'Redskin' Dwarf Bedding Dahlia


Dahlia variabilis is a collective name for many cultivars derived from hybridization of D. pinnata with D. coccinea , hence comes in many varieties from dwarf to six feet tall.

The cultivar 'Redskin' forms a wide clump of bronzed purplish foliage no taller than about eighteen inches. It wants persistant moisture in full sun.

This is a real oddity in that a single clump produces semi-double flowers that from stem to stem are radically different colors. Some of the July through September flowers are red, others violet, others yellow & orange.

There doesn't seem to be anything that can be done about its weak floppy stems, of which there are too many for simple staking. The usual remedy would be to use three stakes & run a string around the entire clump. I seriously dislike having to do such things, but I ended up moving this dahlia under the edge of a larger shrub, where I thought it would nevertheless get enough sun, but where it fall forward toward the sun & be as floppy as it liked peeping out from under the sunny front edge of native Mountain Spirea.

Actually, how I came to move 'Redskin' under the spirea was partly a fluke. The previous year it had flowered beautifully but was so floppy I deplored it. Because 'Redskin' is sold as a dwarf "bedding variety" which is regarded as a half-hardy annual, I figured it would die in the winter, & I wouldn't miss it. However, the following spring when I was planting some dwarf rhodies, I unexpectedly dug up a clustered dahlia tuber. It took me only a few seconds to remember this was where the floppy dwarf dahlia had been.

The tubers were obviously extremely healthy & ready to go for another year. I still don't know what to make of bedding dahlias being sold as annuals! If they do usually die out of the garden, our extremely moderate Puget Sound weather patterns must be what awakened this dahlia's desire to perennialize.

Recalling that I didn't care for its tip-over habits the previous year, I lookeda round for a place where I could more-or-less "hide" its short foliage but where the clkump would get the sun it needed & be showy in flower. I replanted the tubers without dividing them & figured if it did well for a second year, great, but if it didn't thrive with the spirea overshadowing it, that'd be fine too.

The foliage was every so much more pleasant peeping out from under the shrub. The flowers were fewer the second year, perhaps because I didn't divide the tuber, but more likely because the overall location requires slightly fewer waterings than would be optimal for the dahlia itself.

Dahlias can be high-maintenance in their water requirements & the need to divide the tubers every year or two. In some regions they even need to be dug up & stored for winter, though that at least isn't a requirement on Puget Sound. It's mildly ironic that its first year with plenty of care 'Redskin' didn't interest me all that much, but its second year, moved to a garden where its needs are treated as secondary, I've liked it much better as a short, flowery fill-in.


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