as a dahlia exhibitor at the show I have been asked by the DHA to provide my thoughts on growing dahlias for exhibition purposes. So where do I begin. With their always being something needing to be done it is perhaps difficult knowing where the dahlia season begins and ends. As an exhibitor does the season end when the last show has been completed in my case at the end of October or when the dahlias have all been dug up, dried off and stored away for their dormant period at the end of November. In terms of a calendar year let’s start with January.
With the arrival of January the dahlia tubers that have been lying dormant since being dug up, dried and stored away should be checked for any signs of disease or rotting. Any found should have the relevant areas removed and then dusted with yellow sulphur to prevent further deterioration.
Any tubers showing signs of drying out should be sprayed with warm water.
I like to start some of my tubers into growth in early January. This enables me to take cuttings earlier and also reduces the dormancy period of the tuber hopefully resulting in me losing fewer dahlias to disease whilst being stored.
My method of starting some of my tubers into early growth is quite primitive compared to many of the experienced growers. Whilst I have a greenhouse this is not heated and does not have any propagating benches and soil warming cables. So with the approval of my better half I set up a couple of 2ft x 2ft trays with a layer of multipurpose compost in the bottom. The tubers are set on top of these and a further layer of compost is placed round the tubers ensuring that I leave the crowns of the tubers exposed. This is where the new growth should come from. The trays are then watered and then go into my box room upstairs, which is centrally heated. The tubers are checked daily for any signs of growth. This can take from 1 week to several weeks to show signs of life.
By February many of the tubers will be showing small shoots emerging from the crowns. At this stage to prevent the shoots from going leggy from the artificial conditions I would remove the trays to the greenhouse and replace them with fresh trays repeating the process of January in starting the next set of tubers into growth.
With their being no artificial heat in the greenhouse I am reliant on the sun warming the greenhouse and the warmth encouraging the tubers to put on more growth.
The growing trays are covered in fleece and a small greenhouse heater used when frosts are forecast.
By the beginning of March the shoots on the Tubers should be large enough to take the first cuttings. Ideally 3 to 4 inches long.
Using a sharp knife the cutting should be taken just above where they exit from the tuber. This will enable further shoots to grow from there.
The cutting is then trimmed to just below a leaf joint, dipped in either a rooting gel or powder and placed into a plant pot filled with multipurpose compost. Each variety should be placed into a separate plant pot watered and labelled before being put into a propagator and a lid placed over the propagator. I then put the propagator under the greenhouse staging and check regularly to make sure they have plenty of water misting the propagator if the cuttings seem dry.
With the greenhouse beginning to warm up from the sunshine and extended daylight hours I would expect the cuttings to have routed within 4/5 weeks.
As the greenhouse continues to heat up the cuttings root quicker.
In addition, my remaining tubers would be boxed up & started into growth directly into the greenhouse in the same way as described in January.
I would continue to take cuttings in April. Knowing when the cuttings have rooted and need transferring to individual pots can be seen by the root of the cutting growing out of the bottom of the plant pot or growth can be seen in the leaves at the top of the dahlia. When the aforementioned can be seen it is necessary to repot these plants into 5 inch pots filled with John Innes No.3.
I would be taking the final cuttings required this month. In addition to further increase stock of varieties it may be necessary to divide the tubers ensuring that each portion has a growing stem and a tuber attached.
During the month the established plants would be hardened off so that by the last week in May they would be ready to be transferred outside to the prepared plot. The plot should have been winter dug by January with well rotted manure being dug in and a top dressing of Fish Blood and Bone added in March.
Planting out should be in rows about 3ft apart with the plants being spaced about 2ft apart for the smaller varieties and 3ft apart for the larger varieties.
3 canes would then be placed around the plants with the plants being tied to the canes as they grow.
If the plants are to be grown for purely cutting purposes very little attention is needed. However if the plants are to be used for exhibition purposes then the hard work is about to begin.
If you are growing the giant or pom varieties they need to be stopped i.e. the tips of the plants pinched out as soon as they are planted. The remainder of the varieties should be stopped by the middle of June. Stopping causes the plants to bush out.
Weeds appearing should be hoed away. Dahlias need plenty of water and this should be given in dry spells
As the plants grow they should continue to be tied to the canes. Plants should be sprayed to deter pests and weeds should continue to be removed. Dahlias should continue to be watered
The stopping of the plants in June will have resulted in the plants becoming bushier throwing out new stems. At this stage depending on the variety we need to reduce those stems/branches. This is called de-branching. As a rule of thumb giants should be reduced to 3 or 4 branches, larges 4 or 5, mediums 6 or 8, small 8 or 12, miniatures and poms should not be debranched. However, poms should be stopped again to stop the blooms going oversize.
General maintenance of the plants should continue.
In general with the show season commencing in August those growers proposing to exhibit should now be seeing flower buds on their plants. Just as with debranching and the removal of branches it is necessary to reduce the number of buds on the plants to ensure that when the flower is fully developed it is the right size for the variety. With the main central bud at the top of the plant will come a side bud either side. Below the main bud at every pair of leaves will be a further pair of buds. In the case of giants all the side buds should be removed. Large and medium the top 3 levels of side buds should be removed. Smalls the top 2 and Miniature or poms just the top level removed.
If it is your intention to exhibit you may find it difficult to time your flowers to perfection for one show. So by showing at more than one show it should be possible to be able to show your best flowers somewhere during the exhibition season which can start at the beginning of August and run right through to the end of October.
For show purposes ensure that you have obtained a schedule of the show in advance, read it carefully, decided which classes to enter, submitted your entry by post in advance if required or completed your entry form for submission on the day of the show.
The morning of the day before the show is the ideal time to choose and pick your blooms that you intend to exhibit at the show. The blooms should be well developed on a straight stem with ideally no blemishes on the bloom. The blooms should be put in water immediately ideally in the container that you intend to transport them to the show in and tied in to ensure little or no movement occurs during transportation. This will stop the blooms touching each other and subsequently bruising.
Arrive at the show in plenty of time allowing you to study the set up of the exhibition area and where the dahlia classes are being staged. Find out where you need to register your entries, where the vases are if the show provides them and where the water is that you will need to fill your vases. Then find a bench where you can begin to stage your blooms. In the past exhibitors have traditionally staged their exhibits in vases filled with paper but nowadays more and more people use oasis. Filling their vase partially with water then cutting a piece of oasis to fit the vase. The blooms can then be staged with 2 blooms at the back set higher than 1 at the front in a 3 bloom class and 3 blooms at the back set higher than 2 at the front in a 5 bloom class.
Having staged your exhibits there is then that period of waiting whilst the judging is completed. Sometime later when the show is opened to the public you can then go and see the results of your efforts.
There is an air of trepidation as you walk round the classes to see if you have been successful. There will be times when you get a result for something that you didn’t think stood a chance and other times when you are sure you have an exhibit worthy of a result only to see an exhibit which appears to be of a lesser standard than your own get the result.
Don’t be afraid to talk to other exhibitors about their exhibits and advice. Most exhibitors I have come across are only too willing to help and offer friendly advice.
To be able to continue to keep your blooms going at the levels needed for exhibiting the maintenance previously mentioned should continue as well as deadheading.
As September.
In addition ensure all your plants are named correctly as once the frost comes and blackens the stems it may not be possible to identify the plants. A good idea is to record the names of the plants at the time they are planted out in may.
Be prepared for the first frost. If it has not arrived by the end of October it is advisable to begin to cut back the growth to about 6 inches and dig the tubers up before the rains come and make it particularly difficult to lift the tubers.
Ensure all the tubers are lifted in November. They should be turned upside down to dry out. Tidy up by cutting off any fibrous roots before storing away for the winter ideally in boxes filled with peat before giving them a dusting of yellow sulphur.
Check the tubers and cut out any diseased or rotting parts of tubers dusting any wounds with yellow sulphur.
Check out new varieties and suppliers on the internet.
Consider joining a local or national society.

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