The Art of Saving Dahlia Seed

Anyone who grows dahlias can save dahlia seeds, but experienced growers tend to develop their unique methods for saving and collecting dahlia seeds. Their specific methods yield the fantastic results we see in their hybrids over and over.

Have you ever thought about how the dahlias you love first grew, about who created the first tubers, and how they accomplished it? Have you ever wondered why dahlias make flowers/seeds at all since they’re so easily multiplied via their roots?

To answer these questions, let’s go back to some fundamentals. First of all, it helps to keep in mind that almost every plant you see growing in the world around you is trying to accomplish one main thing: its goal is to reproduce itself. Whether by spreading rhizomes, waving burr-covered seed pods around until they stick to your pants or an animal’s fur, attracting birds to eat their delicious fruit and “drop” their seeds everywhere birds “go,” creating abundant tubers to clone itself, attracting forgetful squirrels to plant nuts, or any number of creative methods, plants are reproducing all around us. 

Many plants have multiple ways of reproducing themselves, and it is fairly easy to force reproduction on many different kinds of plants by air-layering roots, taking herbaceous cuttings, or dividing the plants.

The dahlias we commonly cultivate in gardens today naturally reproduce themselves in two ways at once. They produce abundant flowers that (when pollinated and properly ripened) make beautiful seeds, and they also produce abundant tubers (when grown well!).

There is one major difference in these two methods, however. The tubers will produce copies of their “mother” plants, but the seeds will not. Instead, the seeds will produce an amazingly diverse collection of unique blooms. The new seeds are hybrids of the plant they developed on (simply put, their mother), and the plant whose pollen an insect carried to the mother (simply put, their father). The different seeds on a seed-head can have many different “fathers,” so each seed can look wildly different!

There are several ways to influence the results of hybridization, and since dahlias have way more chromosomes than most other flowers, it can feel like the sky’s the limit in the “lottery” of what can happen. In our membership community The Garden, we have a space called the “Hybridizer Hub” dedicated to exploring and explaining all the things that go into hybridizing a new dahlia. From identifying the seed-making parts of the plant to exploring the theories that our different Legacy Program hybridizers use when creating their hybrids, we’re creating an interactive, information-rich space for aspiring dahlia creators to learn and grow.

Kristine Albrecht

If you’ve explored hybridizing at all, you likely are familiar with the amazing Kristine Albrecht and her Santa Cruz Dahlias. She is an experienced ADS dahlia judge and backyard hybridizer who has created some of the most in-demand varieties currently available, and she has carefully documented her methods in two wonderful books. Her Dahlia Breeding for the Farmer-Florist and the Home Gardener: A Step by Step Guide to Hybridizing New Dahlia Varieties From Seed, and DAHLIAS: Seed to Bloom: The Dahlia Grower’s Companion, both of which are invaluable for learning her method of hand-pollinating dahlias. We are honored to offer several of her hybrids as dahlia tubers and tissue cultured, virus-tested rooted cuttings (still available today in our online store!) as part of our Legacy Program!

Erin Benzakein

Another amazing hybridizer is eternally curious and endlessly creative Erin Benzakein, at Floret in Mount Vernon, WA. She has explored the results of many methods of dahlia hybridization, and her wonderful book Discovering Dahlias: A Guide to Growing and Arranging Magnificent Blooms includes a wealth of information about how to hybridize dahlias. Among other things, over the years we’ve seen Erin explore sequestering dahlias in small hoop houses, allowing bees to cross-pollinate in her selective variety fields, and more recently, flysolation tents to keep highly active pollinators limited to specific varieties. Her amazing, about-to-be-released Floret series of dahlia seeds is a glorious sight, and proof that hybridization can take many forms and still yield phenomenal results. Erin and her team are releasing so many Floret Original seeds – not just her amazing dahlias but also zinnias and celosia. These seeds are going to grow stunning, truly breathtaking blooms in thousands of gardens, and we are SO excited to grow some ourselves while we watch the beauty spread from the magic Floret across the world! Have a few minutes and want to deep dive into the adventure of seed hybridization with Erin? Enjoy Floret’s latest film, all about their Original Seed Collection!

Triple Wren Seeds

At Triple Wren, our dahlia seeds are pollinated at random by the bees and other pollinators who enjoy the blooms and benefit from their pollen and nectar, and we have a grand time saving them and growing thousands of them out. We’re always on the lookout for special “keeper” varieties, but we also simply enjoy the beauty of rows of random, unexpected beauty, and the thrill of knowing we are growing varieties that don’t exist anywhere else in the whole, wide world. 

If you’d like to grow your own dahlia seeds, we’ll be having our annual seed salelater this month. We’ll have dahlia seeds from the gardens of dahlia hybridizer Paul Bloomquist as well as our own beautiful mix of zinnias (TWF Antiques, which we’ve been refining since 2015!) available, so watch your email for that sale announcement!

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