We had our first frost this past weekend and the dahlias, annuals, hostas and hydrangeas have melted and turned brown. Though I was unable to do the digging myself this year, my sister came over and dug out all of the beds, (I think she might be sister-of-the-year) so we are set for winter.
I have a really simple method for digging dahlias- simple being relative of course. First, once your first frost has melted the leaves of your dahlias and turned them black, go out and cut them back to just above ground level.
Then grab your pitchfork and dig them out- inserting the pitchfork about a foot away from the stems and lever them out of the ground- you’ll know if you get too close, because you’ll spear a tuber.
I arrange all of my dahlias out of the ground by color (red and non-red) and then wash them with a sharp spray from the hose. It is important to wash instead of just shaking the dirt off, because otherwise worms and insects will enjoy a winter feast on your dime, inside your house.
I let the tubers dry for about an hour on each side, then I put them in a garbage bag and set them in plastic tote bins in the basement, in the farthest corner from the furnace. They should be stored between 40-50 degrees, and never below freezing or they will rot. Too warm and they will sprout, which is not good either, because you won’t be able to hold them inside until it is safe to plant them.
Make sure you put your bulbs in a plastic bag because they need the moisture or they will dry out like sawdust. In the old days, I would put them in individual bags to prevent any contamination (or bugs) from spreading, but I don’t have the same number of plastic bags that I used to, now that we’ve switched mainly to cloth bags for shopping. I’m sure the garbage bags will do just fine.
I try to check on the tubers monthly to make sure that they haven’t sprouted and then I pot them up or plant them early the following May.
When my future sister in law saw all of our hard work this weekend, she said “wow, I give gardeners a lot of credit, this is hard work.” Umm, exactly. I have not converted my sister to Dahlias after this adventure, when discussing her plans for a new house she said, “and I definitely don’t want dahlias.”