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October Dahlia Care- What to do right now with your dahlias

Posted on: October 23rd, 2016 by Aimee Sherrill

If you HAVE had a freeze:

Wait at least 1 week before you dig your dahlias.  During this time the tuber skins are ripening and they are preparing

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

themselves for winter.

If you HAVE NOT had a freeze:

Let Mother Nature do her work and let your dahlias freeze in the garden.  Don’t cut them down, leave them intact and wait for the freeze.  Wait at least one week after a freeze to dig your dahlias.

Why don’t I cut them down yet?

It’s best to leave the stalk intact and do not cut down if they have not felt a freeze yet.  When you cut into a dahlia stalk, you will see that the stem is hollow.  If water gets into the stem and freezes, then refreezes it can damage the tubers.  It’s best to leave them intact and sealed up so that doesn’t happen.

 Why do I have to let them freeze first:

The challenges with dahlias is that they need to feel a freeze 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.

Do I rinse off the tubers?:

We always advise to NOT RINSE your tubers with a spray hose, just tap the dirt off.  We see many websites that say to rinse your tubers and we do not agree.  Rinsing makes it incredibly difficult to get them dry enough for winter storage, which is a key factor in getting your dahlias to survive winter storage.  If they are wet, they will rot !  And there is no saving a rotten tuber.

Our Harvest:

Some parts of the country have received the first freeze, while in other parts of the country or the state, the freeze has not arrived yet.  We experience this with both our farms.  Our Central Washington farm in Thorp got it’s first killing frost on October 12, and we’re going to begin the harvest there this week.  Our Western Washington farm 30 miles east of Seattle, has a much milder climate and is still blooming, although the flowers are looking really tired.  We’re just waiting for a freeze to harvest here in North Bend.

Winter Dahlia Storage

There are many different ways to store your dahlias.

The most important tips are:

  1. Make sure they freeze in the garden.

  2. Once dug up, make sure they never freeze wherever they are stored.  An attached garage is usually pretty safe.  Unheated outbuildings typically will freeze and wouldn’t be a good choice for storage.

  3. Make sure they are dry before they go into storage.

 Storage options are:

  1. Store in clump form or divided loose in paper bags or cardboard boxes lined with newspaper in warmer, more humid climates.

  2. Colder Climates – usually need added protection when storing.  If you want to use the cardboard box lined with newspaper method, add a layer of peat moss, add a layer of dahlias, another layer of peat moss, etc until the box is full.  This can give you an Box of Tubersadded layer of protection from freezing and keeps humidity higher.

Keep the temperature at 40-50 degrees at all times during winter storage. The humidity should be kept medium-high to keep tubers from drying and shriveling. Check your tubers monthly during winter storage.  See our ‘Dahlia Care’ page for more detailed information.

Dividing Dahlias:

We recommend that you divide your dahlia tubers at some point during the winter.  Here is a helpful video created by us to help you with dividing your dahlias:


Do I really have to dig up my dahlias?:

If you don’t wish to dig your dahlias, that’s ok too.  For some people that just have a few growing in their yard and they are not too thrilled with the idea of digging, we always say, “Well, cut them down after they have frozen, mulch them, if they come back, Great! if they don’t, oh well just get yourself a few new tubers.”  Sometimes it’s more work that just picking up $25-$35 worth of tubers in the spring.

When is the best time to order dahlias from your farm:

NOW IS THE BEST TIME to order tubers from our farm.  Now is the time of year when you get the best selection of dahlias before we begin to sell out in early winter.  We have lots of new varieties on the website this year, but some are very limited in stock.

Thank you.  We hope you have a successful dahlia harvest in 2016.

6 Responses

  1. Philip Stoddard says:

    I live in Salinas, CA (central coast) where we rarely see low temperatures of 32 degrees or less. It does happen once in a while. What if there are no freezing temps? Is one night of freezing temps sufficient so I can dig the dahlias up?

    • Hi Philip – If your area rarely sees freezing temps, you are safe to dig around the middle of November. Start to withhold water from them in late October, then dig mid November. If it does freeze, then wait a week then you are safe to dig. Thanks for your question.
      Aimee Sherrill

  2. Julie says:

    Thank you! I appreciate the information. I do not have a place to store tubers through the winter anymore. I am glad for the reassurance that I needed to wait for a freeze to cut my dahlias back. I grow some of them in a community garden where everything is supposed to be cleared out by October 31. I ask for and received an exception for my dahlias.

  3. Valerie says:

    I do not have an attached garage, but we do have a detached shop to store my tubers. Could I store them in large grocery bags and cedar shavings or would the peat moss you mentioned be better(I happen to have a large bag of shavings)? I have about 7 varieties and don’t want to get them all mixed together, If I layer them, I am afraid that might happen. This will be my first year storing the tubers. I live in North Bend, WA.

    • Hi Valerie – In our area, you are pretty safe to store them in your shop. I do recommend putting them in peat moss because shavings can be drying and can cause the tubers to shrivel up. Large, paper grocery and peat moss for your storage would be a good combination. Wait for the freeze though, we’re still waiting in North Bend. Thank you very much for your question. We’ll see you at the barn in spring !
      Aimee Sherrill

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