starting tubers in milk cartons

Beachwood, OH

Last year someone talked about starting their tubers early in milk cartons - if I recall how it worked, they taped shut the top, laid the carton on its side, and cut a long-wise rectangle out of a side for the stems to come up.

I'm in zone 5 - if I was going to do this, when would be the best time? Like 30 days before planting out? We had a freak 12" of snow last year on May 1st but our supposed last frost date is somewhere around May 10. Our night time temps could even remain below 70 even in late June.

And what about light? - I don't have a special place - they would have to go in the garage or in our warm basement. I guess I should add that I live in slug central so I have all my dahlias in pots on the deck - just too much trouble to fight. Last year - my first year - I potted my dahlias in May and they didn't really get going with plant development till July and blooming really began in August - depending on type.

Thanks!!!! I am so glad to be back in the conversation again - that other place really dried up.

I'm going to post separately about wintersowing dahlia seed - or if it works.

This was Otto's Thrill last year - I loved how it started out almost streaked and then the color fills in to be a solid coral.

Thumbnail by alyrics
Issaquah, WA(Zone 7a)

Hey alyrics! Welcome to you too.

Here's a copy and paste of that milk carton post. I have a zillion gallon milk jugs and am going to sacrifice a few of those to try. But I bought a wax 1/2 gallon carton just to try that too. LOL

I'd think a sunny window would suffice. It's warmth and light that will get them going. Last year I tried using a heating pad in the kitchen window, but the dang cats kept knocking over the pots of tubers to hog the heat! little feline swine....

Anyway, I would start them 4-6 weeks early. Sounds like you have quite a bit of cool weather yet to go. Mine seem to get lanky if started too early though. ( I don't know if the poster was referring to WA weather, or considering OH weather below.)

Here's the Paste....
You can pot them up in milk cartons - you can get 3-4 to a carton- (staple the top shut, lay on side, cut the new "top" off leaving enough of a tab to write the name on) in Feb or March & grow them inside until danger of frost is passed then plant them in the garden just as you would an annual or perennial- carefully so as not to break off too many roots- although they really don't mind if you do they just put out more-- lovely things that they are!-- You can get a month or more head start on blooming by doing this- just be sure to harden them off before you plant them out. We have a neighbor that starts all hers- they're about a foot tall when we plant them out for her & she has really early blooms- & they're still blooming now at the end of the season.

Beachwood, OH

Poochella!! Hi there! Hey this is fun - just like old times. Last year I bought so many things way too early and ended up not being able to plant because it was too wet early in the season after our heavy winter and I had to cover and uncover potted plants for weeks - what a pain. I think I will start my tubers in milk cartons maybe the end of April - that will give them 30 days start before I put them into my big deck planters. I wonder how much top growth that will give? We'll find out!

I can't imagine putting mine into soil in Feb or March - I would have 2 months before they could go outside - that original poster must have a milder climate?

Alyrics

Issaquah, WA(Zone 7a)

Alyrics,You have to tell people here how that Otto's Thrill survived and flourished for you!

Yes, the poster, Plantlady, is about 1-2 hours north of Seattle, so she is unlikely to freeze or freeze for long in the uupcoming weeks. That must mean I can begin to pot some up too! Got milk?

Speaking of slugs, I'll again pass on my little trick to keep the slimy @$)%*%__ s off my young dahlias. I cut off the bottom inch of a gallon milk jug. Put that over the plant as soon as a shoot appears ( this is in the garden, not in a starting pot/milk carton.) Mound up a little bit of soil around the bottom and voila!- the plant is protected from slithering slimers. On at night, off before the sun heats up too much in the day. It makes a great little mini greenhouse, especially in early spring with cool nights. I have been known to flit about the garden in my work clothes and clogs pulling milk jugs off 100+ plants before work LOL

Once the plants are up 8-10 inches or so, I go to Sluggo or other non toxic repellant. The milk jugs easily stack for reuse year after year. I finally figured out to save them rather than collect and recut them year after year after year. Told you I was blonde, Al!

Marquette, MI(Zone 5a)

Here's a posting of my milk jugs, the photo was taken 04/30/05. I wanted to try starting some from cuttings. Some tubers were eyed up already when I took them out of storage, some not. If memory serves me, I think I began to take them out of storage around the first week of April. Yes, they were inserted at an angle, if the tubers were too long to lay flat. It didn't make any difference. They were kept near a sunny window, don't overwater them. It is a surefire path to rot. (that's my experience talking). The tubers/plants don't go outside until at least the end of May in my zone.

Thumbnail by grannymarsh
Albany, OR(Zone 8a)

Annie,
How do these milk cartons protect you from the slugs? Don't the slugs just climp up and around on the milk jug bottom? Or even fall into the hole where the new shoot comes up?
I guess I need a picture to understand how it keeps the slug away from the shoot. I just can't visualize it saving the shoot from their hungry mouths!
Carol

Issaquah, WA(Zone 7a)

Hey! That's my handwriting on Granny's tuber! I always got "needs improvement" on handwriting grades- even in first grade LOL!

Ruffles, just for you I am going outside right now to demonstrate the wonders of milk cartons with my amazing "nightshot" camera setting. LOL

In the photo you can see a corner of my garage devoted to some stacked precut milk containers, some whole ones which come in handy for shorter stems if you cut off an opening about 6 inches across the top, or for spot watering.
to the left you can see one on its side with the bottom cut off and quite dirty from last year. : (

Next: pretend my little crocus are a new dahlia sprouting up in the garden. Sometimes I'll take my finger and dig a little outline where the bottom of the container will surround it, sometimes I just plunk it over the dahlia carefully.
http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v293/poochella/Dahlia%20Lessons/milkjugbycrocus.jpg

When covered, I just scoop up loose soil readily available from planting time and mound it up about an inch high on the milk carton. Takes seconds. No slug has ever got in**, including climbing to the top and finding the hole! They are too slow, I guess.
http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v293/poochella/Dahlia%20Lessons/milkjugovercrocus.jpg

The next morning: Crocuses/dahlias saved from total disaster! Plus they got to stay a bit warmer in their little plastic houses, I think. When I remove the cartons in the a.m. or at least before really hot sun hits them, I just set them by the side of the plant (Occasionally anchored with a rock so a big wind won't blow it into plant) or hang them on the dahlia's stake, or collect 5-6 and stack em up for replacing on the plants that night. It only takes a few minutes if you run like a bunny LOL.
http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v293/poochella/Dahlia%20Lessons/milkjugsavescrocuses.jpg


** In heavy slug population areas, it is wise to glance INSIDE the milk carton if it's been lying in the garden in the evening, as some little ones in particular can crawl on the inside. I've had a couple instances where I didn't notice them and the milk container only held them IN rather than keep them out of the plants.
This works great. I've done it for years after reading about it somewhere, sometime.

Thumbnail by Poochella
Albany, OR(Zone 8a)

Ah gee, Annie, I have a whole bunch of these up in my attic too!
I cut off the bottoms of these milk jugs for my tomato, melon, etc plants. To cover them for the cold in the spring!
Never would have thought of using them on the dahlia tubers.
But you know, I do have to insert a like a bamboo stick, long one, inside the open hole to keep them from blowing away.
I just use sluggo around the dahlia tuber shoots.
I don't have time to take off that many of them each morning like you.
You must look real cute each day in your work clothes out there then, hehe.
Thanks for the pics, Annie, you are so so sweet to me, LOL
Carol

Beachwood, OH

Aw shucks Poochella!
That Otto's Thrill was just beginners luck. I probably couldn't do that again if I tried. What happened was that the plant was very turgid one morning and I moved it - in my work clothes wrestling a big container to another place on the deck... The Stalk which was already 3-4' high and had baby buds snapped off at the base right above the tuber connection. I was so mad I jammed it down into the pot and stomped off to work. When I came back it hadn't gone limp so I left it. It bloomed as you see above - I got maybe 6-7 blooms off that stalk and when I dug it up in the fall it had made 2 small tubers about 4" long along the sides of the stalk. I sincerely doubt they survived because last year was my first attempt at digging and storing dahlias. Those tubers were quite puny compared to what I originally bought and I had a hard time seeing details along the stalk/tuber joint.

I checked my tubers the other day - its been a very cold, dry winter and they all feel a little dessicated so I don't know what I will have that survives. I did try something that seems to have worked as well as wrapping in plastic wrap. The P. Allen Smith website said to just dig the tubers with stalks on, cut the stalks to about 6-8" long and hang them upside down ( stalk end hanging down) to dry and cure. I didn't have hanging space so I put the tubers into a brown paper bag, then tied the bag shut with twine around the stalks and packed them stalk end down into cardboard boxes. At last check they were fine. It was very easy to label them also - just wrote on the outside of the bags. I'll be able to let you know if this worked in a month or so. I mostly did this with the little dahlias like Bluesette and the Gallery series where the tubers aren't so large. I was having a heck of a time separating all those little tubers and figuring out if I had eyes or not.

Thumbnail by alyrics
Langley, WA(Zone 7b)

I ordered tubers from Swan Island for the first time this past summer. I believe they will mail them when they're ready to go in the ground. But I'd like to try planting them in the millk cartons earlier. I wonder if Swan Island will mail them out to me earlier.

Also, can I put the milk cartons on my heat cables in the greenhouse? The cables are buried in sand and the sand is covered with heavy duty plastic.

Gwendalou

Renton, WA(Zone 8a)

Hi all, I wanted to make sure my tubers were good before trading them as last fall was the first time I had ever divided any. About a month ago (2 months before the swap), I put the tubers in a pot, with the eyes just below the surface of the soil. Most were not straight up and down, but on their side. I keep the soil moist and about 2 weeks ago, I noticed them sprouting! They are about an inch or so tall now, and a couple i have snaped off the top part of the sprout so I can root that and make more plants. I leave the bottom set of leaves intact on the tuber. The sprouts I have snapped off go into sterile soil, and I keep them moist. They wilt a bit, and then come right back.

I hope to have lots of tubers to share next year! :)

Issaquah, WA(Zone 7a)

Gwendalou, If you contact Swan Island, they should honor an early mailing request , but some of the sellers will not honor any guaranty on tubers mailed early because it's deemed unsafe to plant them ( in the ground) that early.

Sounds like you have a great set up! Milk cartons would do well on a heated sand bed.

Jburesh, where are you keeping your sprouted dahlias? How exciting to hear they're growing already! I have one milk carton ready to go- a pretty meager effort on my part ; ) Two more in the fridge- with milk!

Renton, WA(Zone 8a)

They're in a mostly heated garage under shop lights with my tomato, lettuce, and spinach seedlings. Looks like I'll have a couple of extra white pom-pom to trade.

I've broken down and bought a bunch of tubers from a dahlia grower in everett off of craigslist. I'm getting 15 tubers (9 different kinds) for $28. I hope they all grow esp. the 3 kinds I'm only getting one tuber of! You've all gotten me addicted with those beautiful pictures. :)

Beachwood, OH

I'm getting antsy to start these dahlias in the milk cartons. Can't think of anything to do though except talk about it -its too early here. we are forecasted to have highs in the freezing temps for the next 5 days at least. I wonder what would happen if I started the tubers outside in a cold frame? They need heat to get started right? But they've been in the cold garage all winter. Seems like they'd be slow but well hardened off. Maybe in a few more weeks. The trouble is you just can't count on the weather here to warm up consistently.

We had a 35 degree temperature drop yesterday - it went from 65 to 30 overnight. Yesterday I was looking at a friends perennial bed with banana trees overwintering, and this morning its snowing. Itsa drivin me nuts

Long Island, NY(Zone 6b)

Hi everyone - I like this idea and would like to give it a go. I found this on the 'other' site and thought you might all find it informative.

Posted by: plantlady2 NW Washington (My Page) on Mon, Jan 30, 06 at 23:25

We use milk cartons because I don't like the taste of milk from plastic jugs--Bletch! That being said- staple the top shut so the soil doesn't fall out. Lay the carton on it's side & cut out what is now the top. You then have a flap that you can cut down to about 1-2" & write the name of the dahlia on. You plant the dahlia on it's side- the milk carton is long enough to accommodate all but those WAY huge tubers. The neck end is left out- probably so if we want to we can take cuttings- haven't really thought that one out but it's the way we've always done it & so have all the other growers we know that start their dahlias early. By the time I get around to starting tubers, I've also started about 800 seedlings so they all go in the 70* greenhouse with lots of light & a nice warm bottom- the heat pads are set at 70*, too. After they're well on their way to growing they can be popped out of the cartons & planted- after being hardened off, of course.
Do you still need a picture? That means I have to brave the dreaded "RED BOX" aaarrrggghhh!!! Or maybe I'll try to get my computer & camera to talk to each other & put a couple of picts. in our seedling album...... Will let you know which it turns out to be.

Langley, WA(Zone 7b)

Okay, which is the 'neck' end?

Gwendalou, new to dahlias

Issaquah, WA(Zone 7a)

Gwendalou, the "neck" end is the thinner end which comes off the clump and will have the eyes that produce next year's plant. The whitish eyes are very visible on two tubers to the lower right here. Not all tubers on a clump will have eyes, BTW.

The generally fatter end is where the largest roots will generally form, like a long rat tail and then lots of smaller hair- like roots along the length of the main tuber body.

These tubers were so particularly beet red, I had to take a photo of them. Had several others with a pink cast, but these were really red.

Hope that helps.

Thumbnail by Poochella
Vancouver, WA(Zone 7a)

So, has anyone had success starting their tubers in anything other than milk cartons? I buy my milk in the plastic jugs, because I don't mind the taste...LOL!

Issaquah, WA(Zone 7a)

LOL flowerfrenzy, We've bought milk in plastic for years, so when I got the waxed cartons I could barely stand even 1%- it tasted like cream. So this might push me to convert to skim, once and for all- or else I'll just keep buying gallons.

I was just thinking, re your post, of course, people start dahlias in pots or paperlined pots all the time. The milk cartons were just in a discussion at another forum. My milk cartons and/or pots are going to have to find another location because of the @[email protected]^&#& cats, but I intend to pot some up for an early start.

Appleton, WI(Zone 5a)

I start my dahlias in a couple weeks in regular pots on my porch. They get moved outside into their homes around mid May. I then plant annuals in the pots where I had the dahlias.
Al

Long Island, NY(Zone 6b)

Al - I'm assuming [uhoh, there's that word] that your porch is enclosed?

Appleton, WI(Zone 5a)

It's enclosed, but not heated, as it is 40 degrees today.
I actually need to pick up some potting soil soon. I cut it with some peat moss to keep it looser for transplanting, at least that's my theory ;)

'bout ready to cash in those AV for dahlias now are ya'?

Long Island, NY(Zone 6b)

NEVER!! But I wanted to get a jump start on my tubers in the basement. I'm tired of waiting forever for those blooms!

Issaquah, WA(Zone 7a)

You could start them under lights Anita bryk2, about 14 hours a day I think? I've never done it. Warmth is the key.

After complaining about the cats, see my thread on "why I don't do cuttings...." for the breaking news update. I need to hire an armed guard if I'm ever going to start dahlias early here!

Vancouver, WA(Zone 7a)

Poochella~

LOL at your other thread! Dogs are sure naughty...but they have such dopey, sweet looks on their faces that it's hard to punish them!

Thanks for the info everyone. I have LOTS of pots, so I'll try them in those.

Long Island, NY(Zone 6b)

I was going to give the light thing a try as I have a setup down in the basement. I might even try it with my EE's

Renton, WA(Zone 8a)

I sprouted dahlia bulbs under flourescent lights in my garage. I gave them the same light as my tomato seedlings, about 12 or so hours a day, they sprouted, grew leaves, and look great. I even took some cuttings.

Issaquah, WA(Zone 7a)

JBuresh, how close do you keep the lights to your dahlias and what wattage of light do you use?

Somewhere online is the most elaborate starting/cutting box rigged up by a real dahlia fan. If I find a link I'll post it here.


I just got potting soil to pot up some tubers, sand to put cuttings in, should I attempt them, and Soil Moist for trying dahlias in big pots this year for the first time. Now to find a suitable jail cell to put them out of harm's way. If I went to Petco and got a lizard I'd wager it would be out of its cage and into the dahlia milk carton in record time!

Renton, WA(Zone 8a)

I bought a 4' shop light and kept the lights 2-4' above the tubers. As they sprouted and grew, I raised the lights to keep them that same distance from the leaves. The cuttings I took with a razor knife after 2 sets of leaves had formed. I plopped them into some moist soil, no hormone. and gave the cuttings the same light as the tubers. They didn't wilt or anything, now only a week later, I put them outside with the rest of my seedlings and they seem alright.

Beachwood, OH

Hey I opened up all my wrapped tubers from last fall and they survived! With the exception of 2 mushies. Yay! That was an experiment I expected to fail. Now I am hopping up and down on 1 foot waiting to plant them in the milk cartons. I should wait at least 2 more weeks till the end of March. I can't really plant out here till mid - end of May. And I think nobody from my zone has replied as to when I could start these indoors and how much growth I should expect in 2 months. Or if I need to curb it and just wait till mid April?

I also wonder if I could start these in slightly damp soil in a 40 - 45 degree garage or if they might rot?

Can you tell I can hardly wait to get started?

Renton, WA(Zone 8a)

alyrics,

I started mine in my garage, damp soil, under lights, at about that temp, maybe a little warmer.

Everson, WA(Zone 8a)

Congratulations on your successful tuber storage, alyrics. That is wonderful news.

I went to a meeting of the Central Ohio Dahlia Society 2 weeks ago and they discussed starting dahlias here (zone 5b). They said it was better to start them inside because if you wait to plant them directly in the ground after the last frost date (around May 15 here) it takes them a long time to bloom; in fact some may not bloom until September if at all. They recommended starting them in pots anytime from mid-March to mid-April. The earlier start dates are better for people with greenhouses or fluorescent lights. If you start them now in front of windows they would have 8 - 10 weeks trying to get enough light. You could end up with long leggy plants reaching for light.

They did warn against cold wet soil. They said that would rot the tubers so I am not sure if 40 to 50 would be warm enough. You might try contacting your local dahlia society and see what they say.

Beachwood, OH

HI NoH - thank you so much for your post. You confirmed what I was thinking - it is too early and I'll be sitting on plants that are getting too leggy but I can't put in the ground yet.

Well I did WS 2 types of dahlia yesterday so that at least satisfies the urge for a little while.

Thanks again
a

Long Island, NY(Zone 6b)

I might give it a try as I have a light setup in the basement

Everson, WA(Zone 8a)

Quoting:
Well I did WS 2 types of dahlia yesterday so that at least satisfies the urge for a little while.


What is WS?

Anita, I intend to start mine as soon as they arrive, probably the first 2 or 3 weeks of April. I have lights too so that will help.

I forgot to mention that the dahlia society people said it is better to have a smaller compact plant than a larger leggy one when they go in the ground.

Marquette, MI(Zone 5a)

WS = Winter Sowing

Everson, WA(Zone 8a)

Thanks, grannymarsh. I was thinking tubers not seeds so winter sowing never came to mind. LOL

Albany, OR(Zone 8a)

You can just snip off the shoots that are getting leggy. That will also just make the plant more bushy later in its life.
Just my 2 cents worth.
Carol

Beachwood, OH

Hi Jburesh - if you've started the tubers in a cooler environment than a heat pad - how long before they start to sprout? I think shoot-snipping sounds like a good solution to legginess - why didn't I think of that?
a

Appleton, WI(Zone 5a)

Andrea,
my porch that I start mine on sort of is in the mid range- 50-60 d, they stay there for 6 weeks or so and are mostly 8-12" (4 leaf sets) when I move them.
Al

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