Designing a flower arrangement
Dahlias are late-season showoffs in the garden and the backbone of gorgeous fall bouquets. That’s why I was so happy to visit with Michael Russo. He’s been a floral designer and organic cut flower grower specializing in dahlias for more than 15 years and has some great tips for working these divas of the garden (and lots of other late-season beauties) into your vases. You can watch him create a striking arrangement that features dahlias in the video above and see the complete list of plants and learn some of his flowering arranging secrets below.
Create a dramatic flower arrangement
It’s important to consider the vase or container as you choose flowers for your fall flower arrangement. Michael will often start with the vessel and then choose the flower colors and shapes he feels suit it best. He thought dignified deep burgundy ‘Jowey Mirella’ and ‘Karma Chocolate’ dahlias fit the classic style stone urn above perfectly. Here's the complete plant list for this fall flower arrangement:
A) Ninebark Physocarpus opulifolius
B) Red leaf hibiscus Hibiscus acetosella ‘Mahogany Splendor’
C) Okra Abelmoschus esculentus ‘Red Burgundy’
D) Perilla Perilla frutescens
E) Dahlia Dahlia ‘Jowey Mirella’
F) Dahlia Dahlia ‘Contrast’
G) Zinnia Zinnia ‘Queen Red Lime’
H) Hydrangea Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’
I) Sunflower Helianthus annuus
J) Amaranth Amaranthus cruentus ‘Hot Biscuits’
K) Dahlia Dahlia ‘Karma Chocolate’
L) Southern magnolia Magnolia grandiflora
M) Purple fountain grass Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’
N) Tomatillo Physalis philadelphica
O) Hops Humulus lupulus
P) Love in a puff Cardiospermum halicacabum
Support your arrangement
A traditional frog, a device used to help arrange flowers, helps keeps the flowers in place. Or you can make your own from chicken wire by bending it into a shape that fits the container’s interior space.
Choose a color scheme
Complementary colors, such as the red-purple and green-yellow in this tall urn, create drama. The strong contrast between colors across from each other on the color wheel is sure to turn heads.
Michael also often uses an analogous color scheme (colors that are next to each other on the color wheel) because it’s so versatile. It has a harmonious feel that works well for almost any style, whether it’s casual or sophisticated.
Use unexpected plants
Don’t forget edibles! Upright okra, draping hops and tomatillo provide interesting shapes and texture to this arrangement.
Add a unique look to your fall flower arrangement by pinching the petals off of sunflowers and rubbing off any stigmas — the immature seeds make a beautiful and long-lasting addition to bouquets.
Balance the design
Asymmetrical designs aren’t equally balanced — one side is usually larger or visually heavier than the other. Designs like this are dynamic and make a great focal point that adds drama wherever you place it. Let vines and long slender blooms, such as purple fountain grass and amaranth, drape over one side to balance out the taller stems opposite. As a rule of thumb the arrangement should be 2 to 3 times the height and width of the container.
How to cut dahlias for bouquets
- The best time to cut dahlias is in the morning before 10 a.m. so plants are well hydrated. Watering the night before can help if rain has been scarce.
- When you’re cutting long stems for arrangements, cut above a pair of leaf nodes that haven’t had the blooms pinched and the dahlia will rebloom.
- Check the back of the bloom when you’re cutting. If it’s starting to curve, it’s too old and won’t last long in the vase.
- Look for dahlias with a flat back to get the most life — usually 5 to 7 days. Put the cut stems in a bucket of water right away to help keep them fresh.
- Dahlias won’t open any further after being cut so choose blooms in a variety of stages to showcase their different shapes.
- If you’re planning to cut a bloom, you can prevent thrips or other insects from damaging it before you cut by placing a fine mesh bag (like the ones that mail-order bulbs come in) loosely over the bud before it opens and tying the bag around the stem. These bags are fine enough to keep insects out and still allow sunlight in.