How To Grow Dahlias

Dahlias are becoming more popular each year as gardeners discover the many varieties available. If you love flowers, you'll find a dahlia to love.

Our editors and experts handpick every product we feature. We may earn a commission from your purchases.

When I was a kid, my dad often planted a row of dahlias along the edge of our vegetable garden. As the garden faded in late summer, the dahlias took over with big blooms, often measuring more than six inches across.

What Are Dahlias?

Depending on who you ask, you’ll get a variety of answers. Dahlias are the national flower of Mexico, where native species grow high up in the mountains.

A forager may excitedly tell you dahlias are a food source. Although I’ve never eaten them, the tubers are edible. Members of the American Dahlia Society will tell you that dahlias are a lifelong passion. Home gardeners and flower farmers will tell you wonderful dahlias bloom in late summer and early fall and make excellent cut flowers.

Types of Dahlias

The American Dahlia Society classifies them based on flower size, form and color.

  • Sizes vary from micros, up to two inches across, to giants, which can be more than 10 inches across. In between are large, medium, small and miniature blooms.
  • Forms range from pom-poms to cactus-flowered, with many variations.
  • Colors include almost all except blue. Some varieties feature bi-colored petals.

Where Can Dahlias Grow?

In United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Plant Hardiness Zones 8 through 10, dahlias are considered perennials. They will survive in the ground over winter.

In USDA Zones 6 and colder, dahlias are grown as annuals. In late fall, dig up dahlia tubers to overwinter out of the ground. In Zone 7, dahlias may survive winter in the ground. But to be safe, dig up the tubers in fall.

Dahlias prefer well-drained soil and at least six hours a day of full sun. They don’t do well in South Florida and similar hot climates.

When To Plant Dahlias

Plant dahlia tubers in spring once your garden is frost-free. Or you could start them in containers a few weeks before your last frost.

If you go the latter route, use small containers and a general potting mix. Four-to five-inch plastic pots with drainage holes work well. Keep the pots outside in a warm location and bring them in on nights with a risk of frost.

Dahlias started in containers are ready to plant once the shoots are a few inches tall and small roots come out of the drainage holes.

How To Plant Dahlias

Most dahlias are purchased as tubers. Here’s how to plant them:

  • Lightly cultivate the soil.
  • Dig a hole approximately six inches deep.
  • Secure a sturdy stake next to the hole. This supports the dahlia, which can grow more than four feet tall.
  • Place the tuber in the hole with the “eye” facing up. The “eye” is the little shoot on the end of the tuber where it was cut from the main stem.
  • Cover the dahlia with the soil dug from the hole. Some gardeners fill in only two to three inches at first, then cover the rest of the hole once the shoot begins growing.
  • Stick a plant label next to the stake with the variety name on it. This helps if you planted several varieties and want to remember which is which.
  • Hold off watering until you see the shoots. Dahlias don’t like wet soil, which may cause the tubers to rot.

When Do Dahlias Bloom?

Dahlias begin flowering in mid-summer. If you cut off spent blooms, they’ll continue to flower into fall.

How To Care for Dahlias

Close-Up Of Dahlia In Vase Against WallAnke Wittkowski/Getty Images

Once planted, dahlias are easy to care for.

  • Water them just enough so the soil is moist but not sopping wet.
  • Watch for slugs and other pests. You’ll find them on the undersides of leaves early in the morning. There are many natural ways to control slugs.
  • Fertilize your dahlias once a month with a product lower in nitrogen. They’re heavy feeders.
  • As the plants grow, tie them to the stakes for support.
  • Cut flowers to enjoy inside. This encourages more blooms.

What To Do With Dahlias in Fall

In Zones 7 and colder, dig up tubers in the fall to save for planting again next spring. You’ll find your one tuber split into several tubers. The American Dahlia Society provides detailed instructions and several pictures to explain how to divide and store your tubers over winter.

Carol J. Michel
Carol J. Michel is an award-winning author of several books including five gardening humor books and one children's book. As the holder of degrees from Purdue University in both horticulture and computer technology, she spent over three decades making a living in healthcare IT while making a life in her garden. She started writing about gardening on her blog called May Dreams Gardens which lead to numerous magazine articles, her books, and a podcast called The Gardenangelists. She was recently named a GardenComm Fellow by Garden Communicators International.