Arranging Dahlias

Learning and collaborating with each other on creative ways to make arrangements from our flower gardens

About Lise-Ann Jackson

Lise-Ann has been an avid flower and vegetable gardener for the past 25 years.  While she grows a variety of flowers (perennial and annual), she is passionate about dahlias and loves to fill her home with flower arrangements she creates from a large variety of dahlia varieties she grows on her property.

The creation of a gorgeous floral arrangement begins with beautiful flowers.  But to really show off those flowers to best effect, consider selecting a truly unique and eye-catching vessel to play the role of best supporting actor/actress in your arrangement.

I like to scour thrift shops and garage sales for unique and colorful vessels.  This provides me with a low-cost collection of vessels in various shapes, sizes, colors, and styles from which to choose.  While a beautiful vase never disappoints (particularly for more formal occasions), be sure to consider more unusual options for a whimsical touch.

For a tea party or lunch, why not use a teacup or tea pot as your vessel?  This year’s KCDS’s 100th anniversary show will feature teacup arrangements as a judging category, and as an homage to our centennial celebration.

Other unique options for vessels include pitchers, ice buckets, bowls, or soup tureens.  Minimalists might just want to admire the beauty and form of single blooms, in which case I like to group a collection of 5 or 7 (odd numbers are best) of identical bud vases, each with a single eye-catching bloom.  For a fall themed party, why not consider using a hollowed-out pumpkin as your vessel?

The more “open” or wide the top of your vessel, the more likely you’ll need to create support for your flowers.    While floral foam has long been an option, consider re-usable, environmentally friendly options such as floral frogs, balled-up chicken wire, or floral tape laid out in a grid pattern across the top of the vessel.  A strong base of woody greens will offer additional support for your flowers.  With these ideas in mind, you will have created a strong foundation on which to build an eye-catching arrangement.

One of the keys to achieving a flower arrangement that is pleasing to the eye is ensuring a sense of balance.  The height of the arrangement should be at least 1 1/2 times the height of the container.  While the height of the arrangement can be higher than this, it should never be lower.  In other words, if the vase is 10 inches high, the overall arrangement should be about 25-30 inches tall.

Of course, it’s important to keep width in mind too.  Consider the size of the bloom in relation to the vessel.  A dinnerplate dahlia in a 4” wide container will look very unbalanced.

Dahlia lovers know that once our dahlia plants start blooming, we have a constant supply of flowers available to us.  Use this embarrassment of riches to experiment with various vessel shapes, heights and styles.  Garage sales and thrift shops are great sources of vases and other vessels at low cost.  

Making a gorgeous flower arrangement is easy.  Like any good recipe, it starts with the best ingredients.

There are three critical ingredients you will need to make a great arrangement:

  1. A Thriller
  2. Some Filler
  3. A Spiller, or something light and airy.

Start by selecting your “thriller”.  Think of your thriller as the focal flower in your arrangement, then depending on the size of the arrangement, use 3, 5, 7… (odd numbers are best) of that same variety.   Select an eye-catching variety as your “thriller”.   With dahlias you’ll have a tough time choosing!  I like to use a large formal or informal decorative variety or a waterlily – something like Mikayla Miranda – for my thriller.  This will be the star of your arrangement!

Next, you need to add “filler”.  Since there are so many gorgeous forms and sizes of dahlias, you can use more dahlias as your “filler” flowers but choose a different variety (or varieties) that won’t “steal the show” from your Thriller.  I like to use a small ball (e.g. Snoho Sonia coordinates nicely with Mikayla Miranda) or a pretty little white pom variety.  You’ll need several of these filler blooms to fill-in your arrangement.  You can also use other types of flowers (esp. those with a different form, like a spikey snapdragon, veronica, etc), and/or foliage as additional “filler”.  Be creative, herbs such as oregano or mint make unusual (and scented!) filler.

Lastly, you’ll want to ensure your arrangement has “movement to prevent your arrangement from resembling a bunch of soldiers standing at attention. That’s where your “spiller” comes in.  For this you’ll need something light and airy (to contrast with the density of your ball dahlias), and/or something with bendy stems to spill down and over.   Look around your garden and get creative.  I’ve used everything from clematis vine, to ivy, to Queen Anne’s lace, to asparagus fern but there are so many options to choose from!

Serve it all up in a lovely vase or vessel and your recipe is complete! 

Last month’s article outlined the key ingredients in a successful flower arrangement “recipe”. This month we are diving deeper into a discussion of color.

When it comes to color, consider the occasion or the “mood” you are going for with your arrangement and then look to the color wheel for guidance. 

A complementary palette requires that you select colors that are on opposite sides of the color wheel (yellow and purple for example).  This makes for an eye-catching high contrast, and cheerful arrangement, great for a summer party. 

Option 2 is a monochromatic palette.  In this case you would choose three shades which are tones and tints of one base color. This results in a subtle and conservative color combination and a harmonious look, well suited to a more formal occasion like a wedding (or a funeral). 

If you choose a monochromatic color scheme for your bouquet, my recommendation is to vary the dahlia forms within your bouquet.  Using several different dahlia forms creates “texture” and is a great way to surprise and delight those who are new to dahlias.  Dahlia newbies will be amazed to learn that a white anemone dahlia, a small pom like “Small World”, a ball like “Boom Boom White” and a water lily like “Bridezilla” are all part of the dahlia family.

A third option is to put together an analogous-colored arrangement.  In this case you would select three colors that are side by side on the color wheel.  Think of a fall arrangement featuring gold, orange and rust varieties of dahlias for example.  To balance an analogous color scheme, choose one dominant color, and use the others as accents.

Of course, there is beauty in simplicity too.  A straight bunch of a single variety – particularly a striking variety such as Pam Howden — allows for a single variety to be fully appreciated!

While it’s several more months until we have dahlias in blooms, now is a good time of year to reflect on what worked, and what didn’t in 2022.  This month I’m thinking about the challenge of getting the best vase life from my dahlias and how to extend the life of my cut flower arrangements.

Unfortunately, dahlias aren’t a particularly long-lasting flower.  Sadly, their vase life is about 5 days on average.  Only the good die young, I suppose.  Fortunately, there are a few steps we can take to maximize the vase life of our dahlias and ensure the longest lasting cut flower arrangements possible.

First, be sure to cut your dahlias in the early morning, or alternatively, at dusk.  Avoid cutting your dahlias during the heat of the day (and in bright sunshine) when the plants are already under some stress.

Next, be sure to plunge your stems directly into water.  Carry your bucket with you as you go.  No lollygagging or chatting with the neighbor over the fence with cut dahlias in hand – get them into water fast!  Then, move your dahlias to a cool, relatively dark location (your shed, back porch, or garage).  Let them recover from the act of decapitation and drink up some water!

Now, some say that conditioning them in water with a touch of bleach or a splash of vodka will extend their vase life.  I’ve experimented and I saw no difference in vase life from those I placed in plain cool water.   Others will dip the ends in very hot (but not boiling) hot water.  Again, I tried it, and saw no difference, and frankly that seems like too much work.  In my experience, the greatest success came from cutting them early in the morning, placing them directly in water, moving them to my cool shed out of sunlight to sit (condition), for a couple of hours before I arranged them, then keeping them cool at night (placing them outside on the back porch at night, for example).  When it comes time to prepare your arrangement, be sure to remove any leaves below the water line to avoid the accumulation of bacteria (and green slime), caused by the decomposition of the leaves.

Placement of your arrangement within your house will also influence vase life; avoid placing it in a sunny window.  If your house gets warm in the summer months, place it upside your back door or in your garage at night.  In the Fall, avoid placing your arrangement in close proximity to a heat source (e.g. a fireplace or a heat vent) and again avoid sunny windows. 

Finally, I like to re-cut the ends of my stems and replace the water in my arrangement every couple of days.  This helps to avoid the accumulation of bacteria and to slow the inevitable decline!

Here is a presentation done by Emily which is one of our members

“If I can grow it, so can you!”



To come together as a group in the spirit of cooperation, inspiration and collaboration to learn ways to design gorgeous arrangements though events and internet content.


Our Vision is to impact the way gardeners and growers select plants to grow in their gardens that will become the raw material for creating gorgeous arrangements. Bring beauty and joy to those who create the arrangements and to those who receive them.