growing Dahlias

Learning with each other on how to grow dahlias

About Eric Anderson

Eric has been growing and showing dahlias for over 30 years. His dahlias have won every award that can be given by the American Dahlia Society .

Here is a article on general information on how to grow dahlias.

“Growing dahlias with Kitsap County Dahlia Society it,”

Dahlia News From Eric

Let the planting begin! This year we were blessed with seasonal weather and perfect planting temperatures of 60s during the day and high 40s at night. Then high 80s, go figure! The normal planting period is from May 1st to June 1st, with soil temperatures around 50 to 55 degrees. All the of the club gardens have been planted.

I really enjoyed planting my garden again this this year, moving all varieties to new locations. This year I had a two dozen new varieties, seedlings from 2023, and lots of cuttings to plant. I plant either six tubers of each variety, six cutting plants, or a combination. This year I was able to fit everything in the yard, as well as plant my daughter-in-law’s garden to help stock up my inventory of favorite varieties. All of the cutting plants are showing signs of new growth with extra warm temperatures.

A good rule of thumb is not to water until new shoots emerge. Watering at the time of planting could possibly cause new tubers to rot! The tuberous roots we have planted tolerate dry soil much better than wet. Unless your soil is extremely dry, and the spring weather is very warm, you should not water at planting time. Fortunately, we had some rain to aid tubers to start growing. I installed my drip system once the tubers were all planted, a quick water source if dry weather continues. An important note, growers must be patient when plants begin to emerge. DO NOT fall victim to digging around the soil breaking off tender new shoots.

Cultivating your garden will be important later in the month as our friends, the weeds, begin to appear. Weeds steal water and nutrients needed by your dahlias. Shallow cultivating at this time gets rid of the weeds before they can get established. Cultivation also keeps the soil from compacting to assure rain will drain easily. However, by the time plants are a foot tall, cultivating care must be taken not to disturb the shallow feeder roots of the dahlia.

If you have grown seedlings and/or cuttings for your garden, you can plant once acclimated to the outdoors. Growers will break off two sets of leaves and plant the cuttings a little deeper (like a tomato plant). By doing this you may get some tuber production from the cutting plants. Give some half strength liquid fertilizer to encourage new root growth. If the sun is intense in your garden, you may want to shade the new plants. Cuttings must be well watered to help get established and thrive.

How come my dahlias are not coming up yet? It has been over a month. The number one enemy for our young dahlia shoots are slugs and snails! I begin placing slug control after the first week of planting because some of my tubers had exceptionally long shoots and will soon pop out of the ground. If you planted seedlings or cutting plants, protection is a must. Cory’s Slug Bait and Sluggo Plus are excellent baits for successful slug and snail control as well as physical removal (spearing, smashing, ducks), traps using cheap beer, and barriers (copper wire). Other pests that could be munching include earwigs, brown stink bugs (there seems to be increased population), root weevils and aphids. If you don’t know what’s eating your plants, go out into the garden with a flashlight. Your local agricultural extension office or Master Gardener program will have more information on how to deal with these issues using integrated pest management.

A special shout out to all our KCDS members who participated in the planting of our four club gardens! These special gardens, when in full bloom, draw hundreds of visitors each summer. Family and friends take pictures of their favorite blooms and make wish lists for our tuber sales. Our gardens have made the dahlia one of the most popular summer flowers.

It’s mid-April and planting time is getting close! The next 10 days of weather projections are not promising with no sign of warming temperatures conducive to warming soils. Our tubers, however, are waking up and are showing signs it’s time to plant. Spring is busting out all over, but conditions aren’t quite ready to welcome the new beginnings for the life of the dahlia.

The Pacific Northwest has many microclimates that will determine when you can plant your tubers. My yard, even with full sun exposure, tends to be a little cooler than someone who may live closer to sea level. Although temperatures are warming up, nighttime temperatures are still very cool. For most of us west of the Cascades, the first week of May is the perfect time. For those of you living in a cooler area you may have to wait until June. The key to successful planting is the right soil temperature of 55 degrees!

In the meantime, for those of you who need to plant something, start your tubers in pots or trays. In the past I have taken tubers from storage and placed them in trays covered with wet shavings. The tuber eyes start to pop and roots begin to emerge. You can also start some of your larger varieties in pots. Then transplant when the PLANT has three sets of leaves. I take lots of cuttings and plant the tubers and cutting plants at the same time. If the soil temperature is right, I will see tuber sprouts emerging and the cutting plants start growing. If the weather is wet and cool, the tuber and cutting plant will just sit there until the soil temperature is right.

Now that you’re ready to plant, there are some basic guidelines to follow. Many new growers ask me how far apart they should plant their tubers. For me, I always plant 24 inches apart. For the giant varieties, I would maybe space up to 36 inches. For the smaller varieties, 18 inches will work. Proper spacing gives you room to groom and cut your blooms.

Drive support stakes into the ground for the taller varieties or use tomato cages for the smaller dahlias. Dig a hole 5-6 inches deep. Before planting the tuber, it is time to add some fertilizers and mix thoroughly in the hole. Over the years I have created a mixture of 2 to 3 TBLS of 10-20-20 fertilizer, 1 TBLS bone meal and 1 TBLS Epson salts placed in each hole. Everyone has special additives they like as well. These might include alfalfa meal, kelp meal, compost, and other stuff. Once mixed, place the tuber horizontally with the eye pointing up, two inches from the stake. Cover with 2 inches of soil. Shallow planting like this will allow moisture and the heat from the sun to help the tuber start to grow. As the plants grow taller, you can fill in the remaining 3 to 4 inches of soil. Good luck planting, but be patient for the right planting conditions!

There is still time to score some tubers at the KCDS’s online tuber sale, raffle, and club plant sale. The newsletter will have the details.

Spring ahead everyone! Days are getting longer and our meeting this month will welcome the first day of spring! We all got a dose of spring weather this past weekend and hopefully seasonal temperatures will continue. My pot tubers are producing lots of new shoots for cuttings. I also have pepper seeds starting to sprout and will start tomato seeds in a few weeks! My little 8×10 greenhouse will soon be maxed out with all sorts of plants.

March is garden preparation time. Dahlias require 6 to 7 hours of direct sunlight for optimal results, but will do fairly well with a minimum of 3 to 4 hours. However, blooms and plant health may be affected with lower amounts of light. Plant in an area where plants will have good circulation of air for healthy growth and to prevent mildew. Avoid planting near trees and shrubs that could rob your dahlias of necessary moisture and nutrients. I have one spot in my garden that a tree loves sending roots to my well-watered and fertilized dahlias.

How did your dahlias grow last season? Were the plants healthy with lots of beautiful blooms, or stunted, with unhealthy leaves and few blooms? It’s all about the soil! In the Pacific Northwest the soil tends to become more acidic after a winter of lots of rain. Dahlias grow best when the soil pH has a neutral reading of 7.0. Soil pH between 6.5 and 7.0 ensures that your dahlias will efficiently absorb the nutrients needed for healthy plants and beautiful blooms.

If your garden was disappointing, you may consider getting your soil tested. You can purchase inexpensive soil test kits from Lowes, Home Depot, Amazon, or local garden centers. For more extensive testing you can try Twiss Analytical Laboratories in Poulsbo (360-779-5141). The cost of the test is $48. You get test results, but Twiss makes no soil recommendations.

Another testing company is Northwest Agricultural Consultants ( Soil tests start at $35. I used Simply Soil Testing ( this year. I had never tested my soil before and was pleasantly surprised to find out I only need to add nitrogen to my garden this year! You can also try this link that has a wealth of information and recommendations: Contact your Master Gardeners for soil testing centers in your locale.

Good draining soil is essential for growing dahlias. I am blessed with good draining sandy loam soil that I amend with organic material each year. However, this year’s soil test revealed high levels of organic matter so I won’t be adding any this year. Tubers do not like to sit in wet throughout the growing season. Clay-type soils tend to retain moisture longer, but can be improved by adding organic materials to break up the clay. Some growers will construct raised beds to avoid this problem by bringing in some good garden soil to raise prize winning dahlias. Great job by all of the club members who constructed the new raised beds at Port Gamble!

For those of you who planted a cover crop last fall, now is the time to chop it down and spade or rototill it. Add fertilizer at this time to help feed the soil organisms that break down the nutrient rich organic material. If you did not grow a cover crop, now is the time to add organic material such as leaf mold, compost, or manure. Check the soils pH and add lime if needed. If you add lime now, make sure that it is a quick release lime to get the full benefit of improving the acidy. All materials should be incorporated at least one month before planting to give time to decompose.

Many of the dahlia clubs will be hosting their annual tubers sales either live or online this year. If you haven’t had a chance to complete your wish list, you will have a chance to get some of the most popular and newest varieties of dahlias at attractive prices. The KCDS Annual tuber sale will again be online for members and for the public at the end of April. Check out our newsletter or go to  for more information. You can also check out the Federation of Northwest Dahlia Growers web page,, and click on the club links for dates of their dahlia tuber sales.

Excitement is growing! Come check out this month’s KCDS club meeting and learn about growing dahlias from seed March 21, 2024.

It’s time to wake up from hibernation and start preparing for the 2024 dahlia season.  Although we are 2 to 3 months from planting, there are several things the dahlia hobbyist can do to prepare. February and a dry winter should give us some nice days to clean raised beds, retaining walls and fences before weeds and grasses get established. It will make the weeding easier come spring.  This will help eliminate some of the places insects have laid eggs.  It’s not to early to lay slug bait out to protect the new growth of your perennials. Sluggo is now available at Costco for a good price! It’s also a good time to repair, replace and/or sharpen your favorite garden tools, sharpen pruners and scissors, and tune up the rototiller! 

As we prepare for the new gardening season, we should also look at getting our body ready for all the physical tasks ahead of us.  If you have been lying around, drinking coffee, ordering tubers, and reading the latest greatest how to articles on growing dahlias, it’s time to get off your duff and exercise!  Walking is a good start.  I recently Googled “exercises for gardeners” and found all sorts of different programs to prepare for Spring. offered these 5 simple stretches that address the legs, back and shoulders. Check out this link or look for other exercises. 

February is the time to wake up any of the dahlia tubers you may want to take cuttings from.  Taking a cutting is a common practice to increase the quantity of stock for dahlias that may not make lots of tubers, or with new, especially expensive tubers.  Successful cuttings can make a $20 to $30 new introduction more tolerable.  If you get 4 to 6 cuttings now the price is $4 to $5!   Tubers and pot tubers are planted in a good potting soil and grown in temperatures around 68⁰ to 70⁰s with sufficient light. In my greenhouse I have some on a heat mat that regulate the temperature for ideal growing conditions.  You can also grow your tubers indoors using a grow light or bright window.  The grow light will prevent the new shoots from getting too leggy.  

In about 3 weeks new shoots will be close to harvesting. Once a shoot has two sets of leaves.  With a sharp knife carefully cut about 1/8” from the tuber. Place the cutting in water over night to allow the cutting to become fully hydrated.  Dave and Leona Smith shared this tip and it will improve cutting success rate survival!  Remove the first pair of leaves and place the cutting in quality potting soil.  I use a propagation mix that drains well and keeps tender young shoots moist. Sterilize your knife after taking each cutting with a bleach solution to prevent spread of virus.  In about 3 weeks you should notice the cutting with new growth.  This is a very abbreviated explanation.  If you purchased the new Dahlias – A Monthly Guide published by the Puget Sound Dahlia Association, Appendix A has excellent information on taking cuttings.   

This month’s KCDS meeting will feature presentations on taking cuttings, planting dahlia seeds, and pot tubers. 

Happy New Year to all my dahlia friends! It’s time again to prepare for the next chapter in the “Life of the Dahlia,” the search for dahlia tubers on your wish lists. I’m sure many of you have already purchased your tubers from the commercial growers as soon as you got word their website was opened. Over the last couple of years, the demand for tubers has really increased with many varieties selling out early, so you’d better get busy and shop.

The American Dahlia Society publications are also a resource for tuber purchase ideas. All of the show reports for 2023 can be found on the ADS website. The show reports highlight potential best in show winners that you may want to purchase. The name of the winner is listed, and you can then contact them using the Federation of Northwest Dahlia Growers Show Book and/or the ADS Classification Handbook. The ADS December Bulletin also shows Trial Garden and Seedling Bench results to help identify potential future show flowers.

Here is a great link,, that allows you to search for dahlias alphabetically. Once you click on the dahlia name, this link lists the growers who carry the tubers! Use our website for other links. Other supplier sources can be found using this link, and in the Puget Sound Dahlia Association annual publication, Dahlias of Today, and the American Dahlia Association December Quarterly Bulletin.

This month’s meeting will feature a presentation on the new 2024 dahlia introductions. President Paul Kusche will review each flower and provide a printed list with descriptions and grower contact information. New introductions can be pricey. Taking cuttings from a tuber can make the price more tolerable and create two or more plants. Although you can take cuttings from a tuber look for growers who sell pot tubers. These mini plants send up lots of new shoots for lots of cuttings. KCDS will discuss taking cuttings in February.

One of the benefits of your membership to the Kitsap County Dahlia Society is the ability to network with other members to find, trade and/or purchase tubers on your wish list. Some of our members have inventory lists of available tubers that can be shared upon request. Our next general meeting will be a great opportunity to network and seek out those lists.

Late January or early February is a great time to perform a quality check on your dahlia tubers. This is a must. Look at each bag, box, or container of stored tubers and check for excess moisture and tuber rot. Early detection and removal of rotten tubers will prevent further loss of stock. If you’ve lost a few of your favorite dahlias, checking now will give you time to order new tubers.

It’s always good to have a good layout plan for your garden, especially when growing height is

important. I have a flower bed that I can grow dahlia plants that grow over 5 feet in the back row, 3 ½ to 4 feet in the middle row, and 2 to 3 feet in the front row. Most commercial growers will include plant height. A good plan will allow you to determine how many tubers you can plant, while allowing for proper spacing, and determine if you need to order more! Your plan should include a pathway entrance(s) and water source.

KCDS is starting to plan our display gardens for 2022 now. We want you input on flowers you would like to see planted this year. I’ve given everyone lots of options to help you complete your wish lists. Don’t delay ordering! Several varieties are selling out!!

Where has the year gone? By now most everyone has dug, divided, and put their dahlia tubers to bed. If you are like me, after a very rewarding dahlia show season, Janet and I are ready for a break! The only thing left for me is finalizing my inventory list for 2023 and maybe a little garden cleanup.

Now that everything is out of the ground, December is a good time to check the condition of all your support stakes. Some stakes may only need cleaning, shortening or they made need thrown out altogether! You may also choose to eliminate wooden stakes and switch to all metal. This is also a good time to evaluate plant labels and refresh or replace those that are broken or hard to read.

During the break from garden tasks, for those dahlia hobbyists who do exhibits, now is a good time to take inventory on staging materials such as cans, baskets, Oasis, support sticks and any boxes used for transport. All containers, whether plastic or metal should be emptied and cleaned prior to storage for the winter. Look closely at any of the metal containers for rust and pinholes. The cans should either be repaired and painted or tossed.

For those of your dahlias nuts that follow dahlia growers or belong to Facebook group pages or commercial web sites, many are putting in orders to secure special tubers from their wish lists. You can search for Facebook dahlia groups simply by doing a search in the group section. Some commercial growers like Swan Island and Lobaugh’s Dahlias are opening websites or sending catalogs in the mail. There are two very helpful websites you can use to find dahlias on your wish list. Dahlia Addict ( provides an alphabetical by dahlia name search engine list and lists suppliers who carry each dahlia. The Colorado Dahlia Society has a list of all dahlia suppliers:

Next thing you know, the “life of the dahlia” will start all over again. It all starts in January with quality checks of all your tubers. Next, KCDS will present the New 2023 introductions from the ADS and many of you will be placing orders from your wish lists. Come and join the dahlia club meetings next year and learn from the experts how to  grow great dahlias for sharing and exhibition. Enjoy this well earn break.

Happy Holidays

It’s November and by now most everyone is involved in some aspect in the final journey in the life of the dahlia, The Great Divide!  The weather has been exceptional for processing our precious tubers, with mild temperatures and a little rain.  If you haven’t started yet cut down your plants and start digging and dividing tubers right away. This year all the club gardens were cut down, dug, and divided on different weekends.  Tubers were divided, dried, and stored quickly to try to eliminate tubers from drying out. All club tubers were put into storage by November 9th.  A Big thanks to all club members on a successful harvest.

            For those of you still harvesting I can offer some suggestions. Some dahlia hobbyists leave the plants in the ground over the winter, with a layer of mulch, and will either let the tubers grow for an early start in spring or divide the tubers and replant.  Where I live, I need to dig each year, or my tubers will freeze.  The second method some guidebooks recommend is digging and storing tubers clumps whole, then divide the clumps in the spring.  This works great if you have storage that has some climate control that prevents the clumps from dehydrating.

            Most dahlia growers in the Pacific Northwest divide their dahlia clumps in the fall.  I’ve been dividing and storing tubers for over 30 years and have changed techniques over the years.  I used to use a sharp knife (stitches) to perform the dividing task but now only use a scissor.  I used to wait a week or two before digging and dividing, but now start dividing once dahlia stalks are cut down.  The tuber “eye” is visible when using this technique.  To start dividing, first locate a tuber with a visible eye.  Take you cutting tool and make a pie-shaped cut on each side of the tuber into the stalk (crown).  Repeat until all the tubers have been removed.  Not all dahlia clumps are simple to divide and may require cutting the clump in half or quarters to expose the eye of the new tuber.  I will frequently leave two or three tubers together to store and divide in the spring when additional eyes will show. 

            Be selective with the tubers you keep.  Make sure the tubers are clean, firm, clear of disease, the neck of the tuber is not broken, and excess stalk is removed around the eye that may rot in storage.  To assure each tuber has the right name, use an indelible pencil or Sharpie to write the name or an inventory number.  Some growers treat tubers with fungicide (solution or sulfur dust) or a solution of bleach (1/4 cup bleach to 3 gallons of water). Treating the cut tuber may reduce the chance of rot or mildew during storage. I used to soak all our tubers in bleach but over time we found there was no real difference with tubers lost in storage. Another option for treating tuber with a natural fungicide cinnamon prior to storage.  I have found that a properly trimmed, clean, completely dry tuber will store best without all the extra preventative steps. 

            Although many of you have already put your tubers to bed, here are some tips for successful storage.  Closely monitor the drying process.  You want completely dry tubers and avoid shriveling and softening.  There are several ways to store tubers.  Tubers can be placed in plastic pots, on screens, newspaper, or paper towels to air dry. A wet tuber may rot in storage and a shriveled tuber may not grow. Drying is the most critical part in assuring tuber survival through winter.

            Many growers use wood shavings, peat moss or vermiculite.  Tubers are placed in plastic bags with equal amounts of storage medium, labeled, then place in tote boxes or Styrofoam boxes.  Another method is to wrap tubers in plastic wrap.  Place completely dry tuber on plastic wrap, wrap tightly, add another, wrap tightly, add another and so forth.  I have never used this method, but many growers prefer it!  Store in an unheated basement, garage or root cellar with a constant temperature in the 40-degree range.

The changing colors, shorter days and rain are moving us into fall as we approach the preparation of harvesting our tubers. Mild temperatures have extended blooming, and have given us the chance to enjoy late blooming plants. Our garden looked really messy, after returning from a two-week vacation, with many blooms broken from rain and wind. We still managed to cut several buckets prior to the start of tuber harvest. One of the questions I’m frequently asked by many novice growers and the public at the post office is, “do I need to dig my dahlias every year?” I have three different answers to new growers:

1. If you have soil that drains well and don’t experience cold temperatures, you can leave the tubers in the ground. Make sure you apply some insulation over the tuber by covering it with mulch of leaves. Clumps can remain in the ground for 2 of 3 years.

2.If your garden area has a colder climate (like my garden) then digging, dividing, and storing will be required to save your tubers. If you exhibit dahlias, you should dig tubers yearly for quality blooms.

3. If you don’t want to bother with the work, buy tubers from KCDS at our annual tuber sale next April!By now you should have walked through your dahlia patch and labeled all the plants you want to save with the correct name, disposed of poor performing/diseased plants, and identified quality plants to donate to our tuber sale for next year. Next, gather your supplies including storage medium, buckets or pots, cutting tools, plastic bags and marking pencils or Sharpies .Storage mediums such as cedar shavings can be purchased at Farmland or Tractor Supply in Silverdale. Vermiculite can be purchased at Home Depot, Lowe’s, Valley Nursery or online through Amazon. Coarse vermiculite is the preferred size medium. Once you start digging and dividing you will be too busy so get prepared. Next step will be cutting dahlia plants down–usually 6” to 8” above the ground. You can start cutting plants down any time in October. You don’t have to wait for frost to start harvesting tubers. It’s best to get started before the soil gets too saturated with rain. Once the plants are cut down give the tuber clumps a week before digging. This wait will give the clumps time for eyes to become more visible as plants try to send up new shoots for the missing stalks. Once I cut down my plants I immediately start dividing because I have lots of plants to harvest. Remove stakes, drip irrigation or soaker hoses, netting and attach the labels or tags to the cut stalks. You don’t want to mix up the dahlia varieties you worked so hard to grow. Now it’s time to dig! Sharp shovels and pitchforks work very well for digging each clump. I use a 22” wide pitchfork that gives plenty of support when prying out the clump from the ground. Give the plant a littles space, maybe 10” to 12” from the stalk, to start digging. A common mistake for first time diggers is step-ping on the shovel or pitchfork too close to the clump. I have cut off or pushed my pitchfork through many a good tuber. Dig a circle around the stalk, then lift the clump gently from the ground. Transfer labels to the dahlia stalks early so you don’t end up with no-name tubers. Once the clumps are dug it’s time to remove soil, first by gently tapping around the stalk, then by gently spraying with water using a nozzle. You want to avoid high water pressure or brushing soil from the tuber. The skin is quite soft and can easily be damaged. Trim the small roots from the ends of the tuber. Tubers should be divided no later than 2 or 3 days later to avoid shriveling. If you can’t get to all the clumps, leave dirt around the clump until you can process that clump .It’s best to come up with a game plan of how many you will dig, wash, and start the dividing process. Once divided, labeled, and dried, transfer into storage media for a long winter’s nap!

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The question of digging dahlias comes up often in discussion with new and even current dahlia growers. It is often a good debate and it really depends on the grower what answer you will get. Unfortunately there is not one answer. Let’s look at some interesting bits of information:

1) Dahlias are not frost tolerant annuals.

 2) The roots (or tubers) of a dahlia plant are actually swollen pockets of carbohydrates in the root structure.

3) Carbohydrates convert to sugars for the plant just like potatoes convert to sugar when consumed by humans.

 4) The plant creates the tubers so it has energy for regeneration.

So ask yourself a couple of questions (your answers probably have a lot of “depends on” attached to them): Under what conditions would I leave my potatoes in the ground? What is the best storage method for potatoes?

 Here are options that I hear from other dahlia growers.

 1) I just leave mine in the ground year after year because it is too much work to dig.

 2) I have a cut flower business so I just leave mine in the ground and I get lots of stalks and flowers.

3) I dig mine up every year but sometimes I just store the clump.

 4) I leave mine in the ground and dig them in the spring.

 5) I leave mine in the ground and dig the ones up that I want to replace in the spring.

 6) I don’t have a way to store them so I just leave them in the ground and hope they come back.

 7) I dig mine every 3 years in the fall so the clumps don’t get out of control.

 So, let’s break this down to three simple options:

Option 1) Dig in the Fall if:

Your ground will have a chance of freezing.

You have a storage system and can manage 38-40 degree temperature storage.

Your ground gets so wet in the winter that you will drown and rot your roots.

You want to preserve the quality of your flowers.

You want to have the best show quality flowers.

If you are on new ground and will need to work the soil for the next season.

You have the energy and don’t mind working in the cold outside (Ha Ha Ha Ha).

You are selling tubers and you need to know what your inventory is for the market.

Option 2) Dig in the Spring if:

You want to replace a few and you leave them in most of the time anyway.

You don’t have any other storage method.

Your soil has outstanding drainage.

You have the leaves, grass or compost to cover them with 6” of material.

You want to go to Arizona for the winter and not mess with your tubers.

Option 3) Leave them in the ground if:

 Your ground has good drainage.

You do not have time to dig them this fall.

You have enough leaves, grass, or compost to cover them with 6” of material.

In the end it comes down to this: The two biggest killers of dahlia tuber in the ground are 1) freeze conditions and 2) too much winter moisture. No matter what, please dig, clean, trim and replant your tubers at least every 3 years.

Please don’t plant if your growing bed looks like the above picture otherwise you will be visiting the Kitsap Dahlia Society Tuber Sales every year for replacements. We will appreciate the $$$ though.

We would rather that you have healthy plump tubers to give back to KCDS.

Article and photos compliments of Paul Kusche – Papa Paul’s Dahlia Farm, Olalla, Washington



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