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Home Blog FLOWER FOCUS: Growing great Dahlias {part 2}
February 25th 2014

FLOWER FOCUS: Growing great Dahlias {part 2}

Written by
Floret

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In the fall after a few hard frosts, typically early November for us, we start the exhausting process of digging and storing tubers. I know some growers who are able to employ the help of machinery for this process but around here, the whole thing is done by hand, one clump at a time. No one hates it more than me.

digging dahlias Floret
 
Over the years we have tried numerous methods for storing tubers once they are dug but by the end of the season, moral is low, we’re exhausted and everyone just wants to be done for the year so we’ve begun to kind of cheat. Now this is going to HORRIFY the pro’s out there, but here’s exactly what we do.

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After digging up the clumps, we shake off the excess dirt, snuggle them into deep bulb crates and stack them in a 40-50* room in our basement. That’s it. No fuss, no muss and no fancy tricks.

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The soil seems to keep them hydrated enough to avoid shriveling and then in mid-late March when we’ve regained our love for farming once again, we pull out all the crates, hose off the clumps and start the tedious task of dividing.

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Another method which we used that had very a good success rate was the Saran Wrap method. After the tuber clumps were lifted and washed, we dipped them in a 5% bleach solution and then laid them out to dry in our cool garage for a day of two. Once the clumps were dry, they were carefully divided and then each tuber was separately wrapped in a piece of Saran Wrap.

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The wrapped tubers were tucked into plastic bulb crates, stored in the 40-50* room in our basement for the winter and we consistently saw a 95% survivability rate. The few tubers that did rot were safely kept away from the others by the plastic barrier.

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This fall with too many to fit in the basement and no energy to tackle dividing them all up we decided to try a little experiment and left about 1,000 clumps in the field to overwinter. We live in a pretty mild climate (zone 6B) and with a thick layer of mulch (leaves and straw) we felt that it might be enough protection to carry them through if things didn’t get too cold.

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Once the mulch was down we covered the entire patch in weed barrier to help keep them extra insulated and dry. Only time will tell if they made it through but fingers crossed since our winter was a relatively warm one.

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Now, to divide tuber clumps you’ll need some sharp pruners, an exacto knife (we prefer the pen type with the thin angels blade) and a heavy duty pair of loppers. Begin by splitting the clump in half with either loppers or sharp pruners which will leave you with smaller, more workable pieces.

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The halved clumps are then divided again into individual tubers from there. In order to have a viable tuber, it is essential that the eye and neck are left unharmed. If you want a great little dividing primer plus how to spot the eyes, check out the Snohomish County Dahlia Society page.

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We like to leave two or three tubers connected together (if we have plenty of that variety) because it seems to help the main neck stay more sturdy. Does that make sense? You can see it pictured above.

With a little practice and patience, it gets pretty easy to spot eyes and separate tubers with accuracy and speed.

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Getting your mother stock of dahlias started is often a bit of a financial investment, but once you have a base, each tuber will produce 5-20 more tubers by seasons end. You’ll be swimming in a sea of both flowers and excess tubers in no time!

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Favorite sources (USA):

Sunny Meadow Flower Farm is offering some of their extra dahlias for sale this year including the coveted Cafe au Lait’s. This variety is hard to find so you better snag them while you’ve got the chance! Owner’s Gretel and Steve suffered a major loss last month when their newly finished greenhouse was destroyed by a snow storm. The sale of their tubers will go towards helping cover the cost of replacing the greenhouse. You can see more of the story over at their Indiegogo campaign HERE.

K Connell Dahlias is a great source for very reasonably priced tubers and they have a list of 66 varieties that are available in bulk (5/$10). A total steal! Connell’s has wonderful customer service, a nice variety selection and top quality tubers.

Accent Dahlias here in WA is one of my most treasured sources for hard to find varieties as well as tried and true favorites. Owner Ken Greenway is a wealth of knowledge who generously shares information with anyone asking! I have visited the display garden at Accent nearly every year since discovering it and love working with Ken. His, selection, tubers and service are outstanding! Currently they do not offer wholesale pricing.

Swan Island Dahlias in Canby OR offers one of the largest variety selections in the country. In addition to their retail shop, they offer wholesale pricing for growers who spend over $250 on their initial order; reoccurring orders within the same season only require a $100 min to qualify. Varieties must be purchased in lots of 10 for the discount and variety selection is limited.

If you have sources in Canada the UK, AU or NZ that you love, please leave their info in the comments section below!

41 Comments

  1. Lorelie on

    For sources of dahlias in Australia try Country Dahlias, Winkie Dahlias, the Portland Dahlia Society or Red Earth Bulbs. Tesselaar, VDQ and Garden Express also offer limited varieties each season. 😀

    Reply
  2. Tina G on

    Just want to thank you for this post. I was inspired by your book and am growing dahlias in a cut flower garden this summer (2017) for the very first time. Your blog is very inspiring and appreciated. I’m a bit nervous about our dahlias, as I got interested in them after you were sold out of tubers. I had to buy tiny tubers at local big box stores and their growth is a bit inconsistent in our zone 6A. I have followed all your tips and we put a lot of effort in the soil and bed prep, along with drip irrigation. I am keeping my fingers crossed that we have some lovely flowers by the end of summer. :-)

    Reply
  3. Alexandra Ward on

    I know this is an old post but guessing it will get plenty of reading when your new book comes out! I’m in the UK and have been researching which of your amazing dahlia tubers are available here. Not all are unfortunately: Crichton Honey, Bracken Rose for example (unless they are under another name but I can’t find them). The National Dahlia Collection, EuroDahlia and Rose Cottage Plants are all excellent sites. Oh and Alloway Candy is called Paradise City here!

    Reply
  4. Stephanie on

    Erin, I just wanted to say thanks for being such an inspiring and thoughtful writer. I am dipping my toe into the (backyard) farmer-florist world and I can’t stop poring over your blog. I appreciate the detail and honesty with which you share your information, it has been so so helpful!!

    Reply
  5. Robin Taber on

    Erin,
    Your blog says that you had a mild winter in 2014 so ‘it worked’ to leave some tubers buried in the field with straw mulch and weed fabric.
    1. So did you leave your “extra” tubers in the ground last winter and again this year?
    2. How many years can you leave a mother tuber undug/undivided to grow again?
    3. In the spring, did you just leave all the mother tubers to re-grow or did you dig up, separate and replant some individual tubers?
    4. How do the plants that came up from these buried clumps of tubers compare to planting individual tubers each spring?
    A HUGE thank you for sharing your hard-earned wisdom. You have brightened my life.
    I so much appreciate your comments, warnings, advice!!
    Robin

    Reply
  6. Patti Kornoelje on

    Hello,
    Do you by chance have a recommended resource where I could purchase crates for storing dahlia tubers?
    Thank you.
    Sincerely,
    Patti Kornoelje
    [email protected]

    Reply
  7. Shelley on

    Erin-

    Did the dahlias that you overwintered outside survive? Just curious cuz I’m in zone 7 and getting ready to dig up my dahlias.

    Reply
    • Floret on

      Shelley, they overwintered very well!

  8. Lina on

    what do you do about sourcing if you are certified organic? We are in the process of gaining certification and they ask for USDA certified organic stock unless not available on market and it’s just so confusing to find who I can and can’t purchase from !

    Reply
  9. sarah nixon on

    Thanks, Erin! You’re so helpful – as always!
    For Canadians out there, my favorite sources for tubers are Sid’s, Oakridge Dahlias, Ferncliff Gardens, FGL, and I just discovered Connie’s Dahlias on Vancouver Island in the town where I grew up. Botanus, Garden Import and Veseys can have some good picks, too but are more expensive. For those that can buy wholesale try VanNoort.
    Here’s to all our overwintering babies in basements and fields everywhere!

    Reply
    • Floret on

      Thanks for the great sources Sarah!!!

  10. vibeke on

    What a fantastic blog, and I would love to have a similar business.
    Have a wonderful Sunday.
    Vibeke

    Reply
  11. Terri Bowlby-Chiasson on

    Thank you, Erin! Writing is a lot of work, too! Thank you for sharing your experience and wisdom! So inspiring! From Nova Scotia, Canada! :-)

    Reply
  12. Wendy from Holme Flowers on

    We have made a clamp storage system for storing our dahlias over Winter. This is a traditional method our father and his grandfather did with the mangles for the sheep/cattle to eat in Spring. A layer of thick straw was laid on some well drained ground. The dahlias are then stored upside down on top of each other after being dried off. More straw was placed all over the dahlias, the depth of which would be about a foot. Soil is the put over the soil thickly to cover the straw.

    We are about to lift our dahlias, we have peeped over Winter and all seems good. Fingers crossed they will be fine. Interestingly we kept some in the ground and covered them in all the waste material used for our wreaths plus some straw and these tubers seem fine.

    The next process is dividing them, never done this before, nail biting, eek.

    Thanks Erin.

    Reply
  13. Elise on

    Thank you so much for sharing your hard-earned Dahlia wisdom! I’m on my second year with them, and let them over-winter in the ground (Zone 8B in SC), so I will be anxiously watching to see if they made it! Have a wonderful day!

    Reply
  14. shinelittlelight on

    Anyone in Australia on here?? Help with sources that actually have some variety would be amazing! Agree with above comments Erin, your posts are the clearest thing for flower growing on the net! *s*

    Reply
    • Annie on

      Portland Dahlia Society (in Australia) has a good variety of dahlias and at reasonable prices. Although I am still trying to find something like a cafe-o-lait!

  15. Heather M on

    I’m so happy you left some in the ground this year as an experiment! All winter I’ve been feeling slightly guilty for not digging mine up (I only planted a few last year and they were my first dahlias). I think I’ll just consider it part of the experiment and if they survive I’ll call it beginners luck. :-)

    Reply
  16. Rachel on

    Thanks for this series on dahlias! In Vancouver, Canada, I’ve bought some beautiful tubers from Ferncliff Gardens. Gardenworks stores in the Lower Mainland currently have Cafe au Lait in stock; I bought one for $5 there.

    Reply
  17. mimi on

    Hi Erin,
    I was wondering if you would do a flower focus on ranunculus? I came across your website researching flowers because I plan to grow a few rows to sell at market this summer along with my vegetables. I have never grown anything beyond calendula and branching sunflowers, and have never grown a flower from a tuber or bulb. I am up in Alaska, so I know your planting times wont coordinate with mine, but searching specific flower information on the web doesn’t compare to your recent flower focus postings. Its not clear what to do when I receive the bulbs (even if the FEDCO catalog) if i will actually have to pot them up, or if i can just store them as is and put them in the ground come May. I figure they will do well because its stays around 65 degrees all summer so you can grow any cool weather flower throughout the short season.
    Anyway, thanks for sharing all this great info on your website-many farmers are not willing to do that.

    Reply
    • VillageRat on

      I am up here in Bristol Bay. When I get the tubers or bulbs I pot them as soon as I can, put them under lights and wait for the ground to finish thawing. Then pop the whole pot out and plant in a hole to fit in the ground. I ALSO throw agribon over them for a week or so to help with the shock. If it is much warmer when I have them under lights than outside I then set them out for a week or so in a shelter place and back in at night to help the adjust.

      Seems like a big pain but worth it. Good luck!!

    • Floret on

      I’ll see what I can do : )

      In the meantime, Jenni Love from Love N’ Fresh Flower wrote a great blog post about them. Check it out HERE!

  18. Autumn Harvest Farms on

    Thank you so much for your informative posts love following your blog! If you ever have a blog post about what you do and don’t grow in landscape fabric I would love that! You seem to have things so down pat!

    Reply
    • Floret on

      On our new site (it’ll be live soon) I have a whole article with photos about landscape fabric, so stand by!

  19. Denise / Bare Mtn Farm on

    Just our two cents. In late Nov. of 2009 we had not got our dahlias dug up when a major freeze hit and the ground froze. Our dahlias were mulched and protected. But we still lost 98% of a 10 year collection to mushy mess of dahlia goop. We even had a few dahlias that we had propagated our selves. I cried for a few days because of the major loss. Today we still don’t have our collection back to that point. While it is great to try new ways, leaving in the ground, you need to cover your butt (so to speak) and dig and store some of your dahlias so you don’t lose everything. We know how Erin/Chris feel at the end of the season, tired, wore out and needing a rest but you want to have something in the spring to work with when you are raring to go again.

    Reply
    • Floret on

      I’m so glad you chimed in Denise! I totally agree with you about the enormous risk it is leaving them in. The tubers we left in were duplicates of what we already have in storage. We also dug enough to be able to easily triple our supply for the coming season. We had to wait three years until our stocks were large enough to get this lazy ; )

  20. Louise Warner on

    Erin, if there were a Nobel prize for flowers, it would be yours. Thanks so much for this amazing resource of knowledge and inspiration. There are no flies on you, girl.

    For people looking for dahlias in Canada, try fgldahlias.com and ferncliffgardens.com . Both having amazing catalogues and nice fat tubers. If you want Cafe au Lait or Karma Choc, botanus.com is the only place I’ve found currently that has them.

    Reply
  21. Cathy Bartolic on

    Would love to get some ideas on where to get dahlia bulb in Canada. Didn’t quite see that at the end of your blog. Thank you for all the other info and inspiring pics.

    Reply
  22. Linda Jewett on

    Thanks for sharing your ideas about better protection when leaving tubers in ground. I share your zone and often leave the tubers until they crowd. I am eager to see your success photos. I predict you will enjoy earlier blooms. Speaking of photos – yours are always artful yet helpful and precise. Thanks, again!

    Reply
  23. Katie on

    Erin, thank you for another fabulous in-depth how-to! Love seeing the step by step processes you use and the innovative methods for easing the workload! :) Many, many thanks for sharing what you know, it is so appreciated!! xo

    Reply
  24. Jonathan Leiss, Spring Forth Farm on

    Great post. Your blog is a wealth of info for flower farmers starting out. Thank you. We’re in z7a, although we had our 100-year freeze this year (0*, Yikes!) so we’d be very interested in hearing if your dahlias came back after the winter. Maybe we could only dig up every other year. We discovered we can leave our tuberoses in the ground if they’re heavily mulched, but then we don’t get the successions we need at harvest, so we still have to dig them up.

    Reply
  25. Clare on

    Thank you for your great blog. I lost my ‘Cafe au Lait’ a couple of years ago and have now replaced them. Fingers crossed I can keep them going. I will keep watching and learning from you.

    Reply
  26. Full Bloom Flower Farm on

    Erin, do you have gophers? I trap around my farm every day, but was thinking how putting the dahlias in gopher wire this year since they are more pricey. Do you know how deep I should bury the wire?

    Reply
  27. Erin Mc on

    Love it! We have had mixed results storing dahlias, so I’m always interested in how others are doing it, thanks!

    We have taken to leaving the tubers in the ground each season. We usually dig, divide and store some, but replant in the fall also. The only time we lost more than 10% was a few years back when it was really, really wet and then froze :(

    Looking forward to seeing how yours do, you have pretty good drainage, right?

    Thanks again, for making your processes so accessible. Have a great one!

    Reply
  28. Heather on

    It looks like there is something missing at the end of your post-the ist of sources for outsde of USA.

    Reply
  29. Delores on

    Erin,

    Thanks for posting a great article and the link to Sunny Meadow Flower Farm. We bought some cafe au laits for a very reasonable price.

    Reply
  30. Eddie Gordon on

    I think the ones you left in the ground will be just fine . Plenty of drainage and overhead protection from cold weather, they will be bursting out of the ground this spring before you know it . I have always noticed the enormous dahlia plants people have in their yards because they have been left in the ground for years .

    Reply
  31. Jessica Hall on

    Trying my hand at Dahlias this year for the first time. Excited to see if I can replicate some of the beautiful blooms you pictured and thankful you are providing me a pictorial step by step. Now if I can convince the 4 year old to harvest (WITH a stem) and the 7 month old not to eat the compost we will be set! Love the blog and thanks for everything!

    Reply
  32. tom | tall clover farm on

    I’m smacking my forehead in regret. I left mine in the field too long and didn’t mulch. Let’s just say gooey, mushy, goo goo tubers. Thanks for listing tuber sources, I will need those for sure. Thanks for the fine tutorial. Can’t wait to see how your mulching goes. Anything to keep those puppies in the ground.

    Reply
    • Grace | eTilth on

      Tom, I lost about 1/2 of my Makah Ozette (potato) crop this year due to freezing; usually I can leave them in the ground, but it was colder a couple of times this year. They were gooey indeed; not the thing to discover when you’re trying to harvest for dinner!

      I dug my dahlias in October because I wanted them out of the vegetable garden (well, 1/2 veg garden 1/2 stock/trial bed) and just stuffed them into the potting shed.

      Labeling is tricky … I like the idea of using crates!

  33. Alexandra Jusino on

    Omg I hate digging those darn tubers out too. By then I’m so upset the frost wiped me out in one day. Since my winter is brutal there is no leaving them in the ground. They are currently shriveling in my basement. I guess I better stock up on some new tubers now.

    Reply

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