One for the Record Books!

Well, I thought I was prepared for extremes in the Mid-Atlantic. I was wrong. Following strong spring sales, we hoped for a season of recovery, and then there was June. Record high temps and little rain led to crop failures and weak attendance at markets, hence poor sales. Surely this couldn’t continue?

Then July and August; for 6 weeks we attended afternoon markets with 100+ heat indices. In times of stress I did what I always do when faced with growing challenges, peruse the ASCFG Bulletin Board in the cool morning hours.

It seemed futile to post “How do you keep your flowers from wilting at market when it’s 103?” or “What do you do when your customers faint from heat exhaustion?” messages. Page after page, post after post, I continued to marvel at our greatest resource as ASCFG members, our willingness to share our knowledge—good/bad/indifferent—above all else.

The light bulb went on several weeks ago, when I was searching for any help I could find regarding dahlia production in our area. Most of my Karma dahlia production (particularly ‘Naomi’ and ‘Prospero’) which had been purchased early, bumped up, planted out well rooted and irrigated, had stunted in the heat, been attacked by corn worms and an ever-increasing explosion of mites. I needed help fast and not of the virtual variety. I reached out to one of our members – Don Dramstad of Don’s Dahlias in Leesburg, Virginia.

Several years ago I visited Don’s garden (approximately 30 minutes north of us) and marveled at the exquisite dahlia jungle he had created under shade cloth here in Virginia. Growing for exhibition and sale, it was a dahlia lover’s paradise. Like us, he too was experiencing heat-related dahlia challenges.

After my distressed phone call, he rode in around 6:00 the next morning like a knight in a shiny pickup truck, prepared to share his expertise AND small amounts of the latest/most effective miticides to control our problem, along with his recommended application schedule. Cutting down the worst affected dahlias, fertilizing and implementing Don’s pest plan we have successfully staved off crop failure and are now seeing beautiful results. Around our region – here is our Mid-Atlantic dahlia report:

Bob Wollam – Record success with 9,000 dahlias in bloom, planted early, propagated from cuttings and tubers. The first dahlia festival drew 1,000 visitors over two weekends to Wollam Gardens in late August. Reporting little to no pest and disease pressure, Bob attributes his success to planting early and a regular and consistent watering schedule. He does report reduced size of plants due to heat.

Becky Devlin – Celebrating success this year due to her consistent use of Surround as a pest deterrent and protection from heat stress/sunburn damage, applied weekly and/or after rains Becky says that although it coated the foliage, there was little evidence on blooms and it did a great job of keeping pests at bay up to harvest.

Barbara Lamborne – Grows exclusively Karmas and has seen reduced production and stunting of certain varieties, specifically ‘Naomi’ and ‘Prospero’. Next year she plans to augment her production with Karma tuber and perhaps new tuber varieties.

Mel Heath – After planting 750-800 Karma plugs, at the time I write he has zero dahlia production; observing severe stunting, burning and insufficient growth for any quality commercial production, all plants were removed completely in late August. Mel suspects sustained extreme heat was chief reason for decline.

I could not have asked for a more fitting end to my term as Regional Director. It has been a true pleasure. Thank you to all those members who, like Don, give selflessly of their expertise and support toward the greater goal of becoming better growers, better businessmen/women and just plain better people. I look forward to serving as Treasurer and hope for a great National Conference here next year!

Andrea Gagnon

LynnVale Studios [email protected]