Delightful dahlia event draws expert

judysalamacha@gmail.comSeptember 1, 2013 

Dahlias are relatively easy to grow in SLO County and come in a wide variety of colors, sizes and flower forms.

The president of the American Dahlia Society is no stranger to San Luis Obispo County. This weekend, Kevin Larkin has scheduled another visit to participate in Morro Bay’s annual Dahlia Daze on Friday evening and Saturday.

Larkin graduated from Cal Poly, where he met his wife, Karen Zydner. Both were in agriculture studies.

“In the late 1980s, we started growing dahlias as a hobby. We joined the dahlia society to network and learn more,” he said. “We started with a few plants, and then we had thousands, so we started selling and competing at shows like the Morro Bay event. We’ve been coming to Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo for the last four years, working with Joe (Sabol) and the SLO Master Gardener Program.”

Larkin quit his job as a pest-control adviser when the couple’s nursery, Corralitos Gardens in Monterey County, consumed his full attention. They grow more than 230 varieties of dahlias, selling them at the nursery and via catalogue. They are also known for breeding award-winning new dahlia varieties. In 2012, they produced four American Dahlia Society award winners.

They typically breed four to six new breeds annually. Larkin is the author of “Growing Dahlias the Easy Way” and will speak at 1 p.m. Saturday — “… all about dahlias,” he said.

The dahlia is Morro Bay’s city flower. Larkin explained the weather is perfect for growing dahlias — not too hot or cold — allowing for a long growing season.

Although not a drought-tolerant plant that goes dormant in the winter months, it needs little rainfall.

Larkin says the American Dahlia Society is poised to teach more about dahlias and has great information on its website, There are 50,000 to 75,000 species blooming in numerous colors and sizes with multiple applications — cut flowers for bouquets, garden blooming plants and flowering borders.

“The dahlia is fast becoming a top choice for weddings,” said Larkin, whose nursery ships root cuttings, potted plants and cut flowers throughout the U.S. Dahlia Daze’s multi-variety flower show is free. Sponsored by Floral Design Study, it begins with a wine-tasting social at 5 p.m. Friday and meets again at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Morro Bay Community Center.

Besides a dahlia competition, the event includes an art show that pairs flowers with an art piece, craft-making for kids, flower-arranging demonstrations, networking with master gardeners, speakers such as retired Cal Poly agriculture professor Joe Sabol, and the Los Osos Folk Dancers.

For more information, contact the Morro Bay Visitors Center or call 225-1633.

Judy Salamacha’s column is special to The Tribune. Reach her at or 801-1422.

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