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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!