These top tips for growing dahlias provide an excellent overview for beginners to understand how to grow these beautiful flowering tubers and provide the care they need.
How to Grow Dahlias
I gathered these tips for growing dahlias from numerous sources including books, research papers, my own experience, and advice from professional growers whose livelihood depends on their success.
While methods and opinions vary, if the basic needs are met, you should do just fine.
Dahlia | Genus: Dahlia | Asteraceae family
Dahlia Growing Tips
Tuberous herbaceous perennial native to Mexico and Central America
- 42 species | 57k cultivars
- USDA Hardiness Zone: 8 up
- Grow with winter storage: zone 2 up
- Sun: 6+ hours full morning sun
- Soil: pH 6.5, does not like damp or dry
- Start indoors: 4 to 6 weeks before last frost
- Plant outdoors: after last frost, soil 60°F (16°C)
- Propagation: seed, tubers, cuttings, grafting
- Flowers: mid-summer through to fall frosts
- Cold climates: store tubers for winter at 40-45°F (4-7°C)
- Pollinators: mainly bees and beetles
- Larval host plant: various Lepidoptera, specifically moths
Shop Online: Buy Dahlia tubers (Amazon)
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Top Dahlia Growing Tips
1Start Your Dahlias Indoors For an Earlier Bloom Time
Dahlias take 90 to 120 days to flower after planting, depending on the variety you are growing.
Generally, the larger the plant and flowers, the longer it takes.
If you want flowers before late summer, consider starting your dahlia tubers indoors in pots 4 to 6 weeks before last frost. This head start provides a longer flowering season.
2Tag Your Dahlias So You Know What to Expect
While dahlias are not frost hardy they are perennial and this means we can grow the same tubers year after year—if they are protected from freezing temperatures with winter storage.
But, with so many different species (42) and cultivars (57k), there are many different flower shapes, colors, and plant sizes—and different needs—and there is no way to identify them by looking at the tubers.
Tags to the rescue! By keeping track of each dahlia both through the growing season and in storage, come planting time, you’ll know what it needs and where to plant it.
3Stake Your Dahlias at Planting Time (Not After)
The wonderful thing about dahlias is the massive flowers, of course, but they tend to be top-heavy and pretty much always require support to avoid stem damage.
Save yourself future trouble by installing the support post right at planting time. This avoids accidental puncturing of the tuber later.
With a good support post (rebar, pipe, wood) placed next to the eye of the tuber (see the planting tips below), the main stem of the dahlia will grow right where you need it.
Twine is added as the plant grows. Make a loose loop around the stem and a tight loop around the support pole to keep things in place without damaging the plant.
See more about Supporting Dahlias here.
4Don’t Be Afraid to Pinch Your Main Stem
While you can leave your dahlias to grow without any grooming, you may want to ‘pinch back’ the main stem once there are several sets of leaves.
Pinching back (the same as cutting off) the main stem encourages the plant to become bushier and put more energy into lateral shoots and additional blooms.
Alternately, growers who enter their dahlias into flower-growing competitions may remove all the lateral stems leaving the main stem to produce a single, spectacular flower.
See more on Pinching, Grooming, and Topping here.
5Grow in Containers to Discourage Slugs and Snails
If your garden tends to be a magnet for slugs or snails, consider growing your dahlias in containers.
Often miniature dahlias are recommended for pots but you can certainly try growing any size dahlia this way.
In my experience, the larger the container, the better. And, with the pot off the ground, the chance of slug or snail feasts is greatly reduced.
Learn more about possible Pest and Diseases here.
6Grow Dahlias in Full Morning Sun
Dahlias are one of those plants that like their soil moisture nice and even.
If the soil holds too much moisture, the tubers, especially in the first few weeks, are prone to rot.
And, if the soil dries out, they can wither and die.
If you can, choose a location with full morning sun so they get maximum light without direct exposure to hot, drying afternoon sun.
Read more about Watering Dahlias here.
7Store Your Tubers in Plastic Food Wrap for the Winter
Every enthusiastic dahlia grower will tell you their storage method works like a charm. And—they are right—for their specific conditions. The point is, it’s the health of the tuber and the overall environment that counts.
The optimum storage temperature is 40-45°F (4-7°C). We run into problems when the heating systems in our homes make the humidity level too low for the tubers.
If this sounds like your situation, consider using the plastic food wrap method (more on this below). Each tuber is wrapped individually to keep moisture in. Growers who use this method report a higher number of viable tubers each spring.
Read more about Winter Storage Methods here.
Frequently Asked Questions
Dahlias are tuberous, herbaceous perennials native to Mexico and Central America. While they are perennial, they are not cold hardy below USDA hardiness zone 8. To avoid freezing conditions, cold climate gardeners dig them up and store them for the winter and replant them in spring.
To allow enough time for dahlias to flower in cold climates, you can start the tubers indoors in containers 4 to 6 weeks before last frost. Faster-growing dahlias can be planted directly outside when the risk of frost has passed and the soil temperature is consistently 60°F (16°C) or warmer. This has complete instructions for planting dahlias.
Dahlias flower approximately 3-4 months after planting. The larger the variety, the longer it takes.
You can avoid damage from slugs or snails by growing dahlias in containers. Keep the containers off the ground to limit access.
Most cold climate gardeners dig up their dahlias in fall and store them for the winter to avoid damage from freezing conditions. If winter conditions stay around freezing or warmer, it is possible to insulate the garden bed with several inches of straw to prevent damage and keep the tubers in the ground.
Winterizing dahlias requires several steps. Dig them up. Clean them up, removing stems, flowers, and any dead parts. Air dry the tubers for several days. Then wrap in clear, plastic food wrap and store them in a cool, dark place between 40-45°F (4-7°C) with medium to high humidity. This has complete instructions for overwintering dahlias.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛