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How to Overwinter Dahlia Flowers and Other Tender Bulbs

Do you want to save your dahlias and other tender bulbs for the next growing season? Learn how to overwinter dahlia flowers and other tender plants with these simple tips.

If you grow tender plants like dahlias, elephant ears, cannas, gladiolas, and caladiums and live in a climate where they won’t survive the winter, they’ll need to be dug up and stored indoors for the winter.

They are a bit more work in colder climates than your average perennials.

While not tender in all climates, if they are considered tender in your hardiness zone, they won’t survive winter if left in the ground.

Where bulbs and tubers are tender, gardeners have a decision to make: dig them up and overwinter indoors so they can be replanted in spring or treat them like annuals.

If you choose to store and save tender bulbs and tubers, it’s helpful to prepare ahead of time so you are ready to get them out of the ground.

I just completed the process of digging up my tender plants and storing them now.

Here’s how to do it. (Note: this post has been updated so see the end of this post for how overwintering dahlias went!)

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dahlia 'eveline' in my cut flower garden
Dahlia ‘Eveline’

Do Dahlia Flowers Come Back Every Year

The answer is, they can, but it depends on what hardiness zone you garden in.

In hardiness zones 8-10, they can grow back every year with some extra care. After the first hard frost, they will need to be cut back and covered with extra mulch (like 6 inches) to protect the tubers during winter.

But for the rest of us where they don’t return yearly, dahlia flowers need to be dug up and stored for the winter.

cafe au late Dahlia flowers close up

How Many Years Can Dahlias Live?

While dahlia flowers can’t survive cold winters, they can be dug up and overwintered successfully for years.

Do Dahlias Multiply?

Yes dahlias multiply and grow tubers while in the ground. Every year the parent tuber can produce anywhere from 5-20 new tubers.

So the tubers can be divided with care in the winter to get more dahlia flowers.

close up of dahlia flowers - How to Overwinter Dahlias and Other Tender Bulbs

The Dahlia Flowers and Tender Plants I Am Overwintering This Year

While I’ve never grown dahlias before, I’ve been growing other tender plants like elephant ears, cannas, and caladiums for several years.

As an aside, I love the foliage on caladiums, don’t you?

Those gorgeous pink veins get me every time!

close up of caladiums in Shade Container Idea with caladiums
caladiums

Some years I overwinter them properly. And other years, I get a little lazy and let them go with the rest of the annuals.

It really depends on what I have going on and how much time I have.

But this year I grew dahlia flowers for the first time and was inspired to grow them by my friend Kim at Shiplap and Shells. She grows dahlias and has the most beautiful cottage garden.

And now I am hooked.

fresh cut Dahlias from the cutting garden - How to Dry Flowers

Because they are SO gorgeous and can be expensive to buy, I want to collect, save, and store them for next year because I want to grow more.

(And I already ordered some new varieties to plant next spring.)

But I probably need more garden space to grow more.

Should I tell Chris now or later that we are starting a new garden in spring?

close up of dahlia flowers - Dahlias are the best fall garden flowers

With the cold winters here in New Jersey (Zone 6a) tender perennials, bulbs and dahlias will never survive if I leave them outside.

Although I’ve overwintered elephant ears, cannas, and caladiums before, I wasn’t sure if the process for dahlias would be the same.

So I’ve been reading up on best practices for digging and storing dahlias, as well as other tender plants.

And the process is pretty similar, but dahlias seem a bit more finicky.

So here’s how to do it.

fresh cut dahlias in bud vases on granite countertop in farmhouse kitchen with white painted cabinetsHow to Dry Flowers

Supplies Needed to Overwinter Dahlias and Other Tender Plants

While digging up dahlia tubers and other tender bulbs is fairly simple, there are a few things you need to store them.

Dahlia tubers are a bit finicky when overwintering, so they must be treated with extra care if you want them to survive the winter.

Here’s what you need.

Dahlia flowers are a late blooming summer flower

Directions to Overwinter Dahlia Flowers and Other Tender Plants

It’s pretty easy to dig up tender perennials and dahlia tubers for winter storage.

But as you do it, be careful not to nick the tubers or damage them in any way.

What to Do Before the First Frost

Before the first frost, tag and label plants.

This is particularly important for dahlias if you have several different varieties mixed together in a border.

Because I had so few varieties, I knew where I planted each so I skipped this step.

dahlias after a the first hard frost -Overwintering Dahlias after the first frost

Dig Up After the First Frost

After the first frost has blackened the foliage, cut all but about 4-6 inches of top growth (will depend on plant size).

It will be easier to gently pull them out of the ground if you have some stem to grab onto.

I used these pruners to cut the plant back, but you can use loppers too.

Cutting back the dahlias to Overwintering Dahlias and other Tender Plants

Bulbs must be dug before the ground freezes. And it is so important to carefully dig up the root structure without damaging tubers.

So give yourself room around each dahlia before digging to avoid damaging the tubers. It is best to use a garden fork like this one to help loosen the soil around it and gently dig it out.

Gently remove the excess soil and hose it off.

Look for signs of shriveling, dead or diseased tubers or areas that are soft. If there are signs of damage, it won’t survive winter.

Digging up dahlia tubers with garden fork -Overwintering dahlias and other tender plants

The ground is so pliable in fall.

So it is pretty easy to dig in and get under the tubers.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to be careful when doing this so you don’t damage the tubers.

holding dug up dahlia tubers before Overwintering Dahlias

These dahlia tubers came out nice and easy.

I hosed them off to clean them up before storage.

Don’t they look so healthy?

dahlia tubers after getting hosed off - Overwintering Dahlias

Dry Tender Plants Before Storing

Allow tubers, rhizomes, or bulbs to dry in a container for a few days in a frost-free location, out of direct sunlight.

Do not layer too many on top of each other to avoid them damaging one another. I am drying mine in these crates in our mudroom.

Keep an eye on them. Mine dried within a few days.

Once dried, gently remove excess soil and cut the stem to about an inch or so. Check the inside of the stem to insure dryness. If it is dry, then it is ready to store.

dahlia tubers in crates before Overwinter Dahlias

Pack and Store for the Winter

Label your containers for each plant variety. I’ve gotten lazy with this step before and then sat there in spring scratching my head as to which variety plant it is.

Pack similar bulbs together in a container like a cardboard box or paper grocery bags. Use packing material around tubers and bulbs to keep them from damaging each other.

I use sphagnum peat, but you could also use Canadian peat, wood shavings, among other things.

Store the container in a cool, dry place where the temperature will remain between 45 and 55 degrees all winter and the container is not in sunlight.

I stored mine in an unfinished closet in our basement and that worked pretty well.

pink and red dahlia flowers in the garden -How to Overwinter Dahlias and Other Tender Bulbs

Check on Them While in Storage

Check tubers periodically through winter for rotting and drying out.

If tubers appear shriveled, mist them lightly with water. If any start to rot, trim the rotted portion of the clump so it won’t spread.

Use care when handling them because they are fragile.

Plant Dahlia Tubers and Other Tender Bulbs in Spring

When warm weather arrives, plant overwintered tubers and bulbs to start growing after all danger of frost has passed.

To get a jump start on the season, I plant my tender plants in containers indoors and keep in a sunny window in late February.

Pink and red dahlia flowers in the garden - The ULTIMATE Guide to Having and Everblooming Colorful Garden

How Successful Was Overwintering Dahlia Flowers in the Basement?

It worked fairly well! I definitely lost a few but since that was the first time I’d ever done it, I had a few left.

To get a jump on the season, I started the dahlia tubers that survived in small pots on the deck but kept them free from moisture until I saw some greenery emerging.

Since I started them before the last frost date, I brought them indoors if it was a super cold day or there was a threat of frost.

dahlia thomas edison
Dahlia ‘Thomas Edison’

But aside from that, they started nicely and grew well.

And we made a new garden for my dahlias and other plants I wanted to grow for a cut flower garden.

When we did, we changed things in the backyard to move my vegetable garden to these raised garden beds.

Plus we overhauled the garden shed and it looked amazing!!!

Gorgeous cottage garden in the backyard in front of a garden shed with sedum autumn joy and wood picket fence with dahlias and zinniasin front of garden shed in backyard garden with green garden stakes topped with terra cotta clay pots - My cut flower garden in front of the shed in the backyard with a wood picket fence and sedum autumn joy - How to Save Money at the Garden Nursery
How My Cottage Garden Grew in 2021

Looking for More Flower Garden Ideas?

If you love flowers and want to grow more in your garden, here are some posts that will get you on your way.

From tucking in flowering plants that are deer-resistant or ones that attract more butterflies and hummingbirds, to shade-loving flowers like the lenten rose, these posts will get you on your way to growing a garden that will bring joy for years to come.

Here are more cut flower and cottage garden growing tips, tricks, and design inspiration.

view of the front porch cottage garden with sugar pumpkins, sedum autumn joy, rudbeckia, celosia and snapdragons

Want to Learn What to Plant for an Everblooming Colorful Garden?

Click here to get my FREE Must-Have Plant List!

Be the plant parent you’ve always wanted to be with these tried and true flowers that will give you a beautiful garden that’s always in bloom.

Dahlia 'Jowey Winnie' flowers close up
Dahlia ‘Jowey Winnie’

More Fall Gardening Posts You May Enjoy

If you want to learn more about what to do in the fall garden this year, check out these posts.

Garden Shed with Cut flower Garden nj in late summer

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How to Overwinter Dahlias and Other Tender Bulbs
How to Overwinter Dahlias and Other Tender Bulbs

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4 Comments

  1. Stacy,
    I’ve pinned all your information! I hope to add these plants in the spring and can’t wait to see if I can be successful with them. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!
    Rachel

  2. Hi Stacy, I was wondering where you get/order you Dahlias’ from? I would live to try them in my cutting garden next year.
    Thanks for all your helpful gardening information! Good luck with your upcoming move!