The dahlias are tucked away despite the fact that I swore off trying to overwinter them again after last year’s dahlia fail. I killed all except one variety. It was my first attempt at overwintering dahlias and I thought the garage was the perfect spot. As it turns out, it’s not. Chalk this fail, there have been many, up to some serious gardener error. Three crates full of clean, plump, labeled tubers by March had become three crates of shriveled, puckered pods. I learned two things from that experience – the garage is too cold for dahlia tubers and you have to check your tubers monthly. Ok three things. I stink at this dahlia thing.
I went to all that effort to store them and basically forgot about them for months, expecting they’d be just as I had left them months before. Well, these aren’t McDonald’s chicken nuggets! Again I was left with a choice and again I changed my mind. I’m going to give it another go, dahlia fail or not. Which brings me to another change of heart.
Funny how that works.
The Dahlia Backstory
Summer 2020 was my first year growing dahlias and what a year it was. Beginners luck, perhaps? So much better than this one. Again, I don’t know why that is. I just know that it’s different and the garden never encores exactly like the year before. Such was the case with the dahlias. I made a Youtube video about that first dahlia experience, sharing what I thought was a valuable dahlia hack.
At the time I was feeling pretty smug about my keen observation. But I’ll be the first to admit that I was a little wrong. Which is nothing like being a little pregnant. You either are or you’re not. But my dahlia hack never took into account light availability in an established garden that’s home to some pretty big plants that cast shadows. How could a tuber contend with that? Well, it can’t. So my hack is totally situational, but not completely off the mark.
Last year, following the instructions of trusted dahlia expert Erin the Impatient Gardener, I potted up all of my dahlias in early spring in an effort to jump-start the season. Then I won a dahlia giveaway and received a few more tubers in May. Those were planted directly in the ground at the same time as the ones that were potted indoors in March.
Before long, the late arrivals, which were bathed in sunlight and covered in toasty soil from day one, had caught up to the ones that got the jump. So then the wheels started spinning and I thought I could get away with planting tubers directly in the soil in May this year instead of buying soil, washing containers and basically eating floor space in my kitchen waiting for these dahlias to show their green little heads. My husband was happy with the new plan too.
Space is at a premium in spring around here. Trays of seedlings in the windows, the sudden appearance of houseplants and grow lights in our bedroom. Yes. That happened. Don’t judge. It’ll all happen again in March but we won’t tell him. He’ll come home from work one day and it’ll appear as though the seedling fairy waved her wand and bestowed upon us this plethora of horticulture and chaos. I wonder if there’s some sort of support group for people like my husband.
I followed the plan and planted out the dahlia tubers in late May. Some grew quickly, especially the ones growing in full sun, unshaded by neighboring plants. But other dahlias were forced to contend with garden mates who were already pretty established, making light more limited despite the fact that these were full-sun hot locations. If they already had some size on them, prior to planting out, I think they would have faired much better and grown so much faster. Flowers were fewer on the more concealed tubers too. They grew slowly and I realized that starting the tubers indoors made more sense.
Rather than planting some as tubers and others as started plants, this spring I’m going back to the original method. All the dahlias, assuming they survive my overwintering method, will be potted up in late March/early April. The hope is that no matter where they land in the garden next year, their size will help them find the sun and flourish.
The extent of next year’s dahlia order hinges on the success of my overwintering method. Casualties are inevitable. And I’m looking forward to some new additions. I’m slowly figuring out this dahlia thing and hopefully garden 2022 will offer up more insight and not another dahlia fail. Despite this year’s meager turnout, every beautiful dahlia was loved and celebrated by me and the bees. And that’s enough.
Have you had a dahlia fail?
By the way, I have a new video up on YouTube…