Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Digging Dahlias and Winter Storage

Glorious dahlias in pumpkin vase mixed with hydrangea, sedum and pumpkin on a stick.
 Dear Dahlias,
 How do I love thee? I couldn't possibly count the number of ways I adore you. I am intoxicated by your beauty and I mourn your absence even before the first frost comes to take you from me for another long New England winter. I love you so much that I will dig each and every one of you out of the ground so you don't rot in our bitter 7-7a garden zone. I'll put up with a stiff back and sore knees believing that for all of my efforts to tuck you away safely in storage there's a chance I'll see you again next summer. That's how much I love thee. 

Growing dahlias isn't hard. They are happy in a container or in the ground as long as they have rich, well draining soil, plenty of sunshine and lots of love. The challenging ( and most labor intensive ) part comes when it's time to dig them up at the end of the season. 

 If you garden in a cold climate you will have to dig your dahlias. There's just no way around it.
 After the first frost the leaves will wilt and turn almost black. No need to rush with the digging them just yet. Give them a couple of more weeks in the earth. Even though the flowers and foliage appear to be dead, the tuber is still growing and putting on new eyes (growth ) for next years blooms. 

I cut all of my dahlias down leaving the tops showing above ground before digging them so I'm sure to get every one. To dig I use my handy garden spade and gently poke around about a foot or so away from where the stem is to be sure not to damage the roots.

 Once they are dug, rinse them off lightly and let them dry on a surface that allows airflow like a screened table or greenhouse work bench with drainage. I used our patio table.

After they are dry, shake off any excess dirt and  remove any untidy roots ( as seen below ) and divide if necessary. Some you just pull apart gently and others you will need to cut.  If you do divide, just make sure you have a visible eye on the tuber. If you're not sure, pack it away until spring. You just might get lucky and you can divide then.

Now is a good time to label your tubers. You can use copper tags with wire, plastic garden markers with twisty ties, or oak leaf tags with permanent marker tied with twine.You can also write directly on the tuber with an indelible pencil or permanent marking pen.

Mine are stored in correlation with the bed they were planted in. I have a master list of the names of each variety that was planted in each bed to refer to come planting time. That's not the most organized fashion to do it, but at least I'll know generally which ones go together next season. 
This year I am storing about 75 tubers so that's not too many to keep track of and store. I'll be expanding to 100 -150 next season. I'm stocking up on Advil now!

 I decided to store them in Rubbermaid bins layered in pine shavings with the lids off and covered with a double layer of landscaping burlap fabric so there's some ventilation. I have them all tucked in for their long winters nap in our unfinished basement. Dahlias prefer to be stored in cooler temps. 35- 50 degrees. Wish us luck! 
Here are two great videos from Swan Island Dahlias on how to Dig Dahlias and Divide them.
I'd love to hear your dahlia storage tips too. Leave me a note if you've had success storing dahlias!

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