Painesville, OH(Zone 5b)

Last year I grew dahlia for the first time and let them grow as they wanted with no pinching or pruning. Needless to say, they grew very tall and kind of crazy looking. I am trying my hand at them again this year. How often do you pinch? Is that the only type of pruning it needs? Should they be deadheaded when the flower starts to fade? TIA, Tamara

(Zone 7b)

Hi Tamara,
When my sprouts are about a foot high, I pinch just the tip off, and I also deadhead, because I like the looks much better, and it then puts energy into making more flowers - welcome to the dahlia addiction club, er, forum!

Aptos, CA

Hi 5!

Also, remember to ( if you like ) to disbud...removing the lateral buds ( the ones on either side of the larger center bud ) will produce a bigger bloom for you...not mandatory, but kinda fun to experiment!

Delhi, IA

Deadhead most definitely whether you bother to do pruning or not. If you want more flowers, a plant with faded blooms thinks it's all over for the season and doesn't set as many new buds____it's mission is accomplished.

Fayetteville, NC(Zone 8a)

OK, everybody, I am in big trouble here.

I did not know until I started reading threads here this morning that I should have been pinching back so soon. I have some plants that are still short enough to do what you have said above.

I have three unmarked, which makes me think they are tubers I had from last year that I did not think were going to make it. They are probably Soulman, which is a tall very dark red pompom. One of those is now at 5ft and has a few little buds coming on. Two others are about 4 ft tall and have not yet started to bud. I have not liked the way they looked the other years I have had them because they look so scrawny. Can I prune them back this late in their growth cycle? Should I leave the tallest one alone?

My dinnerplate varieties are about 12 to 18 inches tall and I can prune/pinch them.

I've been gone on a trip and have been amazed at how those tall ones have jumped up there in that amount of time. I really don't know what to do with those now.

Thanks for any suggestions, even if it includes a hatchet.


Delhi, IA

Nothing dictates that you need to do anything to dahlias____no dire consequences if you don't. For 20 years I had a few of them and only staked and planted them, and then deadheaded blooms as they faded.

These are just some ways to have a shorter, bushier plants___and if you want larger flowers for exibition removal of side buds. You can hardly goof up a dahlia, so grow and enjoy.

Aptos, CA

Jam is right...there are no set don't have to pinch or disbud...Seems as though I am always experimenting with ways to grow dahlias. I put in 34 seedlings, they were growing pretty well ( still are )...a deer nipped the tops off of 2...I left them in the ground..and they look great I decided to pinch back the rest! HAHAHAHA...the deer made me do it...

This message was edited Jun 8, 2006 2:33 PM

Delhi, IA

Sudhira, You've got your first automatic pruner___wouldn't it be nice if they would just nip at the same height each time and at the proper stage?? ...the deer made me do it....
at least they are good for something!!!

Fayetteville, NC(Zone 8a)

OK, I took the plunge today and pinched a few that looked like they were at the right size. I was going to pinch back one that was at my knee height and then noticed that the stem is already really thick and strong. I left it alone for now. I am going to get out my list tomorrow or the next day and double-check its variety. I looked at the tag, but now I don't even know what it said. Some people grow old gracefully -- I don't happen to be one of them.

The three identical and unmarked ones are now guinea pigs. The really tall one (5+ ft) with the buds I left alone and the two shorter ones (about 4 ft) I pinched back a bit, one a little more than the other.

I need to find out why a couple of new ones aren't showing any signs of growth. Right after I planted them, we began having big thunderstorms and they may have gotten too much water. I forgot there aren't any rain gutters over their spot. I may have to move them and just take a chance that they'll make it.

Anyway, just wanted to let you know I took the plunge. Man it was hot out there today. I am only allowed to work for an hour maximum in the morning and then another hour maximum in the evening.

O/T--I had to completely redo a container this morning. It turned out the plug had fallen closed and it was a swamp. That plug is now in the trash can. The only thing I could save was the Maidenhair Grass and I can't put any more money into plants, so I went around the other garden beds and gathered red geraniums, purple petunias, lime creeping jenny and it looks pretty good. I made two of them alike, but now they are only similar in color except for the grass in the centers.

Anyway............that was my big day in the garden besides tying up hollyhocks and daisies and a few African lilies.

Issaquah, WA(Zone 7a)

Gardengram it sounds like you've been plenty busy despite your heat and limits. I'm not growing old gracefully either, don't feel bad!

Pinching back at knee high is just fine. Some years I'm so delayed they're over that, but dahlias are tough: there are no hard and fast rules. Just when you think there are hard and fast rules, the rules change!

On the ones that are subject to alot of water and are slow, I would (and do every year because of severe impatience) dig them up gently from outside where you think the tuber is, and just unearth it and feel it. If you have a slow or failing tuber, 9 times out of ten it's a rotting tuber: either waterlogged or diseased.

If you want, you can try to save a rotten one by trimming all the soft, mushy, or discolored spots off. Dust the cut with fungicide or Lysol and replant. Some people say to let the cut dry before replanting, I'm too impatient. In the garden it goes and if I lose it, then so be it.

Your rekindled containers sound bright and lovely! I just now got around to planting several deck rail planters. Way behind this year, for sure.

Let us know how your dahlias, pinched or possibly flooded fare, please.

Fayetteville, NC(Zone 8a)

Ordinarily I would just carefully dig up whatever is in question and move it or try something to save it. This year I had to pay helpers to cut back big bushes to make room and prepare the bed and dig the holes and I ordered a whole bunch from ebay and Swan Island. This was the big year for dahlias around here. I purchased my first dinnerplate types and carefully chose colors. It just is so frustrating to lose any of them. I had already moved two away from the edge of the roof and thought these others would be OK.

Understanding that there are no rules to go by, is it too late to move some spares that are doing really well in another part of the garden to fill in blanks if I have any blanks?

I did not know about the fungicide, so I appreciate that tip. I don't think I have any, but I have to make a run to Home Depot anyway, so will get some. Is there a particular kind I should get? I might have something I purchased for roses, and if I do could I use that?

Issaquah, WA(Zone 7a)

Gram, I have moved dahlias as tall as three feet in the heat of the day and it only balked at me for a couple days before going to do its business for the rest of the season.

If you have a shorter plant, of course you can move it. Try for morning or evening. Get your new hole ready, water the hole, dig a pretty deep, wide shovelfull of soil around the dahlia to be moved and carry it to it's new home. The shorter ones are easy because the stalks should be sturdy enough to support the plant for a brief trip without breaking.

Good luck!

Fayetteville, NC(Zone 8a)

You are terrific!! Thank you so much.

It is my understanding that water is a problem until they start to grow and are putting out shoots, etc. Is that right? So, if I have some that are rotting or sick because they are right under that roof line, can I replace them with some of the bigger ones that I had to find other homes for (can we all say "she forgot about that other order"?) and those would be OK now, or should be? I know you can't predict EVERYthing, but that would be the easiest solution for me.

I can't dig anymore, so my teenaged garden helper guy could move one at a time as I check what's going on under those that aren't looking too hot.

Thanks for taking all the time to help me. Until I became a dahliaholic, I just let them grow and enjoyed them. Now I worry over every stupid thing.


Issaquah, WA(Zone 7a)

Well Diane, I don't know how much wet happens under those eaves. Even a big mature dahlia isn't going to want huge amounts of water. I'd say mature plants get several gallons a week, maybe twice a week in heat. Is there a downspout from the eaves draining near that area? That would be too much for any dahlia I think, maybe a better place for a water-loving plant.

So I can't tell you about moving the larger dahlias there. Alot depends on drainage and amount of water found there.

Yes the restricted watering, as I understand it, is to protect the rootless tuber from becoming relentlessy soggy. Shoots will roughly correspond with root formation. Once they have roots, you can water a bit, increasing the amount as the plant grows. I have some under eaves that get very little rain, and I think I actually should water them, as they are slower than their neighbors out in the open.

But too much water isn't good: and we have about another week of possible rain here. ARGH! Now I think I recall that it is June weather that always lets me down out here, not May.

Let us know how your moving goes and what ends up where.

Fayetteville, NC(Zone 8a)

I did not get any moving done due to big thunderstorms that started in the late afternoon and went all night. They are gearing up again for this afternoon. I can hear the thunder out in the distance.

I did stand at the end of the dahlia bed and look along the two lines of plants. To my surprise, there are good-sized dahlias along under the eaves in all but one area. There is a chimney in the middle of that side of the house and the rain pours down off both sides of it and that's where the plants are not doing well. I had already removed one tuber from one side as I could see what was happening to it water-wise. There are a couple in the other row that look very small and puny. So tomorrow or whenever I can walk in there, I'll check more closely.

When we remodeled the downstairs area into my apt., we found some water damage along that wall and we had to put in a whole new French drain system. My son-in-law did not want me to plant anything that would require much water, so I put in cannas. You never have to water those things. They did fine for several years, but I got tired of them and wanted the dahlias. My research said that they don't require copious amounts of water and there is very good drainage and run-off. All the six years since we did that original work, I've noticed that God puts much more water along there than I ever would. All I can do is try to protect my investment for this year and then see what happens for the future.

My son is right smack in the middle of where that storm/almost hurricane is headed. I sure wish they would move out of there. I got out of there just in time from the looks of it.


West Caldwell, NJ(Zone 6b)

I tried to top my Lavender Ruffles, my first and fastest, about a week ago, when it had three sets of leaves, I pinched off the top center part just as the Swan Island booklet instructed, But now its still putting out more branches in the same place I pinched it. Did I do something wrong? Can I repinch it? BTW, I am totally befuddled by the numerous topping web pages, I cannot see the counts in the pictures that the text mentions. Also I have many varieties, some of which are putting out lots of branches low to the ground, sometimes a lone branch at one level, can you do this by height alone, or do you have to count, and count what? I know, I worry too much! But I want my stems nice and sturdy for hurricane season, last year Katrina et al ripped the branches off my dahlias, which were tall and spindly.

Issaquah, WA(Zone 7a)

todgor, don't worry so much. I just try to wait til they're about a foot tall and break out the center. Again that is best done in early a.m. or evening when the plant is firmer with moisture.
When you say " it's putting out branches in the same place" are there two distinct side branches growing from where you removed the top growth? That is normal and desireable. If you don't get all the center snapped off, it will regrow. Just snap it off again, or some people use an exacto knife to slice it out.
Once I top the plant, aside from occasionally lopping of a branch that irritates me or is shading a neighbor dahlia, I do no more pruning, only disbudding and that goes on all season long.

Fayetteville, NC(Zone 8a)

poochella--do you take off the very bottom leaves as the plants get bigger and bigger just to keep things tidier?

Issaquah, WA(Zone 7a)

I remove about the bottom 10-12 inches of leaves Gram on all the 3+ foot dahlias. Not just to be tidy ( as that is not a real priority with me LOL) but so I can get in and mulch, water, fertilize and also to allow better airflow among plants to prevent mildew and such. You can see some "bare ankles" on a few of last year's plants here below.

Oh look: blooms! It's Contessa in the front left, Jomanda behind it and the very tall purpleMazama outgrowing everyone in the yard. Can't wait to see similar sights with new ones this year.

Thumbnail by Poochella
Fayetteville, NC(Zone 8a)

My dahlias are in two rows between a row of Japanese hollies and the house wall, just outside my bedroom windows, which are very large windows that should give me quite a show when the dahlias bloom. I haven't much space between them, so was wondering about taking off some of those low leaves just for the reasons you mentioned as well as having it all look more tidy. We cut the hollies down by half before I started the dahlias, but I want them down another half by next year. Actually I'd like them gone!! Then I could put in another row of dahlias.

West Caldwell, NJ(Zone 6b)

Poochella, I wish the camera I ordered would arrive so I could show you! I just checked it this morning and there were two thin terminated branches about an inch or so on either side of a central grouping of leaves that haven't spread out (that is about 1 1/2 - 2 inches tall. The plant itself is about 18-19 in. tall. I have a few just behind that at around 14-15 in. tall, which I have done nothing with yet. Is it too late? The Swan Island catalog said 18-20 in. tall, so I'm guessing not.

I also have a few that have 2-3 eyes growing, should I leave them all or cut back the others? Will they fight for resources or is it all one plant really?


Issaquah, WA(Zone 7a)

Hi tod, No not too late on the 14-15 inchers. I just found a few more to top this a.m. that I had missed. Some aren't near ready yet. I don't count leaf sets unless there is really a scant amount of foliage/leaves: then I wait until it's a bit more mature.

I was going to tell you your above description sounds just perfect for a topped plant with your mention of two 1-1.5 inch side branches; but the "central grouping of leaves" has thrown me. I'll have to wait for the photo to hazard a guess.
Wait, Wait! I have a camera! I'll try to snap some examples of recently topped plants and then you can compare to yours.

Generally, the purists say one tuber, one eye, for one healthy plant. Yes, the idea is that more stalks will compete for tuber and subsequent root nutrition. But just this a.m. I said to heck with convention and purists and left 3 stalks coming up on one little tuber. I can always hack them off later, I'm sort of considering the extra stalks as "insurance" right now, in case one or two get bitten or broken off.

People who leave clumps in overwinter will clearly demonstrate that you can have multiple stalks and multiple tubers and still have wonderful dahlias. I've done it myself several times when I had duplicates of a plant I didn't care about losing. The downside is you get mammoth clumps formed under there to try and divide later- a huge task.

I'll check back to post topping photos late PM. unless someone else has some they can post.

Issaquah, WA(Zone 7a)

These are poor photos but you should be able to see the side shoots forming where the plant was topped maybe a week ago.
This was poorly topped by moi too! The center stem dealy should be flush with the crotch of the plant, but I don't seem to think it matters much. The important thing is not to hurt the little light colored green nodes on either side of the center growth tip you're breaking off.

Down the stem you can see the other nodes taking off to form branches and later flowers. If it can't grow up, it'll grow out.

Thumbnail by Poochella
Issaquah, WA(Zone 7a)

Here's why I don't rely on counting leaf sets to top a dahlia: This plant has many leaves, but it's only about 10 inches tall and too immature for me to get in and carefully remove the growth tip without mangling things.

The dirty white tag is pointing to the upright tiny growth tip that one would pinch out. I'll let it grow up a little and let those center leaves open so it'll be easier to get in and maneuver.

Thumbnail by Poochella
Olympia, WA(Zone 8b)

Maybe we should change your name to PINCHELLA?? lol


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