Dahlias for Cut Flowers

My name is Katherine and I am an addict. It is harmless and doesn’t hurt anyone. I am addicted to dahlias and currently all my windowsills are full of trays of my favourites just starting to sprout.

I’ve been clean for 12 years since I grew 40 dahlias in a field and had no end of fun selling them outside my house opposite Donyatt church. I also grew zinnias, cleome, Euphorbia oblongata and golden rod to bulk out the bunches.

I resisted temptation for long enough and had a fix online. JRG Dahlias is my favourite dealer. It is so easy just to keep pressing buttons on internet orders but I have promised myself this habit won’t get out of hand this time. There are hundreds of varieties available. The information is seldom more than a picture and an indication of height. You have to grow rather a lot of them to find which ones are best for cutting.

I ignore the miniatures, pompoms, ball and dinner plate dahlias. Preferring the cactus, decorative, waterlily and collarette varieties, I like a cutting dahlia to have a flower from tennis ball to fist size, hold its head up well on a firm stem, and last for at least 4 days in water. Single varieties can be good for cutting, but once the first petal falls, they look tragic, whereas you don’t notice so much with double varieties.

Any kind recommended by Sarah Raven is generally a good’un, but she sells out very quickly and it is worth looking for the same varieties from other sources on-line, such as Halls of Heddon, JRG, and Farmer Gracy. Rose Cottage plants usefully tells you the size of the flower. The packets in garden centres will give a vague indication as to which kind, but the variability in flower size is seldom mentioned between apart from small medium or giant.

I have tried several that disappointed with undisclosed bad habits. White cactus My Love had short thick stems which need double disbudding – I will discuss how and why you disbud dahlias in July and too much disbudding to make a long stem for a vase is annoying. Arabian Night used to be a useful small deep wine coloured decorative, but last year my client’s plants were feeble, scraggy and spotted with virus. Myrtle’s Folly was a shaggy bi-coloured cactus dahlia that was weak stemmed, heavy headed and shy flowering, so got the heave-ho.  Blood red Bishop of Llandaff is very floriferous but does not last well in water. Bishop of Auckland was a kinder colour of deep red but with very few flowers at a time. Great Silence has a nice peach and pink flower with long stems, but on a tall gawky plant that needed a lot of staking.

This is my list of tried and tested cutting dahlias destined for my allotment. There are so many colours to choose from, but I found the red / orange / yellow bunches sold far better than the white / pink / purple ones. I will be trying muted blends of pink / coral / red this year.

David Howard – a dark leaf tangerine orange decorative. Many flowers of a useful size. Less that 4’ tall, it is good and bushy for borders, needing very little staking.

Weston Spanish Dancer – a dainty but strong stemmed red and yellow cactus, for vase or show bench.

Pooh – the oddly named orange and yellow collarette. I itch to grow a whole border of them for the simple joy of inviting friends to see my Poohs in the garden.

Murdock – a smallish scarlet decorative with a dark leaf, very prolific flowering.

Rip City – a deep beetroot red shaggy decorative


Scarlet O’Hara – waterlily. You can guess the colour.

Ann Breckenfelder – a red and white collarette.

Purple Puff – an anemone centred one, more crimson than purple?

Charlie Dimmock – peach / yellow waterlily

Kilburn Glow – coral waterlily with a yellow centre


Only ten kinds? Maybe I will get a couple more…or three…I can stop at any time I like….