How to Dig & Store Dahlia Tubers

As the vibrant colors of summer fade and the chill of fall sets in it’s time to think about how to keep your beloved dahlia tubers safe and sound during the freezing winter months. Farmer Fred and I plant about sixty dahlia’s every year.  To dig and store our dahlia tubers  is an all day project.  

Discover how to successfully dig and store dahlia tubers for the winter with this comprehensive guide.  By following a few simple steps, you can ensure that your dahlias survive the cold months and thrive again come spring.

In this article, you’ll learn the best time to dig up your dahlias, the tools you’ll need, and the proper technique for digging them out of the ground without causing any damage. We’ll also delve into the importance of curing your dahlias before storing them, and the ideal conditions for doing so.

Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or new to the world of dahlias, this guide will equip you with the knowledge and skills to care for your flowers during the winter months. Don’t let your hard work go to waste – learn how to dig and store your dahlias effectively and enjoy beautiful blooms year after year.

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When to Dig and Store Dahlia Tubers

Knowing the right time to dig up your dahlia tubers is crucial for their survival. The ideal time to start the process is after the first frost has blackened the foliage. This usually occurs in late autumn or early winter, depending on your location. By waiting until after the first frost, you give the tubers enough time to store nutrients for winter survival.

How to Dig and Store Dahlia Tubers over the Winter

Understanding Dahlias and Their Lifecycle

Dahlias are beautiful flowering plants that come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. They are known for their vibrant blooms and can be a stunning addition to any garden. To understand how to best care for your dahlias during the winter, it’s important to have a basic understanding of their lifecycle.

Dahlias are perennials, which means they have a life cycle that extends beyond one growing season. In the spring, dahlias emerge from their dormant state and start to grow, producing lush foliage and eventually blooming flowers. As the weather cools down in the fall, dahlias begin to prepare for their dormant period. This is when you should start thinking about digging them up and storing them for the winter.

The dormant period is vital for dahlias, as it allows them to conserve energy and survive the harsh conditions of winter. By digging up and storing your dahlias, you can protect them from freezing temperatures, frost, and other potential dangers. This is especially important if you live in a region with cold winters.

dig up and store dahlia tubers
Dahlia plant after the first frost.

Why and When to Dig and Store Dahlia Tubers for the Winter.

Digging up your dahlias and storing them for the winter is a crucial step in ensuring their survival. It may seem like a daunting task, but with the right knowledge and tools, it can be a straightforward process.

The best time to dig up and store dahlia tubers is after the first frost, or when the foliage has started to turn yellow or brown. This is a sign that the plants are entering their dormant phase and are ready to be dug up. If you wait too long, the ground may become frozen, making it more difficult to extract the tubers.

By digging up your dahlias and storing them before the ground freezes, you can prevent the tubers from being damaged. Freezing temperatures can cause the tubers to rot or become mushy, rendering them unusable for planting in the spring.

Dig up and store dahlia tubers

Tools and Materials Needed to Dig and Store Dahlia Tubers.

Before you begin the process of digging up and storing your dahlia tubers, it’s important to gather the necessary tools and materials. Having the right equipment will make the task easier and more efficient, ensuring that your dahlias are safely stored for the winter months.

Here are the tools and materials you’ll need:

  1. Garden fork or spade: This will be used to carefully loosen the soil around the dahlias and lift them out of the ground.
  2. Garden gloves: Protect your hands from dirt, thorns, and any other potential hazards.
  3. Pruning shears: Use these to trim the foliage and stems of the dahlias before digging them up.
  4. Trowel: A small trowel can be handy for digging around the tubers and loosening the soil.
  5. Labels or markers: These will help you keep track of the different dahlia varieties you have dug up.
  6. Newspaper or cardboard: Use these to wrap the tubers for storage, providing insulation and protection.
  7. Storage containers: Choose containers that are breathable and have good drainage, such as mesh bags or plastic milk crates.  We use plastic milk crates to store our dahlia tubers.  They are large enough to store big clumps of tubers and are stackable.  I line them with old towels before adding the tubers and peat moss to the crate. This let’s them breathe and keeps the tubers from drying out.
  8. Peat moss or vermiculite or an old towel: These materials can be used to store the dahlias and maintain the right level of moisture.

Now that you have your tools and materials ready, it’s time to start digging up your dahlias.

dahlia tubers

Step-by-Step Guide to Digging Up Dahlias

Digging up dahlias requires a careful and systematic approach to avoid damaging the tubers. By following these step-by-step instructions, you can ensure that your dahlias are safely removed from the ground and ready for winter storage.

  1. Cut back the foliage: Before digging up your dahlias, use pruning shears to cut back the foliage and stems to about 6 inches above the ground. This will make it easier to handle the plants and reduce the risk of damage.
  2. Loosen the soil: Use a garden fork or spade to gently loosen the soil around the dahlia plants. Start a few inches away from the base of the plant and work your way around in a circle. Be careful not to damage the tubers as you dig.
  3. Lift the tubers: Once the soil is loosened, carefully lift the tubers out of the ground using the garden fork or spade. Insert the tool under the tubers and lift them up, taking care not to shake off any excess soil.
  4. Remove excess soil: Gently brush off any loose soil from the tubers, being careful not to damage them in the process. It’s okay to leave a thin layer of soil on the tubers, as this can help protect them during storage.
  5. Label and separate the tubers: As you dig up your dahlias, label each variety to keep track of them. This will be useful when it comes time to plant them in the spring. If you have multiple plants of the same variety, separate them to ensure even airflow during storage.
  6. Cure the tubers: Curing is an essential step in preparing your dahlias for winter storage. Place the tubers in a dry and well-ventilated area for about a week to allow the cuts and wounds to heal. This will help prevent rot and disease during storage.
  7. Inspect for damage or disease: While curing the tubers, inspect them for any signs of damage or disease. Discard any tubers that are soft, mushy, or show signs of rot. This will prevent the spread of disease and ensure that only healthy tubers are stored.
  8. Prepare the storage containers: Line the bottom of your storage containers with a layer of peat moss or vermiculite. This will help maintain the right level of moisture and provide insulation for the tubers.
  9. Place the tubers in containers: Carefully place the cured tubers in the storage containers, making sure they are not overcrowded. Avoid stacking the tubers on top of each other, as this can lead to damage and rot.
  10. Cover and store: Once all the tubers are in the containers, cover them with a layer of peat moss or vermiculite. This will help maintain the right level of moisture and provide further insulation. Store the containers in a cool, dark, and dry location, such as a basement or garage.
dig up and store dahlia tubers

Cleaning and Inspecting Dahlia Tubers

Cleaning and inspecting your dahlia tubers before storing them is an important step in ensuring their health and longevity. By removing excess soil and checking for any signs of damage or disease, you can prevent the spread of problems and ensure that only healthy tubers are stored.

After digging up your dahlias, gently brush off any loose soil from the tubers. Avoid washing the tubers with water, as this can introduce excess moisture, which can lead to rot during storage. It’s okay to leave a thin layer of soil on the tubers, as this can provide some protection against drying out.

While cleaning the tubers, inspect them for any signs of damage or disease. Discard any tubers that are soft, mushy, or show signs of rot. These can spread disease to other tubers and should not be stored.

Dig Dahlias

Choosing the Right Storage Location for Dahlias

The storage location for your dahlias during the winter months is crucial to their survival. It should be cool, dark, and dry, with a consistent temperature that stays above freezing. A basement or garage is often a suitable location, as long as it meets these criteria.

Avoid storing your dahlias in areas that are prone to temperature fluctuations, such as near windows or heating vents. Extreme temperature changes can cause the tubers to rot or sprout prematurely, leading to their demise.

It’s also important to store your dahlias away from fruits and vegetables, as these can release gases that can promote the sprouting of the tubers. Keep your dahlias in a separate location to prevent any unwanted interactions.

Dig up and store dahlia tubers

Different Methods of Storing Dahlias – Dry vs. Damp Storage

There are two main methods of storing dahlias for the winter: dry storage and damp storage. Each method has its advantages and may be more suitable depending on your specific circumstances.

Dry Storage

Dry storage involves storing the tubers in a dry and cool location without any additional moisture. This method is ideal for those who live in areas with higher winter humidity or have access to a climate-controlled storage space that let’s you increase the humidity in the storage space.

To store your dahlias using the dry storage method, follow these steps:

  1. Cure the tubers: As mentioned earlier, cure the tubers for about a week in a dry and well-ventilated area to allow the cuts and wounds to heal.
  2. Prepare the storage containers: Line the bottom of your storage containers with a layer of peat moss or vermiculite.
  3. Place the tubers in containers: Carefully place the cured tubers in the storage containers, making sure they are not overcrowded. Avoid stacking the tubers on top of each other.
  4. Cover and store: Once all the tubers are in the containers, cover them with a layer of peat moss or vermiculite. Store the containers in a cool, dark, and dry location.

Damp Storage

Damp storage involves storing the tubers in a slightly moist environment to prevent them from drying out. This method is recommended for those who live in areas with low winter humidity and don’t have access to a climate-controlled storage space.

To store your dahlias using the damp storage method, follow these steps:

  1. Cure the tubers: As mentioned earlier, cure the tubers for about a week in a dry and well-ventilated area.
  2. Prepare the storage containers: Line the bottom of your storage containers with a layer of peat moss or vermiculite.
  3. Moisten the storage medium: Lightly moisten the peat moss or vermiculite with water, making sure it is evenly damp but not soaking wet.
  4. Place the tubers in containers: Carefully place the cured tubers in the storage containers, making sure they are not overcrowded. Gently nestle the tubers in the damp storage medium.
  5. Cover and store: Once all the tubers are in the containers, cover them with a layer of peat moss or vermiculite. Store the containers in a cool, dark, and dry location.

Dig Dahlias

Monitoring and Maintaining Dahlias During Winter Storage

While your dahlias are in winter storage, it’s important to periodically check on them and ensure that they are in good condition. Here are a few tips for monitoring and maintaining your dahlias during their dormant period:

  1. Check for moisture: Depending on the storage method you have chosen, monitor the moisture level of the storage medium. If it feels too dry, lightly mist it with water. If it feels too damp, remove the cover and allow it to dry out slightly.
  2. Inspect for signs of rot or disease: Regularly inspect the tubers for any signs of rot or disease. If you notice any soft, mushy, or discolored tubers, remove them immediately to prevent the spread of problems.
  3. Adjust storage conditions if necessary: If the storage location becomes too warm or humid, consider moving the containers to a cooler or drier area. It’s important to maintain consistent conditions throughout the winter months.
  4. Avoid disturbing the tubers: While it may be tempting to check on your dahlias frequently, avoid unnecessary handling of the tubers. Each time you disturb them, there is a risk of damage or introducing excess moisture.

By regularly monitoring and maintaining your dahlias during winter storage, you can catch any issues early on and ensure that they remain healthy and viable for planting in the spring.

Dahlia Tubers

Preparing Dahlias for Planting in the Spring

As winter comes to an end and spring approaches, it’s time to start preparing your dahlias for planting. Follow these steps to get your dahlias ready for the growing season:

  1. Remove from storage: Once the risk of frost has passed and the weather starts to warm up, it’s time to remove your dahlias from storage. Carefully bring the containers to a well-lit area and uncover the tubers.
  2. Inspect the tubers: Give each tuber a thorough inspection, checking for any signs of damage or disease. Discard any tubers that are soft, mushy, or show signs of rot.
  3. Divide the tubers: If you have multiple tubers of the same variety, you can divide them to create more plants. Each tuber should have at least one eye or bud, which will grow into a new plant.
  4. Prepare planting beds: Choose a sunny location with well-draining soil for your dahlias. Prepare the planting beds by loosening the soil and adding organic matter, such as compost or aged manure.
  5. Plant the tubers: Dig a hole that is deep enough to accommodate the tubers and their roots. Place the tubers in the hole, making sure the eyes or buds are facing up. Cover the tubers with soil, leaving about an inch of space between the soil surface and the top of the tuber.
  6. Water and mulch: After planting, water the tubers thoroughly to ensure good soil contact. Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as straw or wood chips, to help retain moisture and suppress weeds.
  7. Provide support: Depending on the size and variety of your dahlias, you may need to provide support.
dahlia tubers

Dahlia Winter Storage FAQs

Q: Can I store dahlia tubers directly in the ground during winter?

A: It is generally not recommended to leave dahlia tubers in the ground during winter, as they are susceptible to frost and other adverse conditions. Storing them in a controlled environment, such as dahlia storage boxes, provides the best chance of survival.

Q: How long can dahlia tubers be stored?

A: With proper storage techniques, dahlia tubers can be stored for several months, usually from late fall to early spring. However, it is crucial to regularly check on your tubers and remove any that show signs of decay or rot.

Q: Can I divide dahlia tubers before storing them?

A: It is generally best to divide dahlia tubers in the spring before planting. Dividing them before storage can increase the risk of rot and disease.

Proper dahlia storage is essential to protect and preserve your precious tubers. By following the expert tips outlined in this guide, and avoiding common mistakes, you can ensure the survival and vitality of your tubers throughout the winter months. Remember, the effort to dig and store dahlia tubers now will be rewarded with a breathtaking display of flowers in the coming spring. So, take the necessary steps to safeguard your tubers and look forward to a flourishing garden filled with the beauty of dahlias.

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