“Can You Grow Dahlias in One-Gallon Pots?”

‘Preference’ and friends

“Yes indeed,” wrote Rolf Reisgies, in the March 2018 Bulletin of the American Dahlia Society. “Nothing to it!

You may remember we reported on growing dahlias in buried pots a couple of years ago, but Ralph grows a LOT dahlias this way so we thought you might like to hear what he has to say about it.

After experimenting with a few the year before, Ralph planted all 200 of his dahlias in one-gallon pots in 2016 and 2017. He potted them up indoors so they’d be sprouted and growing before he planted them in the ground of his Wisconsin garden in early June.

Most grew and bloomed normally. In fall after the first frost, he writes, “we chopped off the plants with the machete, waited a few days for things to dry up, and lifted the pots. The difference in the physical work is amazing! One poke with the spade – done.”

Ralph says the tubers in the pots grow four different ways: “Some develop perfectly normal tubers. Some pots have no tubers at all, only measly roots – onto the compost pile. Some very large tubers grow inside and outside the pot and we chop them off. And some have one massive bundle ... [of] tightly wound-up tubers filling the entire pot” which sometimes even “busts the pot to pieces.”

Ralph leaves them all in their pots for winter storage, which means “there’s no washing and no dividing in the traditional sense.”

In spring, he empties the pots, “if only to see how they survived the winter. Maybe 15% shrivel up. Most of the others call for an executive decision: Those with only small tuber bundles go right back into the pot. If there’s a substantial bundle, chop it once or twice” and you’re good to go.

So doesn’t that sound easy? If you try it, please let us know how it works for you and if you have any additional tips. We always love learning from our customers!


What’s That Iris? Get ID Help from Experts Online

Like many gardeners, you may have some beloved plants in your garden that have lost their names. Calling them “Great-Grandma’s rose” or “that daffodil we found in the woods” doesn’t make them any less wonderful, but sometimes you may wish you knew their real name.

If it’s an iris you’re wondering about, you can now ask the Historic Iris Preservation Society about it. On the HIPS homepage, you’ll find a green box that says “Need help with iris ID? Click here.” Do that and you’ll be taken to their ID Central.

Don’t be daunted by the long introduction and instructions for filling out the application. All you need to know is that it’s hard to identify nameless iris – roughly 70,000 have been introduced, many look a lot alike, and colors often vary depending on climate and soils – and that “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer to any of the questions.

Do read the “Photo Request” section which explains how and when to take the three required close-ups of your nameless iris. Then enter its height, bloom size, fragrance, and so on, upload your photos, and send it.

If you’d prefer, you can mail in your application and photos. Either way, you’ll get a response from the HIPS experts, and – although identifying an iris is always a longshot – there’s at least a chance that your nameless iris will no longer be nameless.

Good luck!


Get Outside and Celebrate Preservation Month!

May is Preservation Month and a wonderful time to explore historic gardens and landscapes near you.

If you don’t know where those are, The Cultural Landscape Foundation can help. “Cultural landscapes” are historic places ranging from gardens and parks to farmland and ethnographic landscapes. Enter your zip code at and you’ll get a list of some of the most important ones within 100 miles of your home.

Another great resource is the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Though traditionally focused on buildings, the Trust has a new motto, “This Place Matters,” and a broadened vision that includes landscapes. For 45 landscape-related articles from its excellent Preservation magazine – including ones about Brooklyn’s 175-year-old Green-Wood Cemetery, historic orchards in California, and “What Type of Historic Landscape Fits You?” – check out “Landscape Stories.”

Of course you could also just go for a walk in any old neighborhood and look for how the plants, constructed features, and the way things are arranged outdoors differ from what you see in newer neighborhoods. The past is out there, all around us – and Preservation Month is a great time to enjoy it!


Natives Not Required,
Expert Says – “Just Grow Plants”

As I watched the bees feeding frenziedly on my winter aconites and Crocus tommasinianus this spring – long before any native plants were in bloom – I was reminded of the advice of an eminent British ecologist.

Ken Thompson, who was profiled in Gardens Illustrated last November, has spent most of his long career studying the relationship between gardens and wildlife. He says his work was inspired by Jennifer Owen who, in the course of 30 years spent cataloguing the wildlife in “her ordinary, neat, suburban garden,” found 2,673 species including several which were new to science. As Thompson notes, Owen’s work “showed that you don’t have to create a pretend version of a natural habitat in order to attract wildlife.”

“Gardens aren’t like any natural habitat and because of that people think they are inferior, but they’re not,” he says. “They’re just another kind of habitat. Yes, have a pond if you can, do without chemicals, and leave some piles of dead wood around, but hedges, flowers, and plants all create places to feed and places to rest, and that is all that wildlife needs.”

“My best advice for anyone concerned about wildlife is this,” he says in conclusion – “just grow plants. Creatures eat plants, or the nectar created by plants, and everything else eats the creatures. As long as you are growing plants, you are doing all right.”

So even though native plants are awesome, there’s no need to feel guilty about growing plants that aren’t – and the bees in my garden clearly agree with Thompson on this.