November 9, 2004: A fellow cut flower grower
did the irresistible earlier this year, just as spring was
nearing, our energy was plentiful and the sky was certainly
the only limit: “Hey, want to go in on some Karma Dahlias
with me? They’re REAL good sellers and there’s
a sampler special that’s priced right. I’ll order.”
My flower partner, Linda Essert-Kuchar, and I tied for the
quickest response time. “Sure” was out of our
mouths quicker than our brains could throw in those hitches
-- like where we would plant them and what the heck did we
have to do to grow these, dare I say, moneymakers. It was
April. The dahlias would arrive in June. We had plenty of
time to work out those little details.
Okay. So the space we allotted wasn’t nearly enough.
But as luck would have it, my son had just pulled up some
veggie crop remains and tilled the ground in between the high
tunnel and hoophouse. We had a bed in the high tunnel cleared,
too. Voila. Linda and I followed Gloeckner’s and our
friend Paul’s planting instructions, set up support
netting and in they went.
The spontaneous move lead to one of our best flower successes
this year. The Karma Dahlias drew rave reviews from farmers’
market customers, florists and farm visitors. Once the flowers
started coming in late August, they kept right on coming through
September and into mid-October. We covered the outside beds
with Reemay once as frost threatened. They’re still
coming. The row planted inside the tunnel is tall and vibrant.
My husband, George, and I took a quick hop to Maine a week
ago to visit family, and stopped in on grower Matt Gerald
in Bar Harbor. “Karmas -- I like them all,” he
said, showing us through his high tunnels with rows of tall,
healthy plants. “I pinch at four nodes and they never
More testimonials to Karmas ensued at Dave Dowling's Farmhouse
Flowers and Plants October 14th grower workshop in Brookeville,
MD. He plants the dahlias in early June in high tunnels and
expects to harvest them through -- that’s through
The Karma Story
So what are Karma Dahlias? The Karma Dahlia Series was developed
by brothers Adrian and Case Verwer, who have been growing
and breeding dahlias since 1964, according to company literature.
They weren’t happy with the commercial dahlia selection
so they started their own breeding program. They wanted healthy
varieties that are attractive, have a long flowering period
and keep well. They reached their goal, the story continues,
with the Karma Dahlia, which has a vase life of 8 to 10 days.
Unlike more familiar dahlias, which come as tubers that must
be dug, Karmas are a line of vegetatively propagated dahlia,
and come as cuttings that are virus-indexed and from a certified
clean mother stock program. They’re only available from
Bosgraaf Greenhouses in Hudsonville, MI, through Gloeckner
The Karmas are a patented series and cannot be propagated.
They’re available as an unpinched 72 cell liner and
there is a minimum order.
Kelly Meringolo, cut flower product manager for Gloeckner,
said they will again offer a sample package for first time
users for the coming year -- 4 trays with 288 plants -- and
the regular order program minimum is again 6 trays of 72 or
432 total plants. (So think “sharing.”)
Kelly said the same varieties as last year will be available,
including: Karma Amanda, a rose with cream petal base; Karma
Bon Bini, red tip with yellow center; Karma Corona, golden
apricot; Karma Lagoon, hot pink; Karma Naomi, dark red; Karma
Sangria, pink with yellow petal base; Karma Serena, white;
Karma Thalia, fuchsia; and Karma Ventura, bright yellow. As
of this week, they were still working on getting a new pink
Favorites seem to be a simple matter of taste. We, and our
customers, especially liked the Sangria. I liked the white
for bouquet filler, but flower partner Linda doesn’t
like anything white. She prefered the Sangria and Bon Bini.
Dave Dowling also likes Sangria, and Naomi, but didn’t
go for Amanda or the shorter varieties.
• Plant in a well drained soil--not too rich but
not a heavy or clay-based soil.
• Plants need at least 14 hours of light, and need
to be planted so as to avoid frost damage. Gloeckner recommends
the following planting period, as a general rule: Heated
greenhouse, year round, providing extra
lighting when needed to achieve 14 plus hours day length;
April/May onward; Outdoors,
when danger of frost has ended. (Planting in early to mid
June in the north helps get you through the sparser late
• Space plants one per square foot to 1.5 square
feet in beds. For single row, allow 18 to 24 inches between
• Use support netting! Some growers use two or three
layers. We used one and did well, adding a row of twine
around the top ends in some areas. Some growers have found
problems with tangling upon harvest with more layers.
• Pinch at 3 sets of leaves. A second pinch can be
done, Gloeckner says, when breaks are long enough to pinch,
leaving one set of leaves after the second pinch -- which
is done usually 2 to 3 weeks after the initial pinch. The
second pinch greatly increases yield. Flowering generally
occurs about 9 weeks after the last pinch.
• Keep soil moist but not soggy. Water more frequently
when plants start putting on a lot of foliage. (We use drip
• To keep disease and pests at bay, check for snails/slugs,
aphids, thrips etc. (We didn’t have a problem, but
would have used an OMRI-approved spray or beneficial insects
like ladybugs had aphids become a problem in the greenhouse).
We use drip irrigation and ventilation in the greenhouse
to deter powdery mildew, which can become a problem later
• As organic growers, we use compost and fish fertilizer.
It worked well. Gloeckner recommends a high percentage potassium
and phosphorous fertilizer within 30 days of planting, and
keeping pH level between 6 and 7.
• Harvest when the flower is slightly open and showing
color. The first cut should be taken back to a single node.
Remove stragglers at the base of the plant. Always cut above
the node. (We did really well following these rules. The
only problem flower was the yellow, which seemed to pop
open before we could get it cut, many times. Check frequently
and cut when the flowers are at the proper stage, and keep
in a cooler, if you have one). Gloeckner recommends cutting
stems into hot water (about 160 degrees). May be a good
method, but we didn’t bother with it and did fine.
• We mulched with sawdust (can use straw) after the
plants were up and growing a few inches.
Kelly at Gloeckner says just about everybody she talks to
is really excited about the Karmas. “They’re getting
nice wholesale and retail prices.” A common problem
with dahlia tubers has been virus, and Karmas, with the rooted
cuttings, don’t have that problem, she notes.
Lynn Byczynski, editor of Growing for Market (www.growingformarket.com)
and author of The Flower Farmer, says she had problems with
grasshoppers on her Karma Dahlias in Kansas, and probably
won’t try them again.
Another grower in Doylestown, PA, had problems with Japanese
beetles. What to do? Dave Dowling says he didn’t see
Japanese beetles do as much damage in the high tunnel as in
the field. In fact, he said Japanese beetles don’t seem
to like to go into the high tunnels, for some reason.
Matt Gerald said he only had a little thrip problem with
the flowers in his high tunnel, and got good results with
We had a little powdery mildew slip over to the Karmas from
the zinnia, but we’re keeping the problem under control
with good ventilation and preventative milk spray (1 part
whole milk to 9 parts water). Other than that, we’ve
seen very little problems with the Karmas.
The best testimonial probably comes from our daughter Ruthie,
who’s getting married next August: “Oh, I want
those (Sangria) for my wedding bouquet!”