Because most Georgia soils are rather heavy, the Father of Georgia Dalhia growing Conrad Faust went to great length to incorporate quantities of humus into his garden. Over the years he built up an ideal soil by adding leaf-mold, stable manure and peatmoss, in addition to which he plants his entire plot to a green cover crop after the tubers are dug in the fall. The cover crop, which may be of rye, vetch or Austrian winter peas, is plowed under in the spring in time to rot and mellow before dahlia planting time.
Moisture conservation is one of the phases of soil management that Mr. Faust stresses. He digs his soil thoroughly to a depth of 12 inches, breaking up any hardpan that may form in the subsoil. This permits an unrestricted growth of the dahlia root systems.
A strict fertilizing schedule is also advocated. Starting with the initial preparation of the soil just before planting time. “A fertilizer of 3 or 4 per cent nitrogen, 10 per cent phosphate and 5 or 6 per cent potash is ideal. When planting, two good handsful of bonemeal together with a small amount of the commercial fertilizer (say a level tablespoonful) should be added to the soil in a radius of at least 2 feet where the dahlia will be planted – or this can be broadcast over the soil.”
Fertilizing does not stop with this initial planting preparation, however, for supplementary feedings are very important for developing the giant prize blooms Mr. Faust famous. When the plants begin to show buds, some commercial fertilizer is worked into the soil, preferably just before a rain. This is repeated every two weeks, the quantity being increased as the plants grow larger.
But to return to the spring planting season, it is a revelation to watch Mr. Faust’s planting technique. In the first place, he does not set out his tubers until late May or June – he prefers June. His first step is to set out the stakes in perfectly straight rows 3-1/2 feet apart each way (he says 3 feet apart is all right where garden space is limited). He has tried bamboo and wood stakes but found them too susceptible to rot, and his answer to the problem is stakes made from sections of heavy steel concrete-reinforcing rods. Each one is driven well into the ground before actual planting commences.