Calling it Quits!
One of the most defeating experiences a gardener can have is when their plants simply seem to give up and die off. I've grown dahlias before, it's not like I'm new to them. I knew things weren't going stellar once my one plant started to bloom...and the other three were going leggy with no buds in sight. I tried a stiff watering schedule, fertilizing, pruning and moving the pots around, but still it ended in tragedy.
Last year my problem was earwigs. I hate those crusty looking fuckers. They chewed up my blooms and the foliage, leaving holes in just about everything. The hot and humid weather had created prime living conditions for earwigs, who normally feed off of dead plant life and other insects. When conditions are right, earwigs will inhabit containers (because they are kept warm and moist) and they will feed off of new vegetation for no other reason than because they can. Yep. Assholes. But the big difference is that last year my dahlias still bloomed and survived. This year they grew leggy, pale and deformed. My Sunburst (right) and Cupcake dahlia (photo above), were the only dahlias to bloom. I noticed the Cupcake was growing more pale in colour. What was once a rosy pink was slowly becoming white. I figured something was happening to the soil. Changes in the acidity or alkalinity in the soil can often have effects on the colour of blooms, particularly in plants like hydrangeas. This is sadly not the case for my plants.
It turns out that when blooms begin to lose their colour the plant has a virus. I looked over the leaves of each dahlia plant yesterday and sure enough there were signs of disease; the leaves were spotted, veiny, curling, deformed or dying off completely. I knew that my dahlias had been leggy but I assumed they weren't getting enough sunlight, instead I guess they were so ill they were trying desperately to get their nutrition from the sun and the virus wasn't allowing that. What are my options? Well, some botanists are doing trials using chemotherapy. *Scoff* Because that's how far I'm willing to go for my garden. The only option is to dispose of the afflicted plants, all of them!
When throwing away my orange dahlia, I caught a disgusting sight of nearly 100 earwigs festering in the bottom of the container. There's no doubt in my mind these wretched creatures caused the demise of my beloved dahlias and in turn decimated 2/3 of my garden! And before any entomologists come to their defense, it's known that insect bites to plant foliage leave the plant susceptible to viruses! Sadly, other than killing each earwig by hand or through oil traps (which only catch a couple at a time) there's no solution. Even soap sprays can only kill on contact. It's hopeless. :(
All you can do is mourn the loss of your plant and throw it away. I'm not sure about growing dahlias next year. If the projected forecast calls for another hot and humid summer I won't even bother buying dahlias. Instead, I think I'll buy more snapdragons and pansies. These are the only flowers that have grown without issue. They bounce back readily with a good thorough watering and they're beautiful in their simplicity. I highly recommend them. In fact, one of the ways I coped with my loss was to eat a piece of gluten free vegan carrot cake, drink a cup of strawberry tea and admire a bouquet of Halloween Pansies!
Sending best wishes and good gardening luck your way~