Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Dahlia Dilemma

I don't have much experience growing dahlias, as in almost zero. But after spending the winter watching other bloggers post gorgeous pix of their dahlias, I decided to give one a try. Beautiful color pictures lined the shelves of our local garden center, each promising a dahlia more beautiful than the next. I grabbed a bag plump with promise and daydreamed of dahlias.

Dahlia 'Caproz Pizzaz'
picture taken from Squak Mt Nursery
The bag was labeled 'Caproz Pizza'. I should have known I was headed for trouble when I bought a flower named after a pizza!

They sprouted full and lush from spring rain and were promptly devoured by ravenous slugs. Armed with copper tape, I wrapped the plant in hopes of zapping the slugs as they made their nightly crawl towards my dahlias. The slugs were unfazed and the only thing I accomplished was making my plant look stupid. Perhaps the slugs would laugh themselves to death.

 Slug damage

 Highly ineffective copper tape
Even the salvia peeked over the edge of their pot to laugh at the dahlias.

In an effort to boost the local economy, I hired this gnome to put the squeeze on some slugs. Instead, he hid behind the copper tape and silently cheered them on. Into the bird feeder with you, O Worthless One!!!

Did I try a beer trap? Of course I did! However, I began to worry that my slugs weren't drinkers. As a matter of fact, I began to worry they were complete tee-totalers. Night after night, my trap remained empty. Anxiety and panic began to set in. Maybe they weren't tee-totalers at all! Maybe they were waiting for an apple martini or a full bodied Merlot. Frustration snuck quickly in and I took a hard glance at my spineless foe. "Wait a minute", I thought. "Them ain't no high class slugs!" I dug through the cupboard grinning mischievously and then headed to the store.

 My slugs prefer their beer in a sippy cup! I'm thinkin' they started their habit mighty early...

The cheaper the beer, the better. The slug death toll is almost 30 and rising. Drink up!!

But now, I am ashamed to say, I have met my match. It happens to all of us. The larvae of some dastardly creature has set up house in the stems of the dahlias. Using my highly scientific theory of "Just wait a bit and the good bugs will show up to eat the bad bugs", I waited. And waited. And waited. And while I waited, it munched, devouring my dahlias from the inside out, leaving piles of black frass to taunt me. It laughs at my beer, preferring well watered dahlia instead.

 The little white worms bore holes through the stems, leaving piles of dry black frass to mark their entrance and exit routes.

 In one end and out the other!

 I noticed this spot this morning. It's eating the cell wall of the plant.

Now it's after the flowers. The battle has begun!!

Have you any idea who the culprit might be?


  1. Oh,my! Poor dahlia. I had to laugh at the salvia peeking at the damage. I could have told you the gnome was up to no good. I confess I may have admitted defeat and pulled it up by now. Good luck!

  2. Gosh, I would have thought a shallow dish of beer would work right away for the slugs! Not sure what would cause the other damage. I wonder if it's from Japanese beetles? I'm reading that dill, chives, and garlic are good repellents for Japanese beetles, if that's the cause.

  3. Like the salvia peeking over the rim of your dahlia pot and laughing, I am amused! Well, not amused, more like amazed... I would never have the patience you show for trying to save your dahlia. I would have given up long ago. I don't do very well when the bugs outnumber me and seem to win every battle! But I admire your tenacity, and it really is (was) a lovely plant.

  4. Wireworms, stalk borers, or European corn borers. Borers are the worst. I've had a horrible time with rose cane borers; they got into nearly all my Rosa and Rhododendron sp. when I went organic.

  5. LOL! It all began with pizza.

    I normally don't try so hard with my plants. Sometimes if I see trouble, I cut a few stems and grow them in another pot. If the original one dies, I will still very likely have new babies growing. Usually it works. Well, if it doesn't probably that variety would be happier in someone else's garden.

  6. Everybody - I am determined to beat the bugs!

    Deb - The salvia is quite sassy. It has no sympathy for the dahlia.

    Beth - Japanese beetles are a hideous scourge, but they spend the winter as fat grubs in the soil. I think Katie's right about the corn borer diagnosis.

    Laurrie - Tenacious is a great adjective for me!! I have a problem-solution mind set and am determined to conquer this nasty little beastie!!

    Katie - You are a goddess!!! I don't think organic controls are going to work, though. Sadness... :(

  7. Oh your poor Dahlia. Are you sure the slugs are dead. I too tried the beer trap and all it did was make them really drunk. They came slithering out the next morning. And I thought they were dead.

  8. Thank you for making me laugh! My slugs love beer too, and I got them drunk regularly until my husband said that beer should be poured into him not into slug bate containers... You are lucky to be able to grow dahlias, they rot in our heavy clay...

  9. Oh dear! What a battle you have on your hands...I hope you figure out the culprit(s). I have never grown dahlia and don't have slugs so I'm not much help. Best of luck!...please post when you figure out who is attacking the plant.

  10. Oh my! those things look so destructive. I guess it's not organic but i've heard about a bit of dawn and red pepper diluted in a spray bottle will do the trick. haven't tried it myself though. good luck

  11. Too bad fore those dahlias. I hope they recover and you get to see them blooming. I have one too that got attacked by something. It is always a bit sad

  12. That is one tasty pizza. The poor thing. Hope you figure out who the culprit is. I have been a bit terrified to try dahlias here in the hot dry part of Texas. May have to settle looking at the photos.

  13. Sluggo is a great organic, pet friendly cure for slugs - I've found it effective if you reapply once a month or so. If you're going to grow dahlias without pesticides there's going to be damage. I think the systemics are what dahlia people rely on the most - mix and pour down on the roots. Good luck!

  14. What a struggle for such beauty! I hope you are able to bring them back...they are beautiful!

  15. Sadly, I have no advice to offer. But I am curious where a garden gnome files a W2.

  16. Sorry you are having so much trouble with the dahlias ~ at least your pests are cheap drunks. The main problems I'm having here are Japanese Beetles and the occasional cold wet winter that kills the dahlias off. I wish the neighbor's guineas would swing by here again soon. They seem to be the only thing that eats Japanese Beetles!

  17. Jennifer@threedogsinthegarden
    Growing flowers shouldn't be this hard. What you have been through already. Hopefully this is a war you will eventually win. I want to see if the flower lives up to its glamor packaging shot. It looks amazing in the picture.

  18. It's probably some kind of stem borer eating the plant. Here is a link to a forum on it:

    I hate borers. I have had them here but not on my dahlias. They instead attached a sweet autumn clematis. No great loss there as I hate those vines. Bummer on the slugs. Rotten little varmits. Glad you've figured out how to get them. Don't give up on dahlias. Maybe try a different kind. I grow the dinnerplate ones and they are generally not too difficult.


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