Help! Do I have to wait for a frost to dig up tubers?

pipelakelindaSeptember 28, 2006

Heading to Florida early, no frost here yet. Can I cut them back now to encourage new growth and dig them up in a week? What is the importance of that first frost? Thanks!

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Poochella(7 WA)

The importance of the first frost is to turn your garden of beauty into a hellish colorless vision of cooked spinach on tall stalks. There is no sadder sight. POOF- overnight- they are gone.

I have no time to wait for a hard frost here, and do not wish to see my dahlias turned into cooked spinach. I have begun cutting down/digging a day or a few days later as early as the second week in October. I will be doing it again this year starting mid October- no difference in tubers compared to the year it did freeze on me.

Some say to wait a week after cutting off the stalks, but if you know what you're looking for, you can see the eyes if you intend to divide the clumps within a couple days.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2006 at 9:54PM
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Thanks poochella, I will be cutting them down tomorrow morning! Last year was my first time with dahlias and I used the Saran Wrap method. It worked beautifully for me as far as wintering. Not many of the tubers produced plants so either I planted them incorrectly or perhaps too early. Next spring I will do better research before I plant! Happy winter to you.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2006 at 10:57PM
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Poochella(7 WA)

Oh oh, if not many tubers produced plants, you likely didn't get an eye when dividing last year, or perhaps the tubers rotted in the ground. Or did your tubers have obvious sprouts when you planted them? You might want to wait a few days after chopping down the plants and give the eyes a chance to really pop out so you can see them better.

I posted some close ups last year of looking for eyes, maybe look back at posts last October/November to find them.

Glad to hear the Saran Wrap worked well for you.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2006 at 9:59AM
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linnea56(z5 IL)

Gosh, poochella, you put that so well! "The importance of the first frost is to turn your garden of beauty into a hellish colorless vision of cooked spinach on tall stalks." Quite a turn of phrase: you've captured that vision and the accompanying mood quite well.

Add in, perhaps, that invariably after that fatal freeze the weather will be unbelieveably dismal for at least 3 weeks, that every day you can manage to struggle out there (Thinking, "eyes! There will be eyes! Must get the dahlias before it is TOO LATE!") to try to dig in the frozen mudpit you will be enduring blasting wind and freezing rain, your numb fingers struggling in wet mud to extract the last slippery tuber.

Only the memory of the beauty that was, and the will to preserve and create it once again, can sustain you through the cold and the effort.

Either that or insanity. Take your pick. October looks better and better.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2006 at 6:07PM
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Poochella(7 WA)

Why thank you, Linnea. And you have captured the torment of digging dahlia clumps in cold, wet, weather quite well yourself! It is something that only a true dahlia fiend would endure for the cause of these flowers.

The reason the cooked spinach made such an impression on me is that, that particular year I had been to the doctor where the receptionist and her hubby grow tons of dahlias. She informed me that they had spent the previous weekend digging up tubers- their season was over. So I crowed and told her "Really, so early? I'm still cutting flowers." Well, within 48 hours I woke up to the spinach, was all done crowing, and was soon cutting nothing but wet, cold, slimy dahlia stalks with frozen flowers absolutely devoid of color.

There's a lesson there! Hold off on the crowing in October LOL! This year, on the other hand, has been the BEST. I just cut another 200 this a.m. All in full rich color, a tiny bit smaller than usual, stems in good shape. This is very unusual for this late where I live.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2006 at 10:49PM
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Why would anyone want to wait for a frost??!!!! Before I cut mine back, I took every flower off and created the most beautiful bouquet I've ever seen. Up until then, I had put 3 or 4 in a vase, trying to leave as many outside as possible.....WHY???!!!! They are more beautiful this way :)

Tomorrow I start digging and thank you both for responding to my original question. I will use the Saran Wrap method again and hopefully it will be easier to see eyes this year. Happy winter!

    Bookmark   October 4, 2006 at 8:12AM
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triple_b(BC 5b)

This is GOOD NEWS!! We are moving at the end of this month. Thus far, I thought I was in a race against time: Would the cooked spinach manifestation wait until the end of the month like last year? Can't have that, gotta pack! Gotta MOOOVE! To know that I can dig them up at my leisure is a real weight off. Thanks for bringing this up, and happy winter to you too.
trish aka triple_b

    Bookmark   October 7, 2006 at 6:13PM
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Wonderful news. Thanks for asking. I too will be going to Florida and can't wait for the frost. So will use your advice to cut down and wait 3 days for eyes to form before digging up the tubers. Will allow 6 days to dry out before spliting. Hope I can find the eyes this year. Poochella, will look for your post on finding eyes.

Have a wonderful winter.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2006 at 6:39AM
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Poochella(7 WA)

6 days is a tad long to let them dry I think. Or are you storing them with dirt on- the old fashioned way? I cut the stalks down, wait a day or two, then dig, wash, label, divide, and let dry overnight, (2 days maxium) before wrapping or storing.

If you had trouble seeing eyes, cut them down and leave them in the ground longer, just protect the open hollow stalk from rain/snow. That won't hurt anything and might help you out spotting likely eyes. I had one clump sadly broken off by a toppling neighbor dahlia. There wasn't even any stalk visible. I left it a couple weeks and dug up the little clump- there were already several 1" shoots formed, ready to go to town.
here's the photo of it:
The skinny tuber to the right has a light eye ringed in blue ink. But I cut it off: too skinny to hope for survival. The blue line behind the shoots is where I trimmed off the good main tuber with shoots. All shoots were broken off in this process but they'll be back.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2006 at 4:53PM
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triple_b(BC 5b)

If I didn't know what that pic was and just happened to come across it, I would say EWWWW! What is THAT?! Looks like something from "Fear Factor".

    Bookmark   October 9, 2006 at 11:28PM
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Last year I cut mine down and waited 8 days to dig. Mine did not show a sigle eye or bud like yours. What am I doing wrong? Steve in Baltimore County

    Bookmark   October 10, 2006 at 7:40AM
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Poochella(7 WA)

No one said the lowly tuber was pretty did they Triple B? I still marvel that such beauty can emerge from such a homely thing.

Steve in Baltimore. No idea. Do you have a camera you can post some real close, close ups and we can try to ID eyes for you when you dig? Better still: is there a nearby dahlia association that can help tutor you on finding eyes?

    Bookmark   October 10, 2006 at 12:02PM
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reddscarlette(3a BC Can)

Great advice all......(I actually learned something last year so here is where I'll attempt to apply it lol)

I was told (by a friend whos sister has a dahlia farm) that the reason for allowing for the freeze (as unsightly as it is...) is to allow the sugars and starches to be forced down to the tuber, thus promoting more eyes, better growth and stronger tubers for the following year.

I hope this helps a bit :) (I've noticed a difference this year with my tubers that I dug up....ALOT more eyes on them as opposed to not seeing a dang thing)

So all in all...that freeze is pretty important :)


    Bookmark   October 10, 2006 at 12:31PM
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triple_b(BC 5b)

looks like a skeleton built out of yams and has little aliens popping out of it. (or something like that)

but yes, the results are magnificent.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2006 at 12:50PM
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Poochella(7 WA)

That's good info Nikki, but I'm still curious: is it the actual freeze, and subsequent loss of foliage to nourish the plant that forces those sugars back to the tubers? Or could the same shock of the loss of foliage achieved in cutting down your plant accomplish the same thing? That's what I want to know.

I don't know if there even is an answer but I'll google it!

    Bookmark   October 10, 2006 at 1:46PM
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reddscarlette(3a BC Can)

Poochella, apperently, the innicial shock of the freeze forces most of the good stuff back to the tuber. If this is true (which I tend to think nowwa days) is if you cut the stocks off prematurely, your cutting out alot of the nourishment. Whereas if you leave it to the freeze, it all goes back down.

This year we got our freeze (that killed all mine) was around Sept.22nd. and I just dug them up this past weekend. I noticed that the stocks were filled with water (at the base of the stock) and in previous year where I DIDN'T wait for the freeze, there was no water in the stock. So my "theory" (lol) is that in that water, is the nutrients from the healthy plant forced back down to the tuber....

Is any of this making any sence to you? I'm almost confusing myself!

Maybe next year, I'll do a test and see the difference! Do some prior to the frost, and the rest as I did this year AFTER the frost. It could be an interesting experiment. All I know is I have HEAPS more eyes this year as opposed to prior years.


    Bookmark   October 10, 2006 at 6:06PM
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Poochella(7 WA)

You make a lot more sense than the overview of one article for purchase I found online doing an indepth analysis of sugars and starches etc. That was a real headspinner too. Too much information for me, I think. But you simplified your theory nicely.

Glad you got eyes galore this year. I just know that I can't wait for a freeze. If we got one fine, but we may notfor weeks. So I guess I'll take my chances and cut down in a couple weeks.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2006 at 2:14AM
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reddscarlette(3a BC Can)

That's the "joy" *sarcastic cough* of living in the north...never fear...the frost is always near lol. I can wait for the frost...believe me! lol I could have used a good 2 more weeks of good weather, THEN it could freeze...but NOOOOOo lol.

Ahhh...the joys of least it smell fresh outside! :D


    Bookmark   October 11, 2006 at 2:56AM
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Poochella(7 WA)

Nikki, I just travelled back to the midwest US greeted by 28 degrees, 30 mph winds and snow flurries. You Canadians keep those arctic air masses to yourselves would you???? LOL! I had to help my mom cut down some of the last of her perennials and had forgot just how piercing the cold winds in the north could be. 50 degrees seems like a real heatwave now.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2006 at 11:18AM
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if i see "eyes" how do i separate
i can't seem to gleen this simple fact!
thanks for all the info

    Bookmark   October 26, 2006 at 10:39AM
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