Friday, October 23, 2015

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If you grow dahlias October's first frost presents a dilemma. Do you want to try and save the tuberous roots or does that seem like too much trouble? For those in the latter camp take heart. Gorgeous dahlias are inexpensive and a great value for the months of flowers they provide. So, don't feel guilty about tossing and buying new in spring from your favorite garden center or through dahlia specialists.

Try rolling your dahlia tubers in plastic this year!
For those that want to store dahlias it can be a challenging process. There are as many ways to store them as there are people growing them. So, I'm going on record that what I'm sharing is how I'm going to do mine this year. The digging and prep are going to be the same as in the past, but the plastic wrap storage method will be new for me.

The morning after a killing frost  (a freeze is more dangerous, making harvest a more urgent task) I like to get out and cut the blackening foliage back leaving only a 5-6" stem above the ground. This gives you a "handle" to use. Assuming daytime temperatures moderate after frost leave the plants in the ground for a week to "cure" before digging. This will put them in a state where eyes (next year's buds on the neck of the tubers) start swelling and (I'm told) the tubers will store better.

Keep big honkin' tuber mass intact when digging up
When you're ready to harvest dig with a spade or a fork starting at least 6-8" away from the stem. The single tuber you planted this spring will now be a big honkin' mass of tubers that you don't want to slice through. Dig all the way around, loosening the soil and lifting the plant gently. Don't pull it out by the stem!

Once you've lifted the root system from the ground many growers recommend gently washing soil off. Truthfully, I'm not crazy about the idea of wetting tubers, so I don't. I try to physically remove as much soil as possible with my hands (yep, it's tedious, but I don't have hundreds to do) without snapping off tubers. Then I turn them upside down on plastic in the garage (out of sun and wind) for a day to let the hollow stems drain. This also allows the tuber surfaces to dry and any remaining soil to be removed before storing. By the way, I personally omit a fungicide treatment, but you may want to do that before storage.

The "How do I physically store them?" part is where the process can go south in a hurry. The problem is keeping tubers from becoming too: wet, dry, hot or cold during the five or more months of winter storage indoors. As Charlie Brown used to say, "Arrrr-ggg-hhhhh." So, Tony is going to use the "plastic wrap method" of dahlia storage that I read about years ago, but never tried.

Separate tubers with "eyes", or buds, for next year

Lay down plastic, roll each tuber once, then add another

How is this going to work (fingers crossed)? Hopefully, I'm going to be able to see the little baby eyes swelling already this fall. I'll cut eye-bearing tubers from the clump. Remember, each tuber has to have an eye to grow next year. I'm going to get a long stretch of plastic wrap and lay it out flat. The first tuber is rolled until it is covered with one thickness of wrap. I'll place a second one in the fold of the first (not touching each other) and roll it over once, too. Then a third and maybe a fourth will be added all in the same stretch of wrap. I'll fold over the ends, secure with tape and write the variety name on the outside. Each variety will be a separate wrap group.

These will be placed in a box and I'll try to find a dark spot where the temps will stay between 40-50 F. Dahlias in storage don't want warmer or colder than that. I like the idea of the plastic wrap treatment since it:

* Takes less storage space
* Eliminates storage media (peat, sand, wood shavings, vermiculite) and whether it's too wet or dry
* You can see at a glance if any of the tubers are problematic in storage and need to be removed

So, dahlia enthusiasts, are you pitching or storing this fall?


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