Frank Lopiccolo stands surrounded by his dahlia plants in his garden Oct. 8.

Frank Lopiccolo stands surrounded by his dahlia plants in his garden Oct. 8.

Photo by Donna Agusti


Troy gardener falls into color with dahlias

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published October 16, 2019

 These pink dahlias bloom in Lopiccolo’s 800-square-foot garden.

These pink dahlias bloom in Lopiccolo’s 800-square-foot garden.

Photo by Donna Agusti

 This yellow bloom is among the 175 dahlia plants in Frank Lopiccolo’s Troy garden.

This yellow bloom is among the 175 dahlia plants in Frank Lopiccolo’s Troy garden.

Photo by Donna Agusti

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TROY — Five years ago, Troy resident and part-time accountant and “farmer” Frank Lopiccolo, 58, saw pictures of dahlias in a magazine and bought five plants.

“I just really liked them,” he said.

Lopiccolo is new to gardening, and the five dahlias he started with didn’t survive to see the next season, so he bought 10 more and joined the Southeastern Michigan Dahlia Society. He learned as much as he could about growing the flowers, which typically begin to bloom in July and remain until the first frost in late October.

The year after that, he began to rip up the lawn in his backyard to grow the flowers.

“I fully lost control,” he said. He now has 175 dahlia plants in his 800-square-foot garden.

“One plant can turn into 10 plants if you correctly store the tubers,” he said.

This is painstaking work.

After the frost, Lopiccolo will dig out the roots, or tubers, of each plant that he wants, rinse them off, cut off all the “hairs” and store the tubers in plastic bags. He stores them in an upstairs bedroom where he keeps a window cracked if the temperature goes over 40 degrees.

He checks them every two or three weeks to ensure they are not rotting.

He starts the tubers indoors in March under a fluorescent light in his basement, and he plants them outdoors in late May. They like full sun. Then the staking, tying, watering, fertilizing, disbudding, disbranching and deadheading begin. He spends 10-15 hours a week in the dahlia garden, up to eight hours a day on warm weekends.

Pest control takes time and money too, Lopiccolo said.

He keeps an accountant-style spreadsheet of the dahlias listing each color, variety, size, any awards and “who wants what.”

Members of the Southeastern Michigan Dahlia Society swap blooms with one another. They meet some months at Telly’s Greenhouse, and they hold a tuber and plant sale there each May. Proceeds from the sale fund group’s awards program.

The mission, according to the society’s website, semds.org, is “promoting and supporting the growing, showing and enjoyment of dahlias in our community.”

The Southeastern Michigan Dahlia Society, with about 91 members, is in its 67th year.

Macomb Township resident Wilfried Burghardt, 74, serves as the vice president of the society. He said he had a rough year with his dahlias.

When he and his wife, Christine, who helps him with the dahlias — which they sell to local stores — returned from a three-week trip to Germany in September to see their son get married, they found that 95% of their 150-160 blooms had succumbed to disease.

“Every year you get a new surprise,” Burghardt said. “It’s not to make you rich. It’s fun, sometimes. The customers love our stuff.”

He said he and his wife spend about 10-12 hours a week tending to the dahlias.

“We started with a couple (plants) because my wife and I liked the flowers,” Burghardt said. “We heard about the society and thought it would be an opportunity to learn.”

Lopiccolo said he’s started six of his nine co-workers at the accounting firm growing dahlias. “I brought in a bouquet every Monday.”

He said he’s hosted viewing parties for the society and his co-workers. “You look at your neighbors’ homes in October,” he said. “They don’t have a lot going on.”

For more information on the Southeastern Michigan Dahlia Society, visit semds.org.

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