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Dahlia Care for an early winter

Posted on: November 20th, 2014 by Aimee Sherrill

The calendar says we are still in the fall season, but winter conditions have hit hard and fast over the last couple weeks across the United States, catching a lot of dahlia gardeners off guard.  In some parts of the country, it went from an Indian Summer to winter snows in what seemed to be overnight.

Wait until your dahlia foliage looks like this before digging in the fall

Wait until your dahlia foliage looks like this before digging in the fall

The challenges with dahlias is that they need to feel a few freezes in order to properly end the season and cure their tubers. When we let our dahlias freeze in the fall, that tells the plant, “OK, it’s time to go to sleep for the winter.”  Then the stalks turn black, the energy is returned to the tubers and the tuber skins begin to thicken as the tubers are preparing themselves for winter.  It’s risky to dig your dahlias before a freeze. Dahlias dug too early have thin skins and typically do not survive the winter. They may look alright now, but usually by spring, they have shriveled to an unusable tuber. Dahlias are a plant of patience and need their time to do what they do in order for them to survive winter.

But what if the cold weather hit too soon and now your dahlias are buried in snow ?  Well, that is the unfortunate part of Mother Nature. You never know what she will send your way.  If you are buried in snow right now, chances are Mother Nature has beaten you this year.  It’s time to plan on ordering some new dahlia tubers for the spring.  If you didn’t get any snow, but your soil is frozen, wait until the soil has thawed so that it can be somewhat worked, dig up your clumps and see what you’ve got.  If they look dark brown and have a ‘clear’ look to them, they are frozen and should be composted.  If you see a more fleshy whiter tuber, it may have survived the deep freeze.

The benefits of mounding your soil

Just like we plant potatoes in mounds, dahlias benefit greatly from being in mounds as well.  This will accomplish a few things:

1)  When you dig in the fall, if you’re having a rainy fall the dahlias will be up and out of the wet mucky soil.

2)  If the temperatures fall drastically like they did this year, the top few inches of soil will be frozen.  But if you dig down, you’ll find the dahlias are in unfrozen soil.  As long as you can remove the crust on top of the mound, your dahlias should be fine.

3)  Mounding your soil will provide better drainage and warmer soil temperatures than dahlias planted down in the soil.

Mounded Rows

Mounded Rows

4)  There tends to be less breakage with dahlias planted in mounds than there is with dahlias that need to be pulled up from 4″-6″ deep down in the ground.

How to start a mounded row:

What we do is start with a straight line and place the dahlias eye up about 10″-12″ apart.  Then we rake over about 2″ of soil.  As the dahlia continues to grow, we continue to pull soil onto the mound.  By the time the dahlias are about 18″ tall and with continued mounding every 10-14 days, what you should have is your dahlias down to a depth of 5″-6″.

Even The Dahlia Barn is challenged by Mother Nature:

Even we have been affected by the sudden change in temperatures this year.  Our Western Washington farm has a fairly mild climate being close to Seattle, we have completed the harvest here.  Our Eastern Washington farm in Thorp is subject to drastic temperature changes.  We found it to be an extremely late season for digging, but we need to let them freeze.  We were cutting flowers on November 7th and we were frozen solid on November 15th.  We have incurred some loss, but because our dahlia fields are mounded, we have some protection from the freezing soil on top of the mound, because the dahlia tubers are below the freezing soil.  What we’ve had to do is wait until last week to dig.  It’s been challenging, but we know that the dahlias have cured their skins and have prepared themselves for winter.  We’ll lose some, but we are looking forward to adding new varieties for next season too.   2014 has been a challenging weather year for us in many ways.  A hot summer, combined with an early full moon freeze on September 12th, now a late freeze.  The 2014 season will be one we will be happy to say ‘so long’ too.  Here’s to better farming weather in 2015!

Check out our ‘Dahlia Care‘ page for great information on growing dahlias!  Our next blog will be all about dividing your dahlia tubers!

One Response

  1. Dahlias do best when they are dug and divided, ideally you want one strong stem and not many weak stems. It would be a great idea for you to dig and divide the one you have growing, that seems to flower a little less every year. Our next blog post will be all about dividing dahlias. You can also check out our YouTube channel to watch a quick video on dividing dahlias. There is also a video on digging dahlias as well that would be helpful to you.

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