Do ya really really have to dig them?

Spring City, TN(Zone 7b)

The thing that stops me from plunging into dahlias is the digging, storing, replanting thing. There's a man on the mountain behind me that has several 1000 dahlias and has a shed JUST for storing them over winter. He gets temps 5-10 degrees colder than me, year round.

Is there not some super process of mulching that would mean I didn't have to dig? I mean a bag of cedar shavings poured on the plants, something?????

Issaquah, WA(Zone 7a)

Does it freeze deep where you are for any length of time? You can try mulching with a big layer of straw, 6 inches or so, which insulates and helps excess moisture run off the clump area. You won't know until you try I guess.

The other thing to consider is the longterm result: your clump will keep producing tubers yearly and turn into a huge gnarly underground mess. Each year the plants that form have to fight for nutrients in that mess of tubers/roots. I have a clump in the ground for about its 7th year. Its spindly, wimpy little stems aren't even stalks, it's 18 inches tall (should be 4-5 ft) and not one bud let alone flower this year. That it hasn't completely rotted in our heavy winter rains is amazing, but it sure isn't what I'd call a good plant.

I'd like to meet the man on the mountain behind you! 1000's of dahlias!

Winchester, VA(Zone 6a)

Way, I live in zone 6 and don't dig mine up, unless I want to move, or remove, them. They seem to be fine. But, seconded to Poochella on the overcrowded and rotting thing.

Spring City, TN(Zone 7b)

Oh... OK, I was thinking about freezing, and wasn't considering over-crowding.... Thumping forhead. This forum is awesome. Would have taken me years to figure that one on my own.

Issaquah, WA(Zone 7a)

You could certainly try to leave them in a couple years, but I wouldn't go more than that. Here's a 2 yr old clump:

3 year old clump- getting a bit more gnarly!

And a nice well-behaved one year old clump that is so much easier to divide without harming tubers. All of the clumps are of the same variety.

The worst I ever dug was about 5 years old: nearly 3 ft across , a foot deep and I swear it weighed 50 lbs. By the time I got done hacking with with machetes, screwdrivers, knives, (don't think I used the axe, but was tempted....) I got 3 THREE decent tubers off the mess. And that's when I said "never again."

Spring City, TN(Zone 7b)

Ohhhhhhhh, pictures tell that story, don't they. If someone had said to me, if you replant Dahlias each year they MULTIPLY, the light bulb would have gone off (hopefully).

OK, how about planting dahlias in pots, which can then be replanted every year...?

Issaquah, WA(Zone 7a)

Well, presumably potted tubers will also multiply eventually taking up the pot instead of any soil, so probably the same thing applies. I'm just growing in large pots for the first time and will take the dahlias out in a couple weeks, so I can tell you what happened to them compared to the same varieties grown in the garden then. It might buy you more time before needing to divide them. You could probably just let them dry out, cut off the stalk and keep the pot from freezing all winter.

Anybody else?

Menasha, WI(Zone 5a)

I don't have anything, but Pooch I am laughing at the url on your 3 year old clump.

Issaquah, WA(Zone 7a)

LOL! I like to label them so I can remember what I'm going to be looking at.

Albany, OR(Zone 8a)

LOL Annie, I agree with Al. Love your name.

I have done some in pots and they don't seem to make tubers as well as the ground I have found. I think the actual in-ground is the best way to grow them. I do have 3 in a whiskey barrel and this is the 2nd year for them tho. They didn't do well this year at all. Last year, they were great. Am not sure why. Will be digging tho to see what is going on.
Have another one that is in a medium size clay pot that has been there for a few years and only puts out a few blooms at a time. That one is with some tulips so shall be replacing that one too, I think.
I did grow some dahlias from seeds and they didn't like the concrete pot there were in. I think it dried out too much for them.

But Annie is right. Each year they do grow bigger and bigger. I will suffer for sure soon about his problem. I have quite a few that have been in the ground for 3 years and am planning on not digging them this year. Want to do them next year and I may be unhappy with that choice but don't have the space this year to do it.

Emory, TX(Zone 8a)

So can you leave them for a couple of years and then dig and divide and then just replant them then instead of storing?


Langley, WA(Zone 7b)

I'm wondering the same - I just planted mine this year. Most grew and flowered a tiny bit. A couple did well but didn't start flowering til late. I'm wondering if I should leave them in the ground one more year or dig them up and store them.

I'm so lazy...


Albany, OR(Zone 8a)

It depends upon your soil, Gwen. If it drains good and you mulch them good, they should be fine. But if you poor soil, you have to dig them. Or if you have them in raised bed, they would do fine there too.

Emory, TX(Zone 8a)

So I am in NE Texas Zone 7b/8a. They are in good soil in a raised bed. If I mulch they should be fine then? I am lazy too. Actually rather than laziness I think it is insecurity. I am not knowlegable regarding storing bulbs, tubers etc. I hear you have to do things to them...and if you just leave them in the ground you don't have to know anything or do anything...LOL


Issaquah, WA(Zone 7a)

Gwendalou, I don't know if Langley is in the convergence zone or not, but here in W Wa I'd advise you to protect them from rain more than anything else. A layer of straw 4-6 inches deep or fern fronds or both LOL will help divert water from rotting the tubers. As Carol says: drainage is key.

Same for you in TX yardqueen. You probably don't freeze much, but protect the clump from sitting in soggy water-logged soil and they should be fine. The other thing to do is cut off the main stalk or stalks entirely so water doesn't get down into the crown of the clump and rot it. If you leave some stalk above ground as a marker, put a cover over it, aluminum foil, saran wrap and a rubber band? anything to keep water from sitting in or draining into the hollow stalk.

Emory, TX(Zone 8a)

When do you cut them off?

Massapequa Park, NY(Zone 7a)


I know this is not the season to talk about digging and storing but here is a way to avoid most of the trouble. Plant your dahlia in a good size pot (plastic is ok) anything over 8" in dia is ideal. Bury the pot so the rim of pot is about 1" below ground line. Grow during the season just as you would any other dahlia. These dahlia will be just as good as ones grown in open ground. My winner at the national show last year was grown in a potAt the end of the season cut down to about 2" and pop the pot out of the ground. DO NOT take it out of the pot but store it in a dry not freezing location. This is about the time I take last years out of the pot and start all over again. Believe me digging a pot is much easier than digging a clump. The dahlia will store fine in the pot, the soil keeps it from any problems and the clump will give lots of new plants. Yes this is a giant pot root. Try it on a few this year.
I will show some pictutres of the pots and the clumps from the pots starting in the morning.


Omaha, NE(Zone 5a)

I am from Omaha, NE and have been leaving dahlia tubers in the ground to over winter for years. My main issue has always been the difficulty of digging them up because I grow them mixed in with other perennials and shrubs. I have had many come back several years in a row, though and they are in a retaining wall bed. The voles discovered the tuber bounty a few years ago and that was infuriating! I have found that a good cedar mulch is a deterrent here! They tunnel to it and seem to stop. Anyone out there had this experience? Could be the hawks discovered the critters, but it has worked two years running, all year around.

Back to overwintering dahlias. Just hate it! I did pull a pot in last fall of a favorite (Bryn Terfel) and will get her out in a couple of weeks (if we EVER warm up! 25 tonight's low, ugh!) and see how she wintered in the soil. I think the pot was too small last year. It was 14" x14" x14". I am thrilled when I see new growth in the spring and I speculate that the freezing here keeps the tubers from getting too big. It is a crap shoot, though, so I always have fun ordering more if they don't make it. In ten years I would say I need to replant 50% of the time on average.

Thumbnail by terrimckyd
Calgary, AB(Zone 3a)

Ditto to Pooch re: dividing. I didn't divide a "Mystery Day" for 5 years too just to see what it would do. Just dug it up and put the whole clump back in again the next year. Finally tried to divide 'Matilda' this spring. Talk about butchery (darn why didn't I think about a machete) I got 2 viables from it and to honest the plant looked like crap the last couple of years. Stunted and very few flowers.

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