Dinner Plate Dahlias

Image of Akita dahlia, which is red, yellow and white.
David Beaulieu

The dahlias accompanied by the descriptive name, "dinner plate" are so called because they produce large flowers. While this term has the power to capture the buying public's imagination, it is not an official classification. Dahlia.org presents the official list of 18 different groups, based on flower form. Akita is grouped in the Novelty Fully Double class.

What Is a Dahlia?

"Dahlia" serves as both a botanical name and a common name. The name comes from an eighteenth-century botanist, Anders Dahl. 'Akita' is the cultivar name of the plant upon which this article is based (which is pictured above).

Dahlia plants can be further categorized in various ways:

  1. They are tropical flowers.
  2. They are perennials in areas with sufficiently warm weather.
  3. They are members of the aster family.
  4. They grow from underground plant parts known as "tubers," which are similar to the bulbs from which we derive, for example, spring bulb plants such as tulip flowers.
  5. But dahlias are summer bulb plants; that is, they bloom in Northern gardens during the summertime.

Look for two things when deciding when to plant the tubers in spring:

  1. The ground temperature should be at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. All danger of frost should have passed.

Plant Attributes of Akita Dahlias

Dahlia flowers come in many colors, ranging from yellows and oranges to reds, pinks, lavenders, and purples (and white, as well). Many are multi-colored, and that is the case with Akita dahlias. An example of this would be one with a dark crimson color on top, but the petals are streaked with yellow, which actually becomes the dominant color at the center of the bloom. Additionally, the tips of the petals (like the undersides) can be close to white. In conducting web searches on this plant, it becomes clear that there is quite a bit of variability in the flower (perhaps because a number of different plants are sold under the name, 'Akita').

The above picture shows the flower when it first opens. As the bloom ages, its appearance can change. The petals, rather than radiating in straight lines out of the center, can become twisted. This "unruly" look is especially prominent at the center of the flower. This change toward curvy petals is particularly prevalent in early autumn. At the same time, the flowers produce fewer petals; one can assume that petal production is influenced by the temperatures outdoors.

True to the "dinner plate" label, the flowers reach 7 inches in diameter or more. Their size and striking colors make these dahlia flowers excellent cut flowers.

My potted plants stand 3 feet tall. They would probably become taller (and bear larger flowers) if planted in the ground. Each plant has multiple stems, covered in light-green leaves. Each stem, in turn, bears multiple flowers (although not typically all at once): a central flower and usually two or three on the side. The plants in my zone-5 landscape begin blooming in July and continue flowering until cold nights in fall bring that chilly message dreaded by tropical plants: frost.

When the first frosts kill the foliage, it is time to dig the tubers and begin the overwintering process (see below).

Origin, Growing Conditions

Dahlias are native to Latin America. That is why they are treated as tender perennials in North America. They are generally hardy only to about planting zone 8.

Grow your dahlia plants in full sun for best results. These flowers prefer a soil that drains well and that has been fertilized with compost, etc.

I have grown my own Akita dahlias in pots for years. Since the tubers have to be brought indoors in fall, I find it easier to grow them in containers. When the time comes to begin the overwintering process, I know exactly where the tubers are. If I do not wish to dig the tubers and store them in the "proper" way (see below), I can simply bring the pot and all downstairs into my basement.

An added benefit with container-grown plants is that they can be moved around according to your particular needs. For example, I may decide one year that I need the color afforded by my dahlia flowers over on my floating deck. Another year, I may value their presence more on my brick patio. Growing them in pots gives me the flexibility to change my mind on their location from year to year.

Care for Dinner Plate Dahlia Plants

Make sure to water your plants adequately during dry spells. Practice deadheading to ensure that the energy goes into producing more blooms. I often deadhead after a rain, since the large flower heads of dinner plate dahlias retain a lot of water (the extra weight puts a lot of pressure on the stems).

Do not confuse deadheading with disbudding. The latter is commonly practiced on dahlias to maximize the size of the central flower on each stem. "Disbudding" means you prune off the buds of the side flowers, sacrificing them in order to get the largest possible central flower.

As mentioned above, when frosts arrive in autumn, it is time to overwinter this tropical plant by bringing it inside. Learn the proper way to store dahlias away for winter