Growing Dahlias: What is Your Spirit Flower Telling You?

Growing Dahlias: What is Your Spirit Flower Telling You?

Is it possible to have a spirit flower? You know, like the times a seemingly random animal keeps showing up in your life, those times you keep seeing peacock images or owls or wombats and someone tells you that the universe is trying to tell you something based on what your “spirit animal” portends.

I’m seeing dahlias. The boyfriend and I went to the Getty Center this weekend, taking my friend and colleague who is visiting California from Congo.  The grounds and architecture of the Getty are equally if not more a work of art as the fantastic collections the museum curates. The Getty perches atop the Santa Monica mountains directly off the 405, the travertine stone chosen for its look and history: “16,000 tons of travertine are from Bagni di Tivoli, Italy, 15 miles east of Rome. Many of the stones revealed fossilized leaves, feathers, and branches when they were split along their natural grain.”

We walked through the rounds of the circular garden, eying the dahlias that were bright against the grey morning sky, orangey pinks and rich eggplant-purples.  The boyfriend noted my love of the blowzy blooms, and picked up a pink bunch to add to my vase of sunflowers, one of my other favorite flowers.  And they may just be my spirit flower; researching the dahlia, I learned that they are in the same family as the sunflower.

Named in 1791 by Spanish botanist Antonio José Cavanilles for Anders Dahl (1751-1789), the Swedish botanist who saw the flower in Mexico in 1788. According to, no blue variety had ever been cultivated, thus the term “blue dahlia,” as an expression for “something impossible or unattainable.” Again with the coincidences – I’d JUST opened an article on Mother Nature Network that explains why blue is not a common color in the plant and flower world – “to make blue flowers, or foliage, plants perform a sort of floral trickery with common plant pigments called anthocyaninsj.” And while people have tried to use their chemistry sets to create the unnatural, a blue rose, they’ve only succeeded so far to use delphinidin, the pigment that makes delphiniums and violas blue, to make a purple rose.

I’ll have to pay closer attention to the floral signs in my life, to learn whether my spirit flower is trying to tell me something about the impossible or unobtainable, or to let my perfectionism go and be a bit more blowzy, disheveled, and unkempt in some areas of my life? For now, I’ll just stop to smell, photograph, and drink in the beauty of the dahlia.

Looking to add dahlias to your life?

  • Plant the perennial tubers in the spring, after the last threat of frost has passed, once the soil has warmed to around 60 F.
  • Pick a sunny spot, dahlias prefer well-drained, slightly acidic soil and full sun. suggests a nitrogen rich fertilizer in the early summer, followed by a a high potash/potassium one in the mid-summer to promote flowering.
  • Talk to your local nursery owner to decide how tall you want your dahlias to grow; the smaller (3 feet tall) flowering types can be planed 2 feet apart, while the taller types (4-5 feet tall) are best to space 3 feet apart.
  • Speaking of growing tall, your flowers will need a bit of support: tie the growing stems to stakes to guide their growth.
  • The Old Farmer’s Almanac discourages over-watering to avoid rot: after planting; wait to water until the sprouts have appeared above the soil.
  • If you live in zone 8, dahlias are hardy and can survive the winter out of doors, but for those in colder climates, remove the tuberous roots and store during the winter.
  • Wait around 8 weeks for your dahlias to bloom!  Are you one to cut flowers for your home, or leave them to enjoy outside?  Did you know that dahlias are edible?  In addition to the petals, you can eat the bulbs, adding crunch and a flavor often compared to water chestnuts.

Do you plan to plant dahlias?  Do you grow you own? Have you ever eaten one? Share your favorite photos or tips you’ve learned here or over on Twitter @TheCityFarm & @RebeccaSnavely.

(Photos: Rebecca Snavely)