Looking for ways to overwinter dahlias and other tender bulbs for winter? Save and store tender plants with these simple tips.
Do you grow tender plants like dahlias, elephant ears, cannas, gladiolas, and caladiums?
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, so I’m detailing how to do this.
My Tender Plants
While I’ve never grown dahlias before, I’ve been growing other tender plants like elephant ears, cannas, and caladiums for several years.
I love the foliage on caladiums, don’t you?
Those gorgeous veins get me every time!
Some years I overwinter them properly.
And other years, I get a little lazy and let them go with the rest of the annuals.
But this year I started growing dahlias.
I was inspired to grow them from my friend Kim at Shiplap and Shells who grows dahlias and has the most beautiful cottage garden.
And now I am hooked.
Because they are SO gorgeous, I really 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?
With the cold winters here in New Jersey (Zone 6a) these plants 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 and other tender plants.
I also watched my friend Jen from the Flowering Farmhouse’s How To You Videos on Overwintering Dahlias.
The process is pretty similar, but dahlias seem a bit more finicky.
So here’s how to do it.
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Supplies Needed to Overwinter Dahlias and Other Tender Plants
- Garden Fork
- Pruners or Loppers
- Plant tags
- Crates, cardboard boxes and/or brown paper bags
- Sphagnum Peat
- Garden Hose
- Garden Spray Nozzle
How to Overwinter Dahlias and Other Tender Plants
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.
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.
- 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.
The ground is so pliable in fall.
So it is pretty easy to dig in and get under the tubers.
It is so important to be careful though when doing it so you don’t damage the tubers.
These dahlia tubers came out nice and easy.
I hosed them off to clean them up before storage.
Don’t they look so healthy?
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.
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 keep mine in an unfinished closet in our basement. My husband loves when I keep it in his work room. LOL!
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 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.
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