It's the Plants, Darling

The Tulip/Dahlia Plan


I think dahlias are sadly underused. I mean, what’s a gardener supposed to do, once the showy June perennials are finished, but the oriental and trumpet lilies are not yet going? Sit around admiring the rudbekia and the monarda and other virtuously-applied natives? I don’t think so. Not in my silly city yard. I’d way rather look at a five-foot tall dahlia with blooms as big as a baby’s head in some outrageous color and utterly artificial shape.

But particularly under-used are the shorter dahlias, because they have an important function, which is replace the tulips. While I love tulips, their aging foliage is admittedly ugly, especially since the fancy kinds I plant almost never reward forbearance by appearing a second year.  So I treat tulips like annuals and yank out the leaves as soon as the last colorful petal drops.

You have to do something with the holes, however. I know that Elizabeth, another bulb fiend, fills in with interesting annuals. But I have super-sandy soil and no time in the summer to be out with a hose watering a bunch of shallow-rooted fuss-budgets. I am much too busy visiting friends who very conveniently own waterfront houses.

The answer for me is a short, single, drought-tolerant dahlia named ‘Roodkapje.’  The timing could not be more perfect. When the tulips are done in late May, ‘Roodkapje’ goes in and then works its head off all summer, producing an endless supply of cheerful, single, scarlet blooms. Then, when a frost cuts down ‘Roodkapje,’ it’s time to lift the tubers and put in the tulip bulbs. If only everything in life worked so neatly.

Posted by on May 30, 2008 at 10:06 am, in the category It's the Plants, Darling.
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10 responses to “The Tulip/Dahlia Plan”

  1. eliz says:

    Well, if you have even partial shade and clay soil, dahlias will be much, much fussier than the most exotic annual. I find annuals FAR easier to maintain that dahlias, which in my garden are slow to form blooms, prone to slugs, and possess some of the ugliest foliage ever (major exceptions there, of course–the red one you have has lovely foliage, if I remember correctly). Nonetheless, I, too, adore their flowers, so I’m trying a few again this year.

  2. Pam J. says:

    “five-foot tall dahlia with blooms as big as a baby’s head”

    That says it all. I pine for such dahlias. I remember enormous blooms in my great-grandmother’s garden.

  3. Emmie says:

    “Roodkapje” means “Little Red Riding Hood” in Dutch, by the way. I’ll have to reconsider dahlias.

  4. Barbara says:

    Did dahlias from bulb last year and just plunked a six-pack of red here and there that will last through fall! Nice!

  5. Ray says:

    I have a similar plan but I use daffodils instead of tulips and add daylillies. Mixing the daylillies with the daffodils gives a similar foliage look while the daffodil foliage is replenishing the bulb. And if I get lucky like this year, the daylillies start blooming while the daffodil foliage is dying back and dahlias are still in their too young to bloom stage. ‘Low’ height blooming daylillies and ‘high’ height dahlias give a great color show the rest of summer and early fall.

  6. Peg says:

    I also like the shorter dahlias. All the bulbs I dug out for storage this year rotted! But I bought a few replacements. This year I planted Gypsy Melody and Secret Glow, both of which combine pink and yellow. I got them on Ebay, huge clumps, real nice. I also love Tout a Toi (nice orange-pink combo). I also grabbed three taller dahlias from Lowe’s, a yellow cactus dahlia; not my first choice but they were the only clumps showing any sign of growth.

  7. JamesA-S says:

    Can’t really go wrong with a dahlia – especially dark plummy colours like Rip City and Chat Noir.

    More interesting is your statement “Sit around admiring the rudbekia and the monarda and other virtuously-applied natives? I don’t think so.” It is always fascinating when one person’s dreary native becomes another’s much anticipated exotic. Here in the UK I really look forward to Monardas and plant loads of them all over the place (I am particularly keen on one called Neon which is a livid bubble gum pink). Likewise Rudbeckias give zing to all of our Septembers.

  8. Michele Owens says:

    JamesA-S, I love monarda in the country, where the lavender-colored ones grow wild, and where I’ve planted a whole bed of “Blue Stocking.” But in the city, I like looking at more obviously artificial flowers. And monarda is really a thug here.

  9. Thanks for guiding me through this. Rarely do I find good entries that would walk me through. i love flower so much so for me it is so informative. 🙂


  10. I agree to the commenter that ” It is always fascinating when one person’s dreary native becomes another’s much anticipated exotic” Looking forward to your next post. 🙂