The last couple of years saw me go from loving dahlias, to hating dahlias, and now I'm kinda in a weird haze inbetween. But dahlias are a very easy flower to love. And with all the amazing diversity in colour and forms, and with the never ending new varieties, they're also very easy to get addicted to.
But they are a very tricky extremely labour intensive, fickle crop to grow for tuber sales, and come out with a profit and some semblance of sanity. So I'm very much excited to close the door on tuber sales and get back to enjoying them for myself, and finding their place on the farm in a strictly just for cutting and joy basis.
We planted super late last year, so I didn't have as much time with them this season, but it was interesting seeing what varieties I was subconsciously drawn to time and time again for cutting.
Our last Favourite Dahlia post is one of the most popular pages on the website, but I think it's time for an update, now that I've had a couple seasons to really get to know all the new imports. And we really got to know them this season as we lost all our potentially distracting new varieties this year to a nightmare virus outbreak (it jumped from some potted dahlias to zinnia seedlings and then onto our new dahlias). So before a lot of them even flowered we'd ripped them all out to be safe as it was spreading scary fast - but thankfully our new dahlias were isolated to our old dahlias so we only lost our brand new varieties. So my updated list ignores any new intro's I wanted to like but the virus ruined my lens (like Seniors Hope + Polka - but I'll try them all again and I'm sure my top list will be different again when we next update it).
We've also lost a few of the varieties in our original list, dahlia varieties come and go, so treasure them, savour them, and swoon away while they're here, but it's best not to get too attached to varieties. But for every loss there's always a new favourite just around the corner!
Dealing with all the dahlia dramas the last few years, and feeling a little detached from them has meant I feel like I'm a little more ruthless on what makes my favourite list these days (through a cutting lens at least). So this time around after being spoilt for ample choice with all the new imports we introduced, my favourite list is a lot more refined and intentional.
What makes a good dahlia for cutting?
It kinda of depends on where/how they're being used. If you're growing them for your own joy then nothing really matters except for how much joy they bring you, everything else is moot.
But if you're growing dahlias for cut-flower sales a lot depends on if they're being used for events or retail. There's a lot of cross-over traits, but they do have slightly different criteria as for what's "best".
If for example dahlias are being used in event designs with large installations, then dinnerplates, fickle as they maybe to hydrate in installations during hot summers, large flowers do provide the biggest visual impact, where as for retail sales dinnerplate's short vase-life doesn't really meet most customers expectations, so aren't ideal.
And the reverse is also true, smaller pompoms are a total designer's dream for delicate bouquets & table arrangements, where their smaller size is feasible cost-wise. But unfortunately in retail, size equals perceived value for most customers, so for the same amount of effort to grow poms vs larger balls or decs, poms don't fill up as much space in bunches/bouquets, so might not the best fit for retail (but to hell with logic, poms are my favourite, so lots of poms we grow :)
The best colours to grow can also vary depending on who you're selling to. If growing for events you can just about never have enough whites and blushes. Whereas retail lends a real flexibility of colour, though white is not half as popular outside of weddings.
We sell our flowers primarily to retail florists (and next season we'll be back offering our flowers direct to locals again), so we need dahlias that last a little longer, so that means lots of balls, pompoms and tight smaller decoratives.
So personally my main requirements for dahlias are:
Colour - I could forgive just about any fault but garish colours are unforgivable, so colour is everything! And while we don't sell event flowers anymore, I still grow and trial every white dahlia I can get my hands on, as the perfect white dahlia is ever elusive
Form - Needs to be tight, not rush to blow its centre, and not too big (bigger flowers are awkward and don't last as long), so lots of balls, poms, and smaller decoratives. I love love singles and anemone formed dahlias, so I'll always justify squeezing them in, but they're probably not the best varieties for cutting (but I love that with flowers there aren't any rules other than being beautiful so I always have space for some singles and anemones :)
Position - Balls and poms are usually very user friendly, but decoratives and waterlilies can sometimes face a little too sideways or even downwards which makes them rather difficult to use in bouquets (like I love love Sweet Nathalie in every way, except that it too often faces sideways/downwards).
Reliable Tubers - while I do embrace dahlia varieties ephemeral tendencies, they are a lot less stressful to grow if you can find varieties that are good tuber producers and regularly last the winter with no troubles. Some of my personal (visually) favourite dahlias can be a bit iffy to get through the winter so they're always on the line of coming or going (like Jowie Winnie rots if you look at her sideways, or April Heather is incredibly stingy on tubers, or Waltzing Matilda's tubers are soo skinny they shrivel up over winter, or Linda's Baby - if it isn't mislabeled - I never quite seem to be able to get her through the winter). But to be good for cutting I need to rely on them, so their tubers need to be a little more reliable than others.
Stems - Most importantly stems need to be strong enough to hold the weight of the flower up. Ideally, though not critically, I do like it when: stems are stretched and long with bigger gaps between side shoots & foliage, which means they're quicker to harvest and process (like while I love Light Wizard flowers, but the stems are dense with sideshoots they're not my favourite to actually harvest). I also do prefer it if the centre main flower is taller than the side-shoot or secondary flowers so the main flower isn't sandwiched between stems than then need trimming, which makes them slower to harvest. Milena Fleur & Salmon Runner can do this slightly, but they're not as bad as others I've grown, so I forgive them in a heartbeat for their special colourings.
Productivity - as boring as it is, in order to be useful for cutting (and paying the bills), varieties do need to be productive. I'm a little flexible on this trait, so while it's important, we do have plenty space to still dedicate to enjoying the less productive but beautiful varieties - like Jowey Mirella is the absolute perfect dark burgundy ball, but it's not the most productive, so I just make sure I plant more plants than I think I need to make up the difference. Though as the years go on I do think I'm giving less exemptions on this front, like while I do love Jowey Mirella, Shadow Cat is way more productive, and it's size and colour aren't bad or dissimilar, so as I try and rein my dahlia patch size down, Jowey Mirella is getting closer to the cull line every year, and one day if I'm feeling particularly ruthless I will stop growing it. Where as Sweet Nathalie which is also not crazy productive, I think I will hang on to it for a lot longer, as its colouring and form is a lot more unique which makes up for it's imperfect productivity in my books.
My Favourite Dahlias for Cutting 2022
Kokopuff always holds a special place for me, it was my favourite before the imports, and even with all the new additions it still holds firm as my favourite dahlia!
I totally have a thing for small flowers, and Small World is everything I could dream for, white, blushy and even when it's imperfect it's perfect - bug nibbled edges turn magenta and turn those flaws into an asset! (Small World is most likely the same as Bowen, though in my experience Bowen was much creamer and less blushy)
Or Caitlyn's Joy as Caitlyn likes to spell it :) The harder a colour is to describe the better it is in my opinion, so Caitlin was destined to be a favourite with it's magenta, purple, peach misty complex colouring!
Burlesca was my first ever dahlia crush, and then I lost it when I shifted, and have been dying to get my hands on it again ever since! So I was beyond excited to be reunited in 2020!
One of the most unique coloured dahlias, shimmery tones of muted raspberry & golden mustard (it was even trying sport off into purple tones for me this year).
The perfect goes with everything deep plum ball from the Cornel family of sports (Cornel / Cornel Bronze / Ivanetti / Isabel) it was one of my go to varieties every single harvest!
Still one of my favourites! The perfect waterlily form with vivd warm hot pink with salmony undertones!
Another favourite from the Cornel family of sports! The perfect ball shaped muted burnt orangey colours, blends well with lots of colour palettes!
Wine Eyed Jill
One of the earliest flowering dahlias on wispy long stems, Wine Eyed Jill flirts with creamy yellows, soft pinks and burgundy tips. Every flower is a little unique in its mix of colours.
Insanely productive cool palest blush waterlily with strong stems, ticks all the boxes! If you plant more than you can keep up with harvesting (like me :) it will flower it's pants off and put on the show of all shows!
Good whites are hard to come by and while Kona does lean cream, and has green centres, it's a total white adjacent workhorse and if you're not too fussy about your shades of white she's a total dream!
Linda's Baby (and Nathalie G) has been a constant disappointment the last few years, so Hillcrest Suffusion is the best sort of golden, orangey peach-ish alternative I've come to rely on.
Hands down the best orange dahlia I've ever grown, and the only one I need! The perfect mid not too bright orange, amazingly productive, good size and form, and great stems - total dream!
Red isn't my favourite colour, but Cornel (the original from it's family of sports: Cornel / Cornel Bronze / Ivanetti / Isabel), is the exact shade of deep red that is actually quite perfect!
The best blends of colours, in a not too big decorative form. Pinky, coral, golden peach.
Total guilty pleasure, not necessarily the best form for cutting, but cut at the right stage lasts long enough for me. Daisy shaped flowers steal all the attention in arrangements, so Totally Tangerine is the perfect dahlia to make arrangements sing!
Where to Buy Tubers?
We no longer sell tubers ourselves, but here's where I usually buy my tubers from:
NZ Grown Tubers (usually available around mid-spring):
Sarah - Unfurlings Flowers
Imported Niche kinda expensive but totally worth it! (usually available late autumn & spring)
Susie Ripley Gardening