Dahlias for Southern Gardens

It’s been nearly three years since I set off on a late-August morning for Cashiers, North Carolina, for a visit to a meeting of the Carolinas Dahlia Society, but I’ll never forget the enthusiasm and comradery of the members that day, nor the buckets of glorious blooms they brought with them.


Buckets of blooms and good friends at a meeting of the Carolinas Dahlia Society.

Dahlias, a group of tender, tuberous plants, begin to flower just as the growing season starts to wane, extending the garden’s splendor when most daisies, daylilies, and other summer perennials have finished their show. Typically, they provide the vivid colors that make fall gardens so satisfying and are excellent companions for the asters, salvias, and sedums, which also bloom this time of year.

Since their initial introduction in the late 1700s, dahlias have been selectively hybridized into a remarkable group of ornamentals. While most plants have just two sets of chromosomes, dahlias have eight, allowing a much greater variation among hybrids.


Eight chromosomes allow for a wide variation among hybrids, as exhibited here by ‘Hilltop Sapphire’, ‘AC Angie’, ‘Hilltop Mimi’, and ‘Hilltop Glo’.

Cultivars range in size from just inches to towering heights and flowers comprise a wide array of sizes, shapes, and colors. Plus, once dahlias begin to bloom, they’re the epitome of cut-and-come-again. The more you pick, the more they flower, with blooms opening nonstop until frost.

Not all dahlias are equal, however, especially in the hot and humid growing conditions of Upstate gardens. Careful selection of heat-tolerant dahlias is critical to success in the Carolinas. Native to the high mountain plateaus of Mexico and Guatemala, most dahlias prefer warm days and cool nights.


Dahlias with single-form flowers, such as this ‘Bishop of York’ in the display area of the Cashiers garden, are easy to mingle with other plants.

Heirloom dahlias that are heat-tolerant include ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, ‘Juanita’, ‘Kidd’s Climax’, ‘Prince Noir’, and ‘Thomas Edison’. Among newer cultivars, look for ‘Ben Houston’, ‘Elsie Houston’, ‘Hilltop Glo’, ‘Island Dynasty’, ‘Kenora Firefighter’, ‘Otto’s Thrill’, and ‘Zorro’. The best single-form flowers, which mingle easily in both borders and containers, include ‘Alpen Cherub’, ‘Honka’, and ‘Marie Schnugg’.

For a comprehensive list of recommended plants, visit the website of the Dahlia Society of Georgia.


‘Otto’s Thrill’, which can measure 8 to 10-inches wide, produces one of the biggest blooms among dahlias recommended for Carolina gardens.


13 thoughts on “Dahlias for Southern Gardens

  1. Martha Robinson

    I love their variety of color, size, shape, etc. Good info … Going to try a number of them next year. Thanks

  2. An Eye For Detail

    Marian: Perfect timing for this post as I am having a terrible time with my dahlias! Something is eating them. The flowers; the leaves are fine. As soon as the flower comes out, the petals are slowly eaten away. I’ve seen a grasshopper several times resting on a flower, so sprayed (can’t recall exactly what right now..) and haven’t seen him again. But then today I noticed my Swamp Sunflowers, just coming out, are also being eaten. Oh no…… do you have any recommendations as to how to treat and if it truly could be grasshoppers?
    Also, I am going to look at this list as I do have a hard time with dahlias in this heat. Thank you!

  3. germac4

    Very interesting post for us as we are thinking of getting more Dahlias this year. The few that we have are incredibly tolerant and have even survived a long drought in our garden. I like the photo of the wide variation of hybrids, and amazing to learn they have eight chromosomes.

  4. Beth @ PlantPostings

    I’ve always loved Dahlias, and they remind me of an elderly floral arranger/mentor. She first introduced me to them as excellent cut flowers many years ago. But believe it or not, I’ve never grown them myself until this summer. I have a few in pots, and now I think I will always have some in my garden. Yes, it’s stunning how many unique hybrids are available. 🙂

  5. casa mariposa

    I grow the little seed grown dahlias and really like them. They’re very easy to grow. The big ones always fall over for me, even when I stake them. But they’re so beautiful, it’s always tempting to try them one more time.


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