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Plot #59

Dahlia Update: Lifting Tubers for Winter Storage

This was the first year that Jo and I have grown Dahlias and we’ve both thoroughly enjoyed the collarette varieties that we bought from J. R. G. Dahlias back in March – ‘Don Hill’, ‘Christmas Carol’, ‘Top Mix Reddy’, ‘Top Mix Mama’ and ‘Top Mix Purple’ – and the extremely lovely, deep purple-flowered ‘Esther Chamberlain’, which was a gift from Jo’s Dad, Guru Glyn.

We started them off in the greenhouse in April and planted out in May. They’ve been performing incredibly well since they first flowered in early June. We’ve had an absolute riot of colour, particularly from the two larger varieties, ‘Don Hill’ and ‘Christmas Carol’, as you can see from these pics (click a thumbnail for a larger image).

But the first hard frost of the year hit us last week and we knew that the time had come for these Mexican beauties to die back. So at the weekend, Jo and I nipped down to Plot #59 to lift the tubers and prepare them for storage.

As you can see, they were definitely feeling the cold:

November 2016 dahlias frost-bitten
Our dahlias were definitely looking sorry for themselves when we arrived.
November 2016 dahlias frost-bitten
In close-up, you can see the extent of the damage: blackened foliage, dead flowers.

After compiling notes gathered from various sources – Guru Glyn, Jack Gott’s website, Monty Don on Gardener’s World – here’s how we went about the job. If you spot anything amiss, or can think of a better method that we could employ or apply next year, please do shout out in the comments, down below.

1. Cut Back Foliage

With a nice, sharp pair of secateurs, we trimmed back all the leaves and stems, until there was just 15cm or so – maybe a little more, it’s easy enough to trim down further later on – of stalk remaining:

November 2016 - Dahlias trimmed
All the dead and dying foliage is cut back to around 15cm of stem.

2. Loosen Soil and Lift

Next, we worked a fork in around the plant, gradually loosening the soil in a circle that stayed well clear of where the main mass of tubers was likely to be:

November 2016 - lifting Dahlias
After gently loosening the soil, the entire plant is lifted out of the ground.

Once the soil was freely-moving, the entire plant was carefully raised up with the fork, taking care not to damage any of the tubers that hadn’t already snapped off. (The ‘Don Hill’ tuber clump was so massive that it neatly split itself into three sections whilst lifting; so that’s two plants for the allotment next year and one to take down to Guru Glyn as a return prezzie.)

November 2016 - Dahlias lifted
The plants have been carefully lifted and are ready to be cleaned up a bit.

3. Clean and Crate up for Transportation

We carefully brushed off as much loose soil as we could. Luckily it hadn’t rained much recently, so the soil was moist but not claggy and we were able to get a lot of it off:

November 2016 - Dahlias brushed off
We brushed off as much of the loose soil as possible – no point taking half the allotment back home with us.

Once we were happy that we we’d cleaned them as much as we could without risking damaging the tubers, we put the plants into plastic crates for the car journey home:

November 2016 - Dahlias crated
The trimmed and lifted plants are crated up and ready to transport back home.

The next job will be to wash off any remaining soil and then thoroughly dry the tubers. Standing the plants upside-down on their stems for a few days will make sure that all the moisture drains out of the stems and doesn’t soak the tubers instead.

November 2016 - Dahlias drying
Back home in the greenhouse, ready for drying out before packing and storing.

The last stage will be to pack them in used compost (or I think we could use a compost / perlite mix) for over-winter storage in a cool, dark place. We have an old bedside table or two in the shed with good, deep drawers that should be ideal for the purpose. We’ll give them a check-over every fortnight to make sure there are no signs of rot.

Assuming all goes well, in four months’ time or so they’ll be ready for potting up in the greenhouse and encouraging back to life for another stunning display next Summer and Autumn.

Of course, now Jo and I have been bitten by the Dahlia bug, the trick will be to avoid buying too many new varieties to add to our selection. But then, when does one more Dahlia tuber become a Dahlia tuber too many? We’ll leave you to ponder on that little bit of horticultural philosophy.

If you’ve grown Dahlias this year, please feel free to share your pics on Twitter @nftallotment. We’d love to see them!

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