Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Storing Dahlias for Winter

Not only did my tomato plants dislike our recent frost, the dahlias took it very badly as well.  In weeks past they looked like this

And after the frost they turned to this

As you can see the plants blackened and the flowers simply nodded their heads and gave up.

Dahlia's are native to Mexico, a much warmer place than Canada.  A dahlia's root system is made up of tubers which can survive in warmer climates but here in the north we must dig them up each fall after the first killing frost and take them indoors for safekeeping.  Some people regard this as too much work but I think it's rather handy.  Each year I can move them wherever I need to fill some space or add a jolt of colour.

So in addition to cleaning out vegetable beds I also dug up my dahlia tubers this past weekend.  First I cut back the plant so the stems were only a few inches long.

Then I dug the roots out by inserting my shovel into the ground about a foot away from the trunk of the plant and lifting slightly.  I continued to do this in a circle around the plant.  I left a lot of space for the shovel so as not to damage the tubers.  When I had finally loosened a circle around the plant I lifted.   You never know how much the roots have grown over the past season so caution was exercised.

I'd say this particularly root has almost doubled in size since it as planted in spring.

The next step was to hose down the roots and get as much dirt out of the crevices as possible.  By doing this I removed any pests and got a chance to see if any damage had been incurred.  If you take a close look at the photo below you'll notice that one of the tubers on the right hand side has a big hole in it from insect damage.

Once the tubers had been allowed to dry out I was able to trim and clean them up, removing anything that was damaged by insects or my shovel.  Often people divide their tubers at this point, creating more plants.  I've done this in the past and it's quite simple to cut or break apart the root system.  The only catch is to make sure that each tuber has an eye and piece of stem attached.

This year, for the first time, I'm not dividing my tubers and I couldn't figure out a way to remove damaged portions without causing a lot of damage to the rest of the root system.  So I'm letting them be and crossing my fingers it won't cause the plant any undue harm.  

After I cleaned them up as best I could I put them into my new bulb baskets.  I had hoped these new stacking trays would help keep things neater and allow air flow to the roots, thus avoiding any rot.  Unfortunately the tubers turned out to be a bit larger than I anticipated.

oops.  Well the idea is that you want your tubers stored in a cool dry location.  They shouldn't get wet or they'll rot nor too dry or they'll shrivel.  A bed of sawdist or peat is a good option.

If you're interested in dahlias there are many many websites discussing their virtues.  There are societies, breeders and lovers all eagerly talking about growing, displaying, caring and storing your dahlias.  You might want to start at, or Dahlia  And if you're looking for detailed information on digging and dividing dahlia tubers I would check out this link which is extremely helpful.


  1. Great info and very timely!! I've never tried dahlias or glads - both of which I love. You make it sound easy!

  2. It is sad to have to put away "summer". We have only had a few nights with light frost and so I am lucky just yet. Any night now however....

  3. I'm one of those gardeners that has never tried to save Dahlia tubers. But, as Agaard Farms noted, you make it seem so simple that I have to wonder why I never did it. Maybe next season, since I do love dahlia flowers.

  4. Those plants are definitely worth the saving. The tubers look so beautiful and healthy! Wish I had success with dahlias.... I used to "collect" them up in Atlanta, where I left them in-ground, but here in my part of Florida, they don't seem to do well. Or maybe it's just here in my garden, because natives of Mexico usually thrive in this climate.

  5. Those are nice dahlias. Mine are tiny red pompom flowers. I 'm leaving them int he ground this year because I want them to die. I started with one tuber and now i have a bout twenty.

  6. Aagaard Farms - I have memories of my mother growing glads and complaining about what a pain in the neck they were and each year swearing she wouldn't plant them again. I guess if you had large numbers of them to dig up it might get tedious but I just don't find it that much work myself.

    Jennifer - Count yourself lucky! We've had several killing frosts in the last week and hubby even brought up the S- word.

    Debbie - It is simple!! Maybe just start with a couple? They're just so beautiful (geez, look at me pimping out flowers here)

    Floridagirl - I'm surprised you've had trouble with them as I would have thought they'd do great in your area. But then sometimes plants just won't cooperate no matter what you do.

    Melanie - I used to have a number of the small edging variety (possibly the same as you have). I used them like annuals in containers and broke the tubers up each year so I would have more. Thank goodness we moved or I would probably be in your position with more than I could keep.