Hybridizing dahlias to withstand time

A staple in many gardens, dahlias are a fan favorite. They’re the national flower of Mexico and are found in the mountains of Mexico and Guatemala. Growing the flower from tubers is most common, however, hybridizing dahlias to receive seed to create new, different varieties has become a passion of Kristine Albrecht.

While Albrecht didn’t major or specialize in plant breeding in school, she elevated her garden hobby with dahlia hybridization. Her start in dahlia hybridization might surprise you. “I really learned a lot about how to grow things from giant pumpkin growers — we used to grow giant pumpkins for our fair,” she says. “It’s a lot about soil and keeping your soil healthy and full of nutrients for you to grow something that giant.”

It wasn’t until she received some dahlia tubers from a friend that she developed an interest in the flower. “Dahlias were new and exciting,” Albrecht says, as prior to this she worked mostly with gourds. “I joined our local Monterey Bay Dahlia Society, which is where I learned about growing dahlias — but it’s also where I learned about breeding. We had hybridizers in our local society that could hold my hand and teach seminars.”

What was interesting to her was there weren’t any books written about dahlia hybridization in 2006. “As a new hybridizer, it was mostly word of mouth — and a fair amount of people were kind of secretive of it,” Albrecht says. “It’s all about showing in the dahlia world, so it was hush-hush about the standards and traits people were working towards.”

It wasn’t showing dahlias, however, that caught Albrecht’s eye. She realized quickly there was another market for dahlia: the florist. “In shows, color must be really, really clean. No grays, no browns, no muddy colors,” she says. “The colors are really standardized for show. One of my friends, Erin Benzakein of Floret Farm, expressed some frustration with the colors because there were a lot of yellows and bright reds. She particularly liked to sell to florists, but those colors weren’t always favored.” Albrecht says florists weren’t looking for yellow flowers, because yellow isn’t a color that sells as easy. Instead, they were looking for more complex colors — pinks, blushes, skin tones and even mocha colors.

Read the complete article at www.seedworld.com.

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