Walking back from town this afternoon I could no longer delude myself. Winter, and its short, dark and cold days, really are just around the corner. And then a spot of bright pink caught my eye, a last dahlia, highlighted against my dark green hedge.
I love dahlias. Of course, like every flower, they have their pluses and minuses, but for as long as this garden has existed they’ve elicited oohs and ahs from folks who walk by. Even this summer, with its overabundance of rain and lack of warmth, the dahlias were the highlight of the late summer garden.
One of the best aspects of the plant: dahlias continue blooming until the first frost. And so, while the rest of my flower garden is dormant and readied for winter, the dahlias continue to put forth their flowers. And so, one single task remains: lifting and storing the dahlia tubers for the winter.
If you’re not familiar with growing dahlias, the important thing to remember is that they cannot be left in the ground for the winter in the Larchmont area. And, while you can always buy new tubers each spring, I like to save my favorites and replant them in the spring. They don’t always survive, but that’s part of the challenge for me.
It’s a bit complicated, and I’ve read many conflicting directions. But everyone agrees that you need to wait until about a week after frost kills and blackens the top growth. Then you have to cut the stalk down to about six inches and carefully dig up the tubers with a garden fork, digging about a foot from the stem. Dig a circle around the stem and then pry the plant up from the bottom.
If it’s a hardy plant, you’ll find the clump has many tubers. You can divide them to create new plants, but only those tubers that have an eye will produce a new plant.
And now the hard part: deciding how to store them. Generally, they need to be cleaned of dirt and dried before placing them in a medium — I’ve tried with varying success peat moss, sawdust and vermiculite. I’ve read it’s best to store them upside down, and I’ve read it doesn’t matter. Some suggest using a cardboard box, others a ventilated basket. Then you’ll need to store them somewhere cool – about 40 degrees.
Last summer I must have done something wrong, as only about a half of the tubers survived the winter. Check back next June and I’ll let you know how I fare this winter.
This first appeared on Larchmont Musings, a blog on gardening, composting and happenings in the Village of Larchmont by Emily Grotta.