Join Our Dahlia Experiment!
Update: Thank you so much for all of the support with our experiment - we're very happy to say that we have had to close registration due to overwhelming interest!
Short Story - we need your help this year growing dahlias!
We started a dahlia breeding project last summer and are overwhelmed with the amount of seeds we have collected! Unlike tubers, which are direct copies of the plant they were saved from, dahlia seeds are a mix of the parent plant (the plant whose seeds we retrieved from) and the pollen from other dahlias. Dahlias are octoploids, which mean that they have 8 sets of chromosomes (yes, you read that right!) - so saving seeds is the ultimate garden gamble. There are endless possibilities of colours, patterns, shapes, sizes, petal count, height, etc! No two will be the same.
Dahlias originate from Mexico and Central America, where they grow wild along the hillsides. The flowers are often made up of 5 brightly coloured petals and an open yellow centre full of pollen, now referred to as Single-Flowered Dahlias. These shorter, single petal layer plants are actually the dominant variety of dahlia, and, while the bees love them, they are not the show-stopping flowers we are hoping to grow. The dinner plate and pom varieties most recognized as dahlias are actually rare genetic mutations!
The Royal Horticultural Society has distinguished 14 separate groups of these plants that describe the multitude of petal shapes and designs:
Group 1 - Single-Flowered Dahlias, are the most common, naturally occurring form and the dominant gene in dahlia plants. A central disc is surrounded by an outer ring of "florets" or petals. The other classifications are listed below. You can read more about this and other dahlia groups on the National Dahlia Society website: https://www.dahlia-nds.co.uk/about-dahlias/classification/.
Group 2 - Anemone-flowered Dahlias
Group 3 - Collarette Dahlias
Group 4 - Waterlily Dahlias
Group 5 - Formal Decorative Dahlias
Group 6 - Ball Dahlias
Group 7 - Pompon Dahlias
Group 8 - Cactus Dahlias
Group 9 - Semi-cactus Dahlias
Group 10 - Miscellaneous Dahlias
Group 11 - Fimbriated Dahlias
Group 12 - Star Dahlias
Group 13 - Double Orchid Dahlias
Group 14 - Peony Dahlias
In addition to forms, there are also a variety of dahlia sizes with specific codes:
AA: Flowers over 10" or more
A: Flowers 8" to 10" across
B: Flowers 6" to 8" across
BB: Flowers 4" to 6" across
M: Flowers up to 4" across
P: Flowers up to 2" across
Each dahlia can be characterized by both form and size.
Of the 15 dahlia seedlings we grew last year, four will be grown again and documented this season. One of our favourite parts of saving seeds is naming them! (It's way more fun than just a number)
Holly's Sunshine - Named after my sweet friend Holly Moore and her nickname, Sunshine. This flower is the brightest yellow I have seen in a flower - it’s basically a highlighter! Based on the above classifications, I would label this dahlia is a BB Single Flower but also Fimbriated.
Umber - named by Becky Oliveira in an Instagram poll! This flower has the most beautiful golden, peachy, orange ombre with a larger open centre. This would also be considered a BB Single Flower.
Le Tigre - originally named Tony the Tiger because of its strong and incredibly tall stems, however we felt it needed a slightly fancier name. This dahlia would be considered a mix between a Peony and Waterlily form with a size BB.
Curly Fry - also named by one of our Instagram followers! This beauty is an excellent producer and branches well. Mostly white with a tiny hint of pink, this dahlia’s petals vary from single to double layer. Classified as M Peony.
In addition to growing a few seeds last summer to full plants, we also hand pollinated and cross-bred specific varieties for a more controlled experiment. We left some blooms for the bees to pollinate (open pollination) to create their own mixes. The amount of seeds saved from these open pollinated seed pods are beyond what was expected.
Most of the dahlia seeds we saved will be a variation of their dominant traits and look closely like group 1. The large coloured dinner plate and pom varieties we now recognize as dahlias, are actually rare mutations of a bunch of recessive genes.
It is estimated that 1 in every 1000 dahlia plants grown from seed will be remarkable. While I wish that we had acres of land to grow all of these seeds to find the next new "thing", sadly our 12 urban plots only have the space to grow around 30 dahlia seedlings a year…which is why we need your help! If you are interested in our experiment and are willing to grow dahlias in your home garden this summer, we would LOVE for you to be a part of this project!
What we need from you: grow and tend to the dahlia seedlings, plant them out in your garden and upload their pictures and important factors to a shared online drive. If you end up with a plant that is worth growing again the following year, we will arrange to pay to have the tuber shipped back to us in the fall to store and grow here on our farm the following year. BONUS, we will name the plant after you - the gardener who first grew and discovered it :) If the blooms you grow are beautiful, but won't work for us as a future cut flower bestseller, you can keep the tubers for yourself to grow in following years or dispose of them in your compost after the growing season. Better yet, you can save the seeds and start your own experiment next season. We will provide all the seeds, growing instructions, tips and tricks as well as constant communication and check-ins throughout the season…after all, they are our babies! I promise, growing dahlias from seed is super simple and we will provide you with all the help and guidance you need.
*Note, this experiment is only open to residents of Ontario, Canada at this time.
If you are fascinated like us and want to learn more, I highly recommend ‘Dahlia Breeding’ by Krsitine Albrecht of Santa Cruz Dahlias https://www.santacruzdahlias.com/.
Erin Benzakein of Floret Flowers has also been breeding dahlias for a few years and her story can be found here https://www.floretflowers.com/dahlia-breeding-update/.
You can also follow Kristine and Erin’s experiments on their Instagram.
* Experiment registration has been closed - thank you for all the interest!