Sunday, July 3, 2011

Ahhh bright cheery Dahlias

I decided that the balcony needs perking up with a little of colour, and what better flower to do so than the bold and brash Dahlia. The colourful flowers also remind me of the hill stations in Malaysia like Fraser's Hill and Penang Hill. Since Dahlia is synonymous with cooler climes, it is hard to obtain tubers over here in Malaysia. So the only other option would be to start it from seeds. Now, the big issue with Dahlias is that they don't breed true from seed. Hell no, they tend to be way way off from their parent plants, save for a few cultivars, especially the singles and the pompom ones. Even so, a bad looking Dahlia would still add colour to the garden, especially if grown en-massed to provide colour to borders or a patch in the garden. Another drawback of starting Dahlias from seeds is that the flowers do not reach its maximum potential size in the first year, except for singles. Hence you will get smaller flowers the first year, and only if you regrow then from the tubers that were formed in the first year, would you see the potential maximum size of the Dahlia blooms.

Dahlias - Adding a touch of colour to the balcony.

Desperate for colours, I went and bought seeds from one of the locally available brand. The label says Dahlia Exhibition Double. Due to the nature of Dahlia crosses, I would be happy if I can get all semi-doubles. The worst case scenario would be getting all singles. Keeping my everything crossed, I sowed them in March. The balcony is 13 floors up, so the drying breeze should help keep the plants free of fungal diseases.

Dahlia seedling - 9 days post sowing

The seeds germinated within 3 - 5 days. My experience with sowing pompom and mignon Dahlia seeds indicate that by 1 week if they do not germinate, they will not. So this batch of seeds did quite well. Out of 12 seeds, 9 germinated. 2 of them were small and flat seeds - probably empty inside. So it wasn't too bad.

Did the usual fungicide cover to prevent damping off, and then fertilisation with weak fertiliser solutions weekly to boost the growth of the plants. In April, the plants were off to a healthy start, and I began topping the plants to encourage bushy growth. I pinched the main shoot and then pinched the laterals again, as I wanted them to provide as many blooms as possible. Also, I prefer to look at the colour and form first to decide if I want to keep the plant for subsequent planting. With a lot of fertilisation and
Dahlia seedling 5th April - after the first topping with strong laterals
watering, they grew pretty fast and me being lazy, decided not to take them or tie them up, but allow them to grow and flop around to form a thick bushy mat so that they can support each other.

Dahlias peeking out from the balcony
In June (3 months from sowing, the flowering begins). It is exciting as you will never know what colour or form that you might get, though it is usually very disappointing with seeds of fully double dahlias. The first one was an interesting yellow semi-double dahlia with a hint of mauve at the back of the petals. It complemented the snapdragons that were already blooming on the balcony. It was a coincidence that most of the snapdragons were yellow or a mixture of yellow with red or mauve. Next was a double (slightly split ended petals) orange with yellow base and purple back. Then there was a purple-red single that has a tendency to produce misshapen flowers. This was followed by a good sized chilli red bloom, a small, orange coloured one and also one which is a nicely shaped lilac purple bloom. So now I just have to wait for the other three more plants to bloom.
Identification parade No. 1

Identification parade No. 2