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did I plant too early?

Posted by craftygeek 7a, maryland (My Page) on
Sat, Mar 19, 11 at 20:27


This is the first time I've been able to have a garden of my own and have maybe gotten a little too excited and planted my dahlias too early. I'm in Maryland, zone 7a and have just planted some dahlia tubers today. While I read quite a bit before planting I've only just learned that the ideal soil temperatures for planting are 50-80 degrees. I planted them today after having read that they can be planted once danger of frost has passed, which I believe it has, but apparently it may still be too early to plant them and maybe I should have waited another month?

Another concern I have is that I didn't till the soil deep enough. I've planted them about 4-5 inches deep in a clay-like soil, but only tilled to about 7 inches deep and only in the area where the tuber was planted. I did mix the planting soil with compost as well as some fertilizer. So basically, my questions are the following:

1. If I planted them too early, should i dig them back up and wait another month to plant them? What happens if I leave them planted?
2. If it is ok to leave them planted, what about the tilling? Should I dig them up and till the soil further and replant them? How important is it to till the soil to the proper depth?

Thanks to everyone for taking the time to answer my questions!

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: did I plant too early?

I have a different garage has been too warm, and the tubers I saved over the winter had to get planted today or die; some had sprouts a foot tall. Needless to say, I am checking craigslist every day to buy a frig to use next winter!

Anyway, for your temp. problem, I tried to look up your soil temp. and found this site. I don't know exactly where you are, but you have a good chance of being okay, temp. wise! I'm pretty sure I usually have to plant mine before the soil temp. is 50.

for your second problem (only tilling 7 in. down), that's better than I do. I have, the past couple of years, slapped newspaper down, put down my tubers, and put soil, compost, potting soil, whatever I have, on top of them. I'm not saying it's ideal, but I have had absolutely gorgeous results...last year they were 4 to 5 feet tall, and the flowers large and numerous enough to be seen 2 neighbors' yards away.

Here is a link that might be useful: soil temp. one site in Maryland

RE: did I plant too early?

I would call a local nursery to be sure, but I think you may have planted too early. If you leave them in there in cold soil they could rot. I usually plant in zone 5 in early May but have planted in the late teens of April. If I plant early I always check the 10 day forecast and if it looks iffy, I hold off. Check your 10 day forecast and if it doesn't look like you'll get enough warm days where the soil will get to 60 at least then dig them up and wait a couple of weeks. I don't think you need to wait a month though.


RE: did I plant too early?

I agree with Katy.

They could rot in the cold damp soil. I would just check on them and if you see them start to get mushy, I would pull them up and start them in conatiners. I am in zone 5 and I start mine indoors in April and then plant out when I plant out my tomatoes in Mid May. They like warm soil. The ones I planted direct in May, didnt bloom till October!


PS a Fridge in Alaska becuase it is too warm! I almost fell over laughing. I understand how you feel with the crazy weather, but that was too funny! I have an extra one in my garage if you ever make the million mile trip down :)

RE: did I plant too early?

  • Posted by mytime 3/4 Alaska (My Page) on
    Mon, Mar 21, 11 at 23:44

Glad I could provide some laughter for the day!

Honestly, there's one way, and one way only, to answer this question: get a thermometer and check the temp. of the soil! But assuming that Craftygeek waited until the soil was workable, then it's probably not too damp and cold for the dahlia tubers. They might not start right away, but they will stay dormant (a better condition than what mine are in right now!)until the soil heats up. If they're planted in one bed, one can always put black plastic over them...not only would it help the soil heat up faster but would also stop rain from making the soil too soggy.
Also, frost will only be a problem once the plants begin growing and the little creatures show their bodies above ground! In that case, plastic, sheets, milk jugs...whatever to the rescue!

RE: did I plant too early?

thanks for all the advice! I've been going back and forth between digging them up and leaving them to see what happens (and chalk it up to gaining some experience). the soil is definitely workable, but i don't have a thermometer to actually check the temp, so i'm going to have to pick one up. thankfully i haven't planted all my tubers, just about half of them. I have actually already covered one bed with a black trash bag cause we've had some rain already and I knew i wouldn't have time to dig them up until at least tomorrow (although now, there's more rain in the forcast, so we'll see).

but the thing that's really making me lean towards digging them up and starting them in pots is keriann's comment that the ones she planted directly in may didn't show until october! i would like to enjoy the flowers a little longer than a month. i know they probably wouldn't take quite so long here to show since it's a little warmer, but i was hoping to see them at least in july.

any continued insight is welcome! with the forecast being what it is, i may not have time to dig them up until this weekend so i have until then to fully make up my mind. and i'll keep you up to date on what happens!

RE: did I plant too early?

I'm with Keri. I start mine in pots indoors, too. On nice, warm days in April and May the pots will go outside. My planting date is around Memorial Day, but starting early can give me blooms by July 4th.

RE: did I plant too early?

I would caution you with the black plastic.

When the sun comes out it will cook your tubers under it and raise the humidity. = rot

If you have some still to plant I would leave the ones in the ground and just check on them. If they get mushy, pull them out, if not leave them and then plant your remaining tubers when the soil gets warmer and dryer. They really hate to sit in cold wet soil and it takes them a long time to take off. I plant mine in chilly/warm, moist soil but they already have about 6-18" of growth on them, so they need the water.


RE: did I plant too early?

ok, i'm definitely pulling them up and potting them! i just read on the american dahlia society website ( that a soilless mix is recommended. how necessary is this? can i use a regular potting soil?

also, i'm wondering about lights...i don't know if i'll be able to provide close artificial lighting like the article recommends. the best I could probably do is place them right next to an east facing window. will this be sufficient?

thanks again for all your input!


RE: did I plant too early?

I use a plain old MG potting mix. My gardnen soil has too much clay in it and i am not a fan of bringing garden dirt (and the bugs) inside. You can also get other brands, and it will set you back about $20 bucks, well worth it in my opinion.

I they will do okay in a window, but much better under a shop light. I pinch mine back pretty good when I plant them, so if they get leggy by a window it is not the end of the world. Just make sure you harden them off before you put them outside. Hardening off is a process of slowing getting them used to the sun and wind outdoors.

I hope that helps!


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