Yesterday (9th November) we dug up the dahlias. The frost came earlier this year than last but it inevitably comes and that means it’s time to put them to bed for winter.
I wrapped up warm including a thermal and normal vest plus hiking socks and furry liners in my wellies and headed down there in the morning to try and get them all done in one day.
It was really hard work, especially because some of the dahlias had grown massively over the summer and weighed a ton!! I can hardly believe how heavy they were, not only to dig up but to carry and pull in the cart back to the house but I managed it. I’m so achy today and so this will be a short blog seeing as my arms are killing me, along with every other bone and muscle in my body!!
It’s a big job so I tried to do it like an assembly line, one job at a time, starting with removing all the canes. I use a triangle of canes to support the plants so I pulled them all up as the first job. I use biodegradable twine to hold the canes together and by the time it gets to the end of the season it snaps easily so there’s no need to cut it first.
Once the canes are out (and stored away safely for next year in the shed), then it’s time to cut down the plants. The stems are hollow so it’s not particularly hard to cut them, I use normal garden loppers for ease as they are still quite bushy and the length of the loppers over secateurs make it easier to reach the base. I try not to cut them too close to the tuber for two reasons: firstly because it makes it easier to pull the tuber free of the soil and to carry it around; secondly because sometimes you get an eye on the woody part of the stem which you don’t want to lose.
I always use a fork to dig up the tubers because with a spade the risk of damage is too great – you never know how big the tubers will have grown and with a spade you might do significant damage to it.
I stick the fork in a bit of a distance away from the stalks, allowing for some growth and the leaver the tuber up. Sometimes if the soil is particularly firm, I have to do this again on the opposite side to loosen it up. I then grab the tuber by the stems and pull it out of the ground. I also shake it if it’s not too heavy, to get some of the soil off.
Once they’re out, I make sure to keep the label with it, either by firmly sticking it into one of the stems or by pushing it into the soil between the fingers (being careful not to pierce them).
I then took all the dahlias home in my little cart. I had to do three trips because some of them were absolutely massive!! I’ll hopefully be able to divide them up in the spring and have quite a few extras.
The next part after they’re all dug, is to dry them out slightly. Some people like to wash them straight away and then box them up but I think the soil gives them some added protections so I’m leaving it on. But because the soil was so wet, there is a lot of it so I’m hoping once it’s dried out a little, I’ll be able to shake some off or gently brush it with a soft dustpan brush. I’ve put them in the greenhouse to dry out, making sure to open the door in the day and cover them with blankets at night for a bit of extra warmth. The greenhouse is definitely not the place for long term storage but I don’t have another place big enough for it so it’ll have to do for a couple of days. Mine isn’t in full sunshine so it won’t roast them during the days but if you choose to do this, make sure you keep checking them and your thermometer. A garage would be ideal, or a cellar/basement if you’re lucky enough to have one.
You can see my cheapy cheapy Aldi £1 thermometer there but I’ve recently bought a new one that shows a minimum and maximum temperature which allows me to keep a better eye on how hot and cold it gets in there. This was only the first run of dahlias in the cart, two more loads to go and my arms and shoulders were burning. Don’t forget to put some slug pellets on the tubers if you’re doing this. I saw so many slug eggs and tiny snails when I was digging them up and you don’t want them to feast on your precious babies after all that hard work!
That’s it for the Big Dig – my next post will be on storing so let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like me to include.