Dahlias Are Up, and It’s Time to Weed!

This time of year, someone at Lynch Creek Farm is sure to be out in the rows of dahlias, grubbing out the opportunist weeds. Weeding is essential to the well-being of Lynch Creek’s fields and your garden, and to the propagation of beautiful dahlias, for many reasons:


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  • Eliminate competition. Dahlias don’t like crowding, and weeds compete for light, space and nutrients. Later in the season, the full-sized dahlia plants will essentially shade out the weeds, but when they’re just emerging, they need the benefit of the sunlight and the moisture and nutrients in the soil for maximum growth and bud development.

    Even if your dahlias are planted in mixed beds, they’ll need the benefit of space when they first emerge from the ground. Some gardeners who like the look of the densely planted cottage-garden borders, for instance, will start their dahlias in pots and transplant them into their space in the garden (with nice rich soil amendments) once the dahlias are several inches high.
Young dahlias
  • Prevent disease. Keeping the dahlia garden weed-free and debris-free will help eliminate the development of fungus-disease spores, vectors that help spread viruses, and bacterial growth that can easily spread by contact. Some of the beetles and other critters that prove harmful to your dahlias will start the season chewing on the weeds and then transfer themselves to your dahlias.
• Eliminate hiding places for pests. Dahlia pests like snails, slugs and earwigs like shady, moist places to hang out when they’re not gnawing on your plants. Ground-hugging weeds give them shelter from which they can emerge to devastate your dahlia plants, especially when they are young and tender. In a damp spring like this year’s in the Northwest, there’s an overabundance of slugs and snails, so keep an eye out; if your garden’s too big for hand-plucking or stabbing, you may need to resort to bait.
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For this reason, it’s also important to make sure you don’t have a lot of other debris in your garden and its immediate environment. Piles of pulled weeds, woody debris, even buckets and stacks of pots provide safe harbor for the creepers, crawlers, chewers and maulers that you don’t want anywhere near your beautiful dahlias. Besides, a debris-free garden looks better.
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Keep on weeding. In most climates, you won’t need to water until your dahlias are a foot or so high at least. Keeping the watering to the minimum you need to keep the plants healthy and growing is not only cost-effective, but it keeps the slugs and bugs at bay as well.
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Washington Showers Bring Wedding Flowers

Summer is right around the corner and along with it, wedding season!  Lynch Creek Farm has been in the wedding game for about a decade, providing beautiful dahlias for ceremonies that range from tastefully simple to extravagant.  Our dahlias have been used in every manner from bridal bouquets to decorating the wedding arbor to topping the cake.  Lynch Creek Farm has had the privilege of providing flowers for the wedding of Scott Lindsay and Courtney Gregoire, daughter of former Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, in 2011.  Our dahlias have even been featured on the TLC show Four Weddings for the Babcock wedding, beautifully decorated by Amy Tanton Designs.  

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Tyler and Sara Babcock wedding decorated with Lynch Creek Farm dahlias (Photo credits: Amy Tanton Designs)

If you are planning a wedding taking place in western Washington between August 1st and October 1st, Lynch Creek Farm would be honored to be your dahlia provider.  Prices start at $1 per stem for the majority of blooms, with the dinnerplate varieties costing $2.50 per stem.  We also offer sunflowers, statice, lilies and zinnias.  We require a $250 minimum order for a field tour but if you are only looking for a small amount of flowers, you can also visit us at the Olympia Farmers Market beginning the first week of August.  Orders over $1000 are eligible for a 10% discount.  

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Conversations with McClaren: Grow Your Dahlias Organically

This is the third in a series of conversations about dahlia-growing with dahlia guru Bill McClaren, author of the Encyclopedia of Dahlias from Timber Press in Portland, Oregon, and a noted dahlia hybridizer. Bill and Lois McClaren have introduced more than 150 new dahlia varieties from their Alpen Gardens in Kalispell, Montana.

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Bill McClaren inspecting his dahlias- Lido Vizzutti/ Flathead Beacon


Lynch Creek Farm: Bill, you mentioned in an earlier conversation that when you began growing dahlias, you depended upon chemical fertilizers. Is that still your practice?

McClaren: No, it’s not. I would highly recommend anyone growing plants to grow them organically. To do this one must have healthy soil that is teeming with microbes. I started organic growing in the early ’90s.

LCF: Why did you switch to organic gardening?

McClaren: We did not think all the chemicals I was using were healthy for our family. Actually, that was Lois who came to that conclusion, and as always, she was right. Since switching, I grow better dahlias with less insects and in the same soil year after year without any effect on the dahlias.

There are a number of excellent publications on organic gardening on the market for anyone interested. It took me several years of experimenting before I saw success. Since that time I have continually improved my practices so that I am convinced it is the only safe way to grow dahlias.

LCF: Will you talk a little more about organic dahlia-growing?

McClaren: Organic growing is a total way of life. It is not possible to grow organically part way. You need to be convinced that it will not be possible to use chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or chemical insecticides in any way. No more weekly spraying, no more chemical fertilizers, and beginning a no-till soil system.

The first year growing organically will be a disaster. It improves somewhat the second and by the third year you can breathe a sigh of relief and begin to see a difference.  Read everything you can on organic growing, especially the newer organic books, and also Teaming with Microbes: A Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web.

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LCF: Are there specific techniques you use?

McClaren: I practice no-till gardening. With no-tilling, you do not bring up the seeds that are in the soil so that helps. I also use white Dutch clover between the rows and this controls many weeds since they can’t get started in the shade of the clover. I also use lots of mulch: grass clippings, alfalfa hay, compost. They all keep weeds under control. It does take time, usually several years to see a great improvement.

If you give this serious thought you should be ready to switch next year. Good Luck.

[This interview series is a re-print of the set of blog articles posted on our blog in 2011] 

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Conversations with McClaren: Hybridizing Dahlias Offers Gratification in a Single Season

This is the second in a series of conversations about dahlia-growing with dahlia guru Bill McClaren, author of the Encyclopedia of Dahlias from Timber Press in Portland, Oregon. At Alpen Gardens in Kalispell, Montana, McClendon has produced and introduced numerous beautiful dahlia varieties.
LCF: How did you become involved in developing new dahlia varieties?

McClaren: When I first got involved with gardening in a major way, the two flowers that I especially liked were gladiolas and dahlias. I have always been interested in growing plants from seed.
I found that it took 2-3 years to see the first bloom from growing gladiolas seed and only the first year for dahlia seed to produce a bloom. I’m sure I am not long on patience so dahlias soon become the flower I wanted to grow and hybridize.

Without many dahlia growers in Montana I did a lot of experimenting. The different forms, sizes and colors convinced me this was the flower to grow. I also found that dahlias could be grown organically but never was successful in growing gladiolas without chemicals. I have always had great support, encouragement, and assistance from Lois my wife. She always assisted in planted, digging, washing, and dividing. No matter how many thousands I grew, she was always there when the work began.

LCF: How do you decide what form or type of dahlia you want to work on developing?

McClaren: At the present time we have introduced nearly 150 varieties. It would be difficult to select a favorite. It’s like asking which of you children is your favorite (some days I do have a favorite). I think it is important for the beginning hybridizer to select the form, color, and size of dahlia they like the best. Grow as many of that type as possible and become well acquainted with how they grow, which have the best color, form, tuber production, and which have the best growing habits.

I hybridized miniature cactus (dahlias) for a number of years, and then have progressed through orchids, anemones, singles, and I’m now working with dark foliage and mignon singles. Some of the greatest hybridizers work on one type during their lifetime. I tend toward getting bored after reaching my goal, and I start over. But I have worked as long as 10 years on a certain type before reaching my original goal. 

LCF: Where do you start with hybridizing?

McClaren: It is seldom that dahlia growers have sports (mutations) and they often miss seeing them in their gardens. I’d suggest that dahlia growers begin hybridizing by growing dahlia seed. Some begin by buying seed and growing their first seedlings. This is not nearly as exciting as saving your seed and using that as a starting point.

There are many things a hybridizer can do for greater success, but that is a whole other lesson.

Bill McClaren’s anemone dahlia Alpen Fury is a favorite at Lynch Creek Farm.

[This interview series is a re-print of the set of blog articles posted on our blog in 2011] 
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Conversations with McClaren: Grower’s Search for the Perfect Dahlia

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This is the first in a series of Lynch Creek Farm staff conversations with dahlia guru Bill McClaren, author of the Encyclopedia of Dahlias from Timber Press in Portland, Oregon, and a major Northwest dahlia grower.

"For many years," notes Harry Rissetto, trustee of the American Dahlia Society and a contributing editor to the Bulletin of the American Dahlia Society, “Bill and Lois McClaren have been the ‘Johnny Appleseeds’ of the American dahlia. …Through their extended experience with the dahlia, they have gained a wealth of knowledge and useful information. Encyclopedia of Dahlias is the culmination of a lifelong love affair; it deserves a place of the bookshelf of every dahlia grower.”

LCF: Bill, how would you describe your Montana home in terms of growing dahlias?

McClaren: Western Montana is an ideal area to live. West of the continental divide our weather is somewhat similar to the west coast with many mountains, rivers, and lakes. Kalispell is located between Flathead Lake (largest lake west of the Mississippi) and Glacier National Park. The scenery is spectacular and temperatures moderate. We have four seasons with excellent growing conditions for dahlias. Out-door activities are unlimited: gardening, camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, skiing, boating, kayaking, and swimming.

LCF: You and Lois have been proprietors of Alpen Gardens for many years. Was dahlia-growing your livelihood?

McClaren: No; I was a teacher for years. I had a high school principal who encouraged students to continue their education. I was married soon after high school and my wife was the one person who was a great assistance in supporting my educational goals. She worked while I was in college and made it possible for me to finish my education.

LCF: So how did you get involved with dahlia-growing?

McClaren: Since I was born and raised on a farm I have always been interested in growing plants. All the places we have lived I have grown vegetables and flowers. After coming to Montana I continued growing and taught a number of evening classes in gardening. I was introduced to Paul Hovey a dahlia grower in Kalispell and was intrigued with dahlias. Paul became my mentor and shared his knowledge with me about dahlias.

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LCF: What do you particularly like about dahlias?

McClaren: One of the exciting things about growing dahlias is that we never have grown a perfect dahlia. Just around the corner there is a new one better than anything that has been introduced. I have seen interests constantly changing throughout the years by dahlia growers. I would hesitate to try to determine what my perfect dahlia might be. What makes dahlias so much fun is that they are constantly changing by hybridizing, sporting, mutations. There is never a boring moment but its like Christmas every day.

LCF: You have introduced more than 150 named varieties. Many growers use their name or some key word in naming their dahlia introductions. How do we know if we’re looking at one of your hybrids?

McClaren: Many years ago we sat down and selected any name that might go with Alpen, a name selected by Lois when we were in the garden looking at the snow-covered peaks of the Rockies. She said, “Look at that ‘Alpen Glow’. Wouldn’t that be a great name for a dahlia? Also a great name for our garden, Alpen Gardens.” We then made a list of every word we could think of that went well with Alpen. We are still using the list.

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[This interview series is a re-print of the set of blog articles posted on our blog in 2011] 

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Waterproof Tags: Keeping Your Tubers In Order

Here at Lynch Creek Farm, we are continuously looking for ways to enhance our customers’ experience with our company, whether that means finding methods to get our holiday wreaths and other evergreen creations to their destination as fresh as possible, listening to our supporters’ requests for new product lines or promotions, or even just offering advice on how to best utilize their new purchase.  

One concern that we have heard a few times from our customers over the years is that although we identify the variety of their dahlias on the tubers themselves, once the tubers are in the ground, they are not always able to remember which varieties were planted where.  Although we were not able to come up with an immediate fix to this problem, we did our research, looked into our different possible options and devised a solution.  Beginning with the dahlia tubers sent out this spring, Lynch Creek Farm is providing all of our customers with a waterproof tag for every tuber they receive.  Each tuber has a SKU number written on it; this number correlates with a SKU number on the waterproof tag, which will also have the variety’s name, image and other valuable information printed on it.  This tag can then stapled or wrapped around a stake so the dahlia grower can keep all their tubers in order.  We hope this makes our customers’ lives a little easier when they are out in their gardens.  

If you have any comments or suggestions for Lynch Creek Farm to make our customers lives a little easier or better, we would love to hear them!

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Spring Planting Right Around The Corner in Washington

As the second northernmost state in the country, Washington has a pretty long time to go from one dahlia growing season to the next, and when it does roll around, it sure seems to fly by!  Well, we have waited and waited (well, that’s not nearly all we did between October and April, but for the sake of simplicity, we’ll just say we waited) and the time has finally arrived for us to be able to plant our dahlia tubers at Lynch Creek Farm.  Although we do not ship out dahlia tubers to our customers in the northern half of the country until April 15th in order to prevent in-transit premature sprouting and ensure growing success, here at the farm we are able to keep our tubers in a climate-controlled environment so we took the opportunity to do some indoor “pre-planting”.  

This pre-planting process involves putting the tubers in planting trays filled with dirt and setting the trays in a temperate, well-ventilated room with bright lighting, essentially simulating a favorable outdoor environment for growing.  Although we typically wait until the end of April to do any sort of tuber planting, we decided that we want to get a jump on the season in order to be able to provide our local customers with cut flowers for as much of the summer as possible.  Pre-planting large quantities of dahlia tubers has its limitations without the utilization of highly sophisticated and expensive lighting and growing equipment that is usually reserved for growing a different kind of plant that we won’t discuss in our blog (you will have to read Willie Nelson’s blog for that info), so we cannot actually get to the point of producing blooms while growing indoors, but it is a fantastic way to get a jump on the growing season while we are still having to worry about last frost or late snowfall.  This is an experimental year for us as far as pre-planting goes but we are encouraged by the results so far!

As beneficial as indoor pre-planting is, we are still increasingly looking forward to getting out in the sunlight and doing real hands-in-the-earth gardening.  We are currently amending our soil for proper micronutrient and pH levels, but once that is complete, the real fun begins at the farm.  We will keep you updated!

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Perfect First Weekend at Olympia Farmers Market

The world’s favorite bunny made his rounds on Sunday, our staff gathered with friends and family to celebrate, and Lynch Creek Farm was once again present at the Olympia Farmers Market where we have been a spring and summer staple since 1980, making it a wonderful Easter weekend as far as we are concerned!  The newest perennial member of the team and author of this blog post (hi, ma!) Kevin took notes from two of the farm’s dahlia experts and well-known faces at the market, Brigida and Evé, to learn the intricacies of setting up the market booth, operating its equipment and answering booth guests’ farm and market- related questions, and got his feet wet on Saturday and Sunday.  Despite the April rain showers putting a bit of a damper on market guests’ enthusiasm for immediate gardening, the booth was still buzzing with dahlia devotees and neophytes inquiring about proper growing techniques, best varieties (our general answer: they are all fantastic, it just depends on what you are using them for) and more information on the farm itself.  It was a pleasure to answer these questions and interesting to hear various people discuss their passion for the plant and gardening in general.  

We will be participating in the Olympia Farmers Market through the end of dahlia tuber planting season, which is essentially a week after Mother’s Day.  Brigida, Evé, Kevin and LCF owner Andy would love to meet you there!

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Evé setting up LCF’s booth for a busy day at the farmers market

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Back To Work at The Farmers Market

Ah, springtime is here and it feels so good!  Although we love the colder months for the excitement and rush of work they bring Lynch Creek Farm in the form of sending out elegant holiday wreaths, centerpieces, tabletop trees and other evergreen creations, there is certainly something special about spring: the warming weather, baby animals, renewed plant growth, and of course, the beginning of dahlia season!  After sending out tubers to our customers who have been ordering from our website over the last 9 months (that’s right, some LCF customers ordered their 2014 dahlias before they ordered their 2013 wreaths!), we are now back for another year at Olympia Farmers Market, offering our selection of dahlia tubers to our fellow western Washingtonians in person.  

Lynch Creek Farm has been a vendor at Olympia Farmers Market since the Hunter family founded the farm in 1980.  Starting with dahlia tubers in the spring, the farm continues to attend the market as a vendor of cut flowers in the late summer and wreaths during the holiday season.  In addition to Lynch Creek Farm’s wonderful dahlias and evergreen creations, you can also find homemade crafts, locally grown fruits and vegetables, and artisanal food products at the Olympia Farmers Market. We hope to see you there!

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Happy New Year!
Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

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