Dahlia Season: Plant, Support, Irrigate & Groom forum: Planting & caring for large amounts of dahlias

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portia
Sep 23, 2014 9:32 AM CST
Southern PA, Brandywine
I believe there are a fair amount of people here who have hundreds, if not thousands, of tubers in the ground.

How do you care for such large amounts of tubers and plants? How do you plant? How do you dig up? Machinery? By hand?
How do you water/fertilize?

Right now mine are manageable by hand and we get enough rain to not worry so much, but I plan to grow many more in the future--along with many other plants. Wondering how people do it when they have a larger operation going--and when your livelihood depends on them getting what they need.
Imageteddahlia
Sep 23, 2014 12:06 PM CST
Name: Ted
Oregon
We enjoy breeding new dahlias!
The answer to your questions would take a few thousand words. The simple answer is to learn how to do it on a small scale and then learn how to increase numbers.
We like to place a sign on our porch that says: We are in the garden. Really, we are always in the garden.
ImageCCvacation
Sep 23, 2014 9:33 PM CST
Name: CC
PA
It all comes down to creating a system that works for you for each part of the labor of growing dahlias that minimizes time and effort. Lots of threads in this dahlia cubit go into comparing/contrasting different techniques, but the key is WHAT WORKS BEST FOR YOU. And that can only be learned by trial and error.

- Bed management (weeding/mulch and support system)
- Irrigation system (timers, drip lines, etc)
- Planting
- Fertilization/pest management
- Stopping/cutting/deadheading
- Digging/dividing/storage


I have just this season gotten a workable system of supporting hundreds of dahlias easily, with minimal time, and is esthetically pleasing to me. I could double my plants next year with the same system for not too much added time in the supporting department. But what works for me most likely won't work for you for whatever reason, as Ted's support and bed management system would be lousy in my garden beds. If you are individually staking each dahlia, and you double your plants, that's double the time... Gotta reconsider your options unless you have that time to dedicate to continuous tying.

I need to reexamine my irrigation system and fine tune a new dividing/storage system that I have been trying to work out. On the other hand, I feel that I'm finally getting a handle on fertilization/pest management. Now, another row of a hundred plants would add another ten minutes when I fertilize or treat for pests.

My suggestion is, look at the list above, and figure out strategies you can implement to minimize effort in each category. Read past posts in those threads, and ask specific questions at the end of those threads when you have them.

Up with {more} dahlias!
CC
portia
Sep 25, 2014 6:45 AM CST
Southern PA, Brandywine
Thanks CC! I'm most interested in bed management, irrigation, things like planting.I have seen the threads for fertilizing and staking, digging etc, but didn't see much in the way of weeding & irrigation specifically or planting large quantities, then again I admit I never have the patience to go through hundreds of threads if I can just ask the question and consolidate the knowledge.

aka if we have a well that just supplies the field and barn, do we run irrigation lines down the beds? Or start with maybe long hoses and water when necessary? We get a lot of rain here, usually once a week about 2-3 inches, but I still hand watered a fair amt this year.

and for planting, how does one plant say, 1000 dahlias in springtime? I know some flower farmers do this but not sure how they do it! It may be outside the scale of anyone here, in which case I'd just need to go ask this one gal (who plants 3k) how she does it, but figured since I had a wealth of info here, I'd ask here first!

Staking, I plan to do it the way my local gal does hers, which admittedly does not maintain each plant at the best it could, but she pinches extremely low in the beginning so they never get too tall which helps.
ImageIslander
Sep 25, 2014 7:07 PM CST
Name: Noni Morrison
Warren, Oregon
retired flower farmer
Portia, I planted about 500 this spring and it really didn't take too long, but I had manpower to dig the holes for me. By roto-tilling the bed just prior to digging holes, it left the soil light and fluffy and easy to dig in. I know some people use tractors with different tools on them, perhaps a trencher to make the rows, drop the tubers in and cover. You might also want to train a crew that you can hopefully hire each year,.

As for the watering,,,pay close attention to the discussions of watering tape...that seems to be what most of the growers here are using. I haven't switched to it yet but I am considering it..You can set it on an automatic timed system. (good luck on figuring that out! It took my engineer husband weeks to translate the directions , but it works like a charm!)

Weeding...something you do until the plants get big enough to shade the weeds out...then no one knows and no one cares!

I really think the system of staking and tying I adapted from Ted's description is the easiest one. It works for me. It lets the plants move enough to keep them strong but not enough to blow down. It goes up quickly and easily once the t-posts are in. And I defy anyone to stand in my garden and look at it in bloom and say it is an ugly system! It totally disappears under the foliage and flowers. When I start to take down and dig it is simple to cut the sisal twine and compost them with the tops of the plants. Some use hay twine and reuse it. More economical but I like the fact that it decomposes at the end of the season...no winding it back up...just saved another step!


Well, that's my take!


Salish Dahlias
portia
Sep 25, 2014 7:14 PM CST
Southern PA, Brandywine
Thanks Noni, great info! I hadn't heard of watering tape so I'll check it out. And good point re: rototilling first to make the soil fluffier and easier to work with. I really wonder for 3k dahlias if they do it by hand or with machine, I may just ask.

Will have to go find Ted's suggested system of tying. I liked how the local farmer did it, but you can def see the twine, so very curious if this method is a bit less obtrusive.
Imageteddahlia
Sep 25, 2014 8:18 PM CST
Name: Ted
Oregon
We enjoy breeding new dahlias!
Swan Island grows 45 acres of dahlias and probably harvests several hundred thousand tubers. They pick as many as 15,000 flowers per day using 9 pickers that start work at 6AM. They use full sized tractors and one has 5 foot tall wheels. They use a hydraulic platform on the back of that tractor that holds two workers. They drop tubers through holes in the platform and the two 600 foot rows are planted in about 10 minutes. They are irrigated with sprinklers that are mounted to six inch diameter aluminum pipes and the water comes from a river and two different wells. They use a tractor with a spray boom to spray the fields with insecticide and fungicide once per week. The fields are fertilized with time release special order fertilizer that is spread everywhere before planting. The plants are hilled with a special attachment on a smaller tractor. The plants are topped in July with a modified lawnmower on the back of a tractor. The rows are cultivated with tractors and close weeding is done by the field crew of 9 people. They dig the tuber clumps with a potato harvester that flips the tuber clumps over and a worker grabs them and puts them into special 4 foot square field crates with chicken wire on the bottom. The tuber clumps are washed with a modified restaurant dish washer that is lowered onto the field crate. The crew of about 10 workers divides tuber clumps in the specialized dividing room that has a small conveyor belt under the dividing tables to remove the waste. The tubers are stored in tulip crates lined with newspapers on top and bottom and stored in an underground potato shed that has areas for 360 varieties. The tubers are advertised in a full color catalog that is printed in an Asian country and catalogs are sent to repeat customers. The office has three full time people taking phone orders and such. The shipping department has about 6 people working at a time putting orders into shipping boxes that are put onto pallets and wrapped with plastic so the Post Office lift truck can lift the pallets and put them onto the Post office trucks.





We like to place a sign on our porch that says: We are in the garden. Really, we are always in the garden.
[Last edited Sep 25, 2014 8:22 PM CST]
Quote | Post #1088909 (7)
Imagehonnat
Sep 25, 2014 9:28 PM CST
St. Paul, MN
If you are used to gardening with a few dozen dahlias; and are overwhelmed by the thought of increasing to a few hundred; don't be too overwhelmed; but don't bite off more than you can chew. I am amazed how much time it takes to plant, water, fertilize, weed, tie my 45 dahlias in the back yard; compared to what I have at "the farm." The key is planting in straight rows because it eliminates a ton of time. Last season, I planted 1200 tubers by hand. It was a bit overwhelming mostly because the soil was heavier in clay than I was used to; but also because we had snow INTO May and I had to move fast once it was finally warm enough. This year, I scaled back to about 350 and whizzed through no problem because the soil was so nice to work with.

You've got to prioritize projects. For example, disbudding a large number of dahlias can get overwhelming. Figure out which ones you just want to grow free and plant them together; not worrying about any grooming. I also diligently weed for the first month they are coming out of the ground. Then, they fill in so much that weeds don't have a chance.

Irrigating with T-tape is an easy way to go. There are web sites out there that would give you much better info than what we could quickly offer here. I've done it for the two seasons that I've grown dahlias as a business; and I like it. It's fairly inexpensive, and problems are easy to solve. Accidently hit your t-tape with a hoe, and it's about a 10 minute fix; two minutes if you have your supplies right there on hand.

For tying them up I've also used the t-post, twine method that Ted uses. If a dahlia starts tipping, I may tie on to the twine, or a nearby T-post. Some dahlias that tip early on; I'll just bring out a few individual stakes and put them in the middle of the row to tie plants to. I think a key with that is to also plant fairly close together, realizing you may not get the FULL potential from each plant; but they do hold each other up which is very helpful. I plant everything 18 inches apart. Some plant AAs further apart than their miniatures. I just find plant size doesn't reliably correspond with bloom size; so I do it all the same.
ImageBenny101
Sep 26, 2014 6:27 AM CST
Greenville MI - zone 5b
Here is a photo of the irrigation pipe at Hamilton , if you look close you can make out one of the sprinkler heads coming off the top side of the pipe .Thumb of 2014-09-26/Benny101/1da830
portia
Sep 26, 2014 7:02 AM CST
Southern PA, Brandywine
Thanks everyone, I'll comb through the info when I have a few minutes!

Part of why I am asking is we are considering a purchase of a local farmette, so my mind is working overtime!
ImageCCvacation
Sep 26, 2014 8:21 AM CST
Name: CC
PA
I don't rotatil at all, and only weed once mid-season.

I use roundup to push the weeds and grass back from the beds in the spring, a couple weeks before planting out. Then, I dig long trenches along my rows, sprinkle alfalfa pellets, lawn fertilizer, lime and something else I can't remember right now, and mix it in with either mushroom manure or peatmoss before laying my sprouted and rooted tubers every 12 inches in staggered formation. I cover them as I go, being sure to place tags at the same place near the tuber stalks and marking the variety on a planagram (no matter how well-prepared I preplan the variety placement, I ALWAYS end up changing it a bit when actually planting). I put out slow release fertilizer next to each stalk, along with sluggo. Within the next two weeks, I lay down leaky hose, and mulch with mushroom manure, repeating the sluggo application.

The manure acts as a slow-release fertilizer and mulch, keeping the soil moist and weeds gone. But the edges get overrun with creeping charley and quick-spreading grass, so I hand-pull when I can. I have used roundup with a large peice of cardboard on the borders very sucessfully in the past, and might do that in the future again if pressed with time. I have never had issues with deformed blooms or plant die off with dahlias, though I have messed up iris blooms for the season with the RU exposure, even when very careful with overspray.
CC
Imageteddahlia
Sep 26, 2014 9:52 AM CST
Name: Ted
Oregon
We enjoy breeding new dahlias!
Irrigation: Here in the pacific Northwest it does not rain in the Summer(we have had no rain at all from July 23 through September 23), we must water the dahlias. There are several ways to do so and it depends somewhat on your water source. If you have unlimited water and lots of water pressure, you can use sprinklers. Mingus Dahlias, Swan Island Dahlias and numerous others have done so. Most of us do not have lots of water and have to conserve water. Many of us used black leaky hose made of recycled rubber. They are better than sprinklers but are exceedingly poor at even water distribution and are hard to repair. Most small dahlia farms(5 acres or less) are switching to T-tape. For example Dan's Dahlias, Cowlitz River Dahlias, Lobaugh's Dahlias, Hollyhill Dahlias and probably many more now use t-tape. Dan's has nearly 5 acres of dahlias and uses it. He persuaded me to try it and I love it. I will not go into how it is used as this totally the wrong time of year to talk about irrigation as it is nearly digging time.
We like to place a sign on our porch that says: We are in the garden. Really, we are always in the garden.
ImageCCvacation
Sep 26, 2014 11:20 AM CST
Name: CC
PA
Yes, I think I might be giving T-tape a shot next season, but have serious misgivings about the length of time the water would have to be on with a shallow well... Okay, actually, my hubby has the serious concerns. Sticking tongue out that's a perfect discussion for January/Feb winter blues, though. (And lots of time to work on 'negotiations.')
CC
addicted
Oct 1, 2014 4:46 AM CST
Name: Em
NY
Yes, let's talk about T tape before next season. I'm at the leaky hose stage, but would like something more reliable. We've had a very dry, but relatively cool summer this year and I've had to do a lot of supplemental watering. Sad
Em in NY
Dahlias -- the gift that keeps on giving!
anniecan
Oct 1, 2014 6:42 PM CST
Name: Annie Luck
Apex, North Carolina
BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN TH
Me too Em. I'd love to put away those heavy, ugly hoses but not sure I should yet.
ImageIslander
Oct 1, 2014 10:00 PM CST
Name: Noni Morrison
Warren, Oregon
retired flower farmer
It looks like we are done with hoses now that the normal rains seem to be here. After the last rain we got I think we have enough to last them until frost!
Salish Dahlias
anniecan
Oct 3, 2014 5:50 PM CST
Name: Annie Luck
Apex, North Carolina
BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN TH
Since I don't have soaker hoses installed, I was out there rescuing the wilted dahlias today in 83 degrees. I'll have to move lots of them for next year to more sun. Bummer! I wish I knew how to put a growth repellent on the neighbor's pine trees. How dare they take my sun!
ImageBenny101
Oct 3, 2014 7:02 PM CST
Greenville MI - zone 5b
Don't get me wrong, I love trees but pine trees planted in urban areas is just wrong , they are messy , provide almost no shade and are easily toppled by high winds .
Annie maybe you could " accidentally " salt the begeebers out of the roots several times Whistling
anniecan
Oct 3, 2014 7:06 PM CST
Name: Annie Luck
Apex, North Carolina
BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN TH
You are SO RIGHT Benny! I have actually spent thousands on removing my neighbor's trees in the last 21 years. No salt, because the water flows right into my garden . What else could I use???
ImagePNWGal
Jul 13, 2015 12:33 AM CST
Name: Linda
Portland OR, zone 8b
I went down to Swan Island yesterday to see how our ADS Trial Garden there was coming along. It turned out to be the ideal time to see how their beds look at the beginning of the season. They dig a trench for each row, setting the dirt to the side, and then plant the tubers in the trenches. When the plants have grown tall enough, the dirt from the sides is used to fill in the trenches. Then as the plants grow, the dirt from between the rows is mounded up over the base of the plants. By the end of the season, the dahlia rows are long mounds a foot high, and the spaces between the rows are the trenches. This supports the stalks so the dahlias do not need to be staked.
This is one of the beds in their Display Garden, where they have a clump of each of their varieties so people can see them all in one place and not have to walk the 40 acres of fields to do so. I think they must do this area by hand, but for the fields they have special tractor attachments to do the trenching and the mounding.
Thumb of 2015-07-13/PNWGal/39fae0
Here is another bed, where the left side is part of the Swan Island Garden, and the right side is part of the Trial Garden. Their side has been trenched, but they have planted our side on the flat. I presume this is so the Trial Garden plants can be grown more the way most people grow them.
Thumb of 2015-07-13/PNWGal/5ea7eb

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