Food First, Dahlia Grab Bag Last
rost is on the way again, so that meant I had to quit procrastinating and get my dahlia tubers lifted, washed, labeled and put away for winter. This is a task I probably haven’t done in 15 years or more. I used to grow way too many dahlias and glads, and unlike potatoes, you don’t eat the multipliers, you have to store them through the winter for the next years garden. If you’re a dahlia seller, it’s worth the work and space you need to devote to the tubers over winter. Dahlias can quickly get out of hand – see below.
I want more food than flowers, so proceeding with caution (warning: dahlias are a lot like material, one more yard to add to the stash is a good thing, right?) this year, I bought a few dahlia bulbs just to add some larger flowers to the garden. All my food chores in the garden are about done, except hilling the remaining root crops with soil, but before I do that I do need the plant tops to freeze back a little. I found out the hard way that jumping the gun on that task made a nice area for voles to keep warm and eat my vegetables.
Nothing gets done around here without the crew of vole hunters. I didn’t see much hunting going on yesterday though, mostly just hanging out with the two-legged. The dogs and cats steered clear while I hosed the soil off of the tuber clumps, but they quickly migrated back as soon as the hose was drained and put away.
I purchased these tubers from a small farm on a whim, and they were neatly displayed for self-service in the farm house breezeway. The farmer was spreading manure on her pasture when I stopped by, so I only had to write down my list and count the tubers and hand her the cash as she went rattling by with the tractor.
Most folks I know that grow dahlias casually, occasionally have mislabeled tubers. It really makes no difference, and once you see the blooms you can make note for the following year if it matters to you. She had some of my old favorites and some others that I wanted to try. I wasn’t worried about each tuber not being marked, I liked them all, and could sort them out after the first blooming season when I lifted the tubers.
Somewhere during the summer as we were enjoying the dahlias in the garden and in bouquets, I misplaced that list. I had every intention of marking those plants by name and the pressure was on as the weather turned cooler. I finally found that list, but to my surprise after an internet search of dahlia images I discovered about half of the dahlias I bought weren’t the ones on the list. I like them all, she sells cut flowers and that is what I wanted, dahlias with strong stems that will hold up to the rigors of bouquet making. The internet is a wonderful thing, I could at least confirm some of the names of the dahlias, for the others I had to resort to dahlia lingo. I have some that are marked like this: Purple, B FD, which means in dahlia speak – color, size and style, I have a clump of purple, 4″ – 6″ , formal decorative tubers. Some have harried gardener lingo because I was late in finding the list, and the freeze destroyed the blooms and tweaked the colors. These are marked IDK, I Don’t Know.
For marking the dahlia tubers before storage I like to use an indelible ink pencil. This makes my job much easier come planting time. The ink on the tuber will stay readable even through the next growing season, it’s that good. And it’s also to remind me of my mistake, Nadine Jessie is the proper spelling. I did this immediately after washing the tubers because the tuber needs to be damp for the ink to work. If they are dry you can use a damp cloth or a spray bottle to wet a small area for writing.
To take up less storage space I cut the stem just about the eyes and store the marked clumps in recycled plastic burlap weave feed bags. Not the new fused plastic feed bags, the old style gives a little breather room, and also holds in moisture. I gave up long ago packing tubers in vermiculite, perlite or sawdust. I store the bags in the cellar to keep them from freezing, and I can monitor them for dryness. If they start to look a little shriveled I tie the bag closed. You don’t want too much humidity nor too little. Part of our cellar has a dirt floor, and I have found that is the best place to store my dahlia bags.
If you’re a gardener, you know the saying next year all too well. Next year I plan to mark my dahlias a little better and do more research on the varieties I have. Of course, this research will have to be a field trip to the farm where I purchased these, and maybe I’ll get a few more :)