Updated: Mar 8
So you’re hooked on Dahlias, huh? Join the club! Dahlias are increasingly beloved all over the US, which means that there are a lot of great resources out there to help your flower garden be the best it can be.
We are big believers in not reinventing the wheel. So while we will include our own method briefly below, we encourage you to check out these excellent articles, books, and support groups created by highly talented dahlia growers all over America. They have helped us greatly; they will help you, too.
Wisdom is found in a multitude of counselors
Everyone has a slightly different way of doing things. You should read several guides and pick the method that you like best.
Also, keep in mind that growing conditions are different everywhere. Once you have a baseline of knowledge, we recommend you reach out to your local Dahlia Society to talk with experienced gardeners who understand how to grow these beautiful flowers in your own climate. All of these groups have a leader who is reachable by email, and most have social media groups with active members who are happy to help you out.
Online guides for growing Dahlias:
Floret Flowers: How To Grow Dahlias
Erin Benzakein and company at Floret Flowers are the current stars of the cut flower industry. Floret became famous as Dahlia growers, and this small family company remains one of the best resources for beginner and intermediate home dahlia growers. This link is their 60-second overview. For an excellent in-depth (and stunningly beautiful) photo guide, check out Erin’s book, Discovering Dahlias (see below).
Dahlia.org: Fundamentals of Growing Dahlias
Dahlia.org is the home of the American Dahlia Society, and is considered the leading North American authority on Dahlias. Their online growing guide is more in-depth than Florets (but not as pretty!)
The Sunset View Farm Method in Northern NJ
Here’s how we plant our tubers in Sussex County, NJ. It’s worked for cultivating 250-6,000+ plants in a given season.
We till 60’ x 5’ rows until the soil is so soft you will sink in if you step on it
Weed barrier with pre-burned holes is laid out, overlapped, and staked. Industry standard weed barrier for small-scale agriculture is Dewitt Sunbelt 3.2oz landscape fabric (this is NOT your average big box store landscape fabric, which is largely useless). We have purchased several times from this seller on eBay.
Individual tubers with swollen and visible eyes are planted by hand by pushing the tuber vertically into the soft dirt, until only the neck and eye(s) are visible. To give you a sense of how quick the actual planting is, picture this: we have one field hand on his knees moving down a row planting tubers while another hand tosses him a constant stream of tubers from a crate. The planting hand catches the tuber, pops it in the ground, moves down the row and looks up to catch the next tuber within about 3 seconds.
The tubers are not watered at planting time, as this can cause tuber rot.
The plants are pinched at around a foot high, just above a set of leaves, to encourage growth of multiple stems. We do this by hand with pruning shears. However, large operations (like Swan Island Dahlias) simply run a special mowing tractor right over the tops of the plants. We're not that advanced!
We drive stakes at intervals into the bed and either hang floral netting or twine (which is called "corralling" the flowers) to support the stems. The height of these supports are adjusted as the plants grow through them. After many years of using wooden stakes in our gardens, and briefly testing fiberglass stakes, we invested in 3/8'" diameter rebar in 4' sections. 2' gets pounded into the ground, and 2' remains above for affixing netting or corralling twine. We would only recommend this for a commercial application where the investment in the more durable material will pay for itself after a couple years.
Notes on the process:
Our process is for growing dahlias at scale, in northern NJ (zone 6a), in soil that has been worked organically for years - so please take our growing situation, and your own, into account before considering adapting to your needs.
Do not water or drip-irrigate tubers until you see substantial shoots (this will cause rot). We actually almost never water our dahlias at any stage in their growth. Watering needs will be different in your climate,
Lists of American Dahlia Societies by State
Find your local American Dahlia Society in the listing here.
Books for growing dahlias
Discovering Dahlias: A Guide to Growing and Arranging Magnificent Blooms
If we could recommend a single resource for beginner to intermediate dahlia growers, it would be Erin Benzakein’s Discovering Dahlias.
It’s worth the money to purchase this book just for its beautiful design and photos, even if it weren’t such a great practical guide that you can refer to throughout the season. However it has also found its way into libraries across the country, so you may be able to pick it up for free. Don’t miss this one!
Gardening 101 by Martha Stewart Living Magazine
Like anything else, growing dahlias is not as simple as it may first appear. If you’ve never grown anything before, it will be greatly helpful to you to acquire a good working knowledge of gardening in general. Gardening 101 is a true beginner’s handbook that is refreshingly brief but educational, without exhaustive technical detail.
Find it at your library or pick up a copy here.
DahliaAddict.com has proved itself as the most comprehensive and enduring list of dahlias for sale by US and Canadian growers. It’s an awesome tool - you can search for over 3,000 varieties by name. The website will then show you a list of growers and the price at which they are offering that tuber currently. It automatically updates when a grower sells out of any given variety or closes their shop, which saves you a whole lot of trouble endlessly clicking through listings.
Also, it’s totally free!
Facebook groups for Dahlia Lovers
One of our favorite groups, there are 90,000+ members all over the US with active and lively discussions throughout the year. It’s well moderated and there’s a helpful search function so you can find answers to pretty much every question that’s ever been asked anywhere about Dahlias. We’ve learned lots from the folks in this group! Check it out here.
You can ask us, too!
We’re happy to help you out and share whatever knowledge we have. You can always send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out the contact form and we will get back to you as soon as we can. Remember, you can read all you want - but nothing will teach you faster than getting your hands in the dirt!