Dividing Dahlias for winter storage - part 3 in a 4 part series on dahlia winter storage

Dahlia eye in fall.jpg

Welcome to a continued series on digging, dividing and storing dahlia tubers for next year’s growing season. Part 1 of this 4 part series discussed preparation and supplies needed for this task. Part 2 discussed digging dahlias. Now it is time to divide your dahlias - always a scary prospect to those who have not yet done this. Relax, you’ve got this!

What you see in the above photo is a single tuber, divided from a much larger clump. On the tuber, you will see a small raised bump (near the tip of the white plant stake). The bump is called “an eye.” This tuber, with an eye, is all you need for next year’s planting. Quite a difference from that mammoth, weighty clump dug from your garden, yes?

So, how did we get from there to here? If you recall, last post showed a photo of a partially-cleaned clump of tubers with the stalk cut back. Around that stalk were many tubers. Not all tubers have eyes, but many do. In the fall, the eyes are visible for a short time and then they become less raised and noticeable. There are three important things to know about dividing your dahlias. First, not all tubers have eyes, but if you can’t tell if an individual tuber has an eye or not, you can always simply cut the entire clump in half, by taking a bird’s eye view and cutting across the old stalk (the hole that you see in the middle) and cutting down through the entire clump. Yes, some tubers will be damaged in the process, but this leaves quite a few tubers on each half and you are bound to have eyes on each half. If you want to save something smaller, it is usually equally successful to then cut each of these halves again in half, leaving four quarters of a tuber clump, which also should have their own eye(s) for next year’s stem growth. Second, you will see from the photo above, that the eyes are located on this little “collar” that is at the tip of the tuber near the stalk. So, you must have this collar portion to have an eye. You can not simply cut across the “neck” of the tuber, which is the more narrow part between this collar and the rest of the tuber, and have a viable tuber for next year. No eye equals no go. Third, the neck, being thinner, can bend, can break, and will break if you do not handle with care. Broken necks are not good. You want to keep your tuber in tact, so gentle handling is important. Finally, dahlia tubers are surrounded by a “skin” of sorts. When the tubers are still wet/damp, the skin can be very easily peeled off, which, also, is not desirable. So, this is another reason to handle your tubers carefully. If the skin around the larger part of the dahlia is slightly peeled off, the tuber will, when dried by air and/or sun develop another skin and should be fine. Because I grow many dahlias, I like to store individual tubers, rather than entire clumps. During my first year or two of growing, I stored the entire clumps and put them in the ground as entire clumps the following spring. Now I go for space savings and divide clumps prior to storage. Do I save every tuber? Not at all. From some clumps I only take a single viable tuber or two. I look for a sizable tuber with a good eye, pull out my hand pruning clippers, and cut. The rest goes in compost.

Now, for some information on some problem areas and tips. Ideally, you would like a nice, big, or plump tuber to overwinter. Very thin tubers can be more problematic in terms of remaining hydrated enough to be viable when you plant in the spring. Having said that, certain dahlia varieties simply grow long, thinner tubers than others. So, for varieties that seem to have this longer, thinner dahlia shape, I will suggest you cut and save more than you think you want, and also consider saving a 1/2 clump or 1/4 clump rather than an individual tuber. Next up for problem areas: what to do about a tuber that has some “rot” for lack of a more specific term. Suppose you find a great looking tuber with a great looking eye, but you see a black or dark brown patch on the other end of the tuber, or you find a mushy spot along the tuber. What do you do? Take out your clippers again and cut it off or cut it out. If you find, in cutting, that the gunk is still visible further into the tuber, keep cutting until the tuber looks cleaned of this discolored or mushy material. If you do not remove these parts, they will likely continue to rot and cause decay of your tuber over the winter. If you find you have to remove more than 1/2 to 1/3 of the tuber, I would look to choose another tuber.

 The brown “rot” on this tuber has to go. Cut it off or cut it out so you have clean surfaces going into storage.

The brown “rot” on this tuber has to go. Cut it off or cut it out so you have clean surfaces going into storage.

Once I have the tubers I want to keep separated from the rest, I do a final cleaning. I dip the tuber in water, use a very soft bristled toothbrush to very, very gently brush down the tuber not across so as to try to clean without breaking the skin on the outside of the tuber. At this point, some growers dip the tuber in a liquid solution of a fungicide. Others recommend a gentle “shake in a bag method” of putting the tuber in a bag of perlite and sulphur, with the latter also acting as a fungicide. Doing so is up to you.

Drying prior to storage is important, and that is what comes next. When the tubers are allowed to dry, the skin hardens and this helps maintain moisture in the tuber over the winter. Place your dahlia tubers in a clean, dry, location. Do not place your tubers directly on your garage floor, or other cement surface, since cement will pull moisture away from the tubers. Let your tubers dry for 2 to 4 days, and check to make sure that they are drying on all sides. you might have to roll them over so they dry evenly.

In a couple of days, stop back for the final post on storage methods for your beautifully-divided tubers. Congratulations, I knew you could do it!

Digging Dahlias for winter storage - post number 2 in a 4 part series

To help readers with storage of their favorite dahlias, I am creating a series of posts on digging, dividing and storing dahlias for the winter. The first post of a few weeks ago let you in on what you needed to know to prepare to overwinter your dahlia tubers. Now, that you are ready, it is time to really get down to business.

As noted in the previous post, it is best to wait about two weeks after your killing frost to begin digging dahlia tubers. Some gardeners prefer to use a garden fork to gently loosen the soil under the tuber and lift. I, in my “plow ahead” style simply pull out my trusty “shovel” and begin digging. Well, it is not quite that simple… one of the things you must know is that your dahlia was not only producing a ton of blooms for you to enjoy above ground, but was also putting in quite a bit of work in creating a bunch of tubers underground. While you might have planted a single tuber, which looked anything from a fingerling potato to an unusual sweet potato, you will likely find, when you dig, a sizable “clump” of tubers, perhaps 12” to 18” in diameter. SO (note this part well) when you put your shovel to the ground, be sure to dig at least 9”, and maybe more, away from the old stems. Chances are, the tubers now extend this far out in every direction. Dig a bit on one side. Then dig a bit on another side. Dig around until you can loosen the clump from the soil and lift it up from underneath with your shovel. Next, flex your muscles a bit, and prepare to lift your dahlia clump with a bit of soil.

 Two clumps of dahlia tubers just dug and hose-washed. Central stalks have been cut back.

Two clumps of dahlia tubers just dug and hose-washed. Central stalks have been cut back.

What next? It’s time to find the hose! I spray down the tuber clumps with hose water on a gentle jet/spray. I want to rinse the soil off, but not damage the soft out skin surrounding the tubers. If you look closely at the area near the cut stalks, you might see some very small bumps, which appear to be raised, and slightly darker in color than the surrounding plant material. These are the eyes of the tuber. Not every tuber has eyes. You want to store tubers that do have eyes since these will be the new shoots for your next year’s plant. Stay tuned for dividing information in my next post. Because I dig so many dahlias each year, I often do not divide immediately after digging. I used to store the entire clump of tubers and either plant the entire clump the following spring, or do my dividing in the spring. I now prefer to divide tuber clumps in the fall, partly because I have a bit (not much) more time in the fall to do this task than I do in the spring, and partly because the eyes are easier for me to see in the fall.

Dahlia care for the winter - STEP 1 of 4 - the first of several blog posts describing what to do and when to do it

dahlias for blog.jpg

So many of you wonderful flower followers have asked for help with overwintering your own dahlias. A workshop is a bit tricky because Dahlia digging, dividing, and storing is a multistep process, which takes a bit of time because you must wait a bit in between each step. Basically, you can break down the process as I just described, into digging, dividing and storing PLUS PREP WORK, DESCRIBED BELOW.

This is the first of 4 blog posts to help you through the process. Check back for 3 more blog posts in the near future to read about STEPS 2 through 4.

PREP WORK STEPS – 1 - wait for frost.  For most of you this might have already happened. Here, at Butternut Gardens, the night of October 18/morning of October 19 was our first frost date. By later in the day on the 19th, many of the dahlia leaves had turned black. While some of the flowers still looked pretty “normal” (and many definitely looked bad) the season was done. A few days later, we had another frost, leaving all visible parts of the plants definitely looking like their season was over.  If you have not yet had this happen to your plants, i.e. you have not yet had frost, be patient, as it will happen sooner than later.

2 – Make a note of this frost date. Once you have frost and your plants look as described above, you may cut back the stems to about a 6” height, but leave the underground tubers alone.

3 – Wait about 2 weeks and do nothing more to the plants. For me, for 2018, this means waiting until November 1st. During this waiting period, get together some supplies. For dividing your tubers you will need hand held pruning shears at a minimum. Other tools that have been employed in dahlia dividing operations range from pvc pipe cutters to hack saws to butcher knives and the likes. Tubers can be clumped together and very thick, making it difficult to cut through the individual tubers. I have used many cutting tools, but usually go back to my trusty Felco brand pruners, which I use for all manner of operations related to flower farming. I don’t need every single viable tuber, so some, admittedly, are sacrificed in my less than perfect dividing method. Aside from a cutting tool or tools you will need supplies for storing your dahlias. You have several choices. I have stored dahlias in moist peat moss or moist pet shavings. I use the clear shavings not the cedar shavings. An alternative to these items is clear cling wrap from your kitchen. I have used this storage material with equally good results as the moist shavings or peat moss. I have not used vermiculite, but I know others have successfully stored dahlias in it as well. You will also need to label your dahlias. You can either do this by writing on your saved tubers with permanent marker or permanent wetable pencil. I no longer label every saved tuber. I do, however, make sure to label groups of like tubers in one way or another. Permanent marker on blue painter’s tape works well. If I am wrapping in clear cling wrap, I put additional wrap around a group of individually wrapped tubers, and then put the tape on this package and write the dahlia name on the tape. If I am using peat moss or pet shavings, I often package them in packing paper (newsprint paper without ink on it), wrap the blue painter’s tape around the package and, again, use the permanent marker to label the tuber package. So, now is the time to determine which method or methods you want to use, and gather cling wrap, peat moss, and/or pet shavings, painter’s tape and permanent markers. In addition, you will need to put your tuber packages into a container of some sort. I use cardboard boxes. I want the tubers to be in box so they do not receive any light during this storage period. I use cardboard so there is some airflow. Having said this, I know some people annually store their dahlias in black plastic garbage bags with no problems at all.

4 – Consider where you will store your dahlias. Your ideal storage location will remain at a temperature between 40 and 50 degrees until you are ready to plant out next spring. A basement often works, but not a finished basement, which is heated. The space under a Bilco doorway works for some, but for others this space becomes too cold. Garages can be good, but not if the temperature goes below freezing. Some people combat freezing temperatures by surrounding their tuber packages with vermiculite or other material, which can act to insulate against the cold. Newspaper can insulate to a certain extent as well. How do you know if your garage freezes? Leave some water in a container. Keep it closed or covered so a small animal cannot get stuck in it. If the water freezes even a little bit, it is too cold for your tubers. Dahlia tubers are not able to withstand freezing temperatures.

 So, that’s it for now. Cut your plants back. Gather your supplies. Wait.

The second set of dahlia tips will be coming in the next few days, so check back here soon.

Thanks for growing these beauties!

Ok... it's been a bit busy around here... and it's going to get busier

Autumn colors close up cropped.jpg

Hello, flower lovers. As many of you know, I have been quite lax with blog posts and have been relying on my newsletter to keep you all up to date with flower happenings here at Butternut Gardens. I don’t exactly have a stellar record with getting out many newsletters this year, either, but that is another matter. I hope to get back to blogging because I miss it, and I have heard that many of the Butternut Gardens flower lovers “out there” also miss it. Time is always the limiting factor. Well, this year, rain was a bit of a limiting factor as well. I am not sure I am ready to talk rain just yet. Today had to be one of the first sunny days in months. Boy, did I love it! I have been soggy all season, except for a few weeks sometime in the mix.

So, what’s new here? I did not install the drip irrigation this year. Oh, that’s right, I wasn’t going to talk about rain, but it was such a big factor this season, I seem to have ended up on the subject again. Moving on.. we ventured into corporate pop up shops this year, and had such a fun time bringing wonderfully fresh flowers to a workplace. Imagine walking into a corporate conference room or cafeteria and seeing tables of flowers blasting color and fragrance in every direction! Yahoo. Even better, as purchases were made, gorgeous blooms “wandered” into personal office space and, after work, into homes. I loved it! Totally made my heart soar. Sharing flowers really makes me happy. I keep saying, if others did not enjoy Butternut Gardens flowers and designs as much as I do, I could not have nearly so much fun growing nearly so many flowers or varieties of flowers. So, thank you, one and all, for your continued support (and for your great taste in flowers). If any readers in the Butternut Gardens region (say an hour’s drive to hour and a half’s drive or less) want to have a pop up shop at their work space, please contact me through the contact us page of this website.

A recent pop up shop came with an extra bonus, as new autumn wreath designs were debuted. In the next week or so you will find some totally awesome handmade wreaths - with dried flowers and “silk” - available for purchase through the Butternut Gardens website, and also at some of our retail partners. Each one will be unique. We can ship anywhere in the United States. This is truly exciting from my end as it enables another area of creativity to emerge. Items will be limited this year as we gear up this area of design, but many of you know already how beautiful they are through workshops we have given. Check the website in another week or so for offerings. Also, on Sunday, October 14th, Butternut Gardens will be a vendor at the Fairfield CT Fall Harvest Festival at Fairfield Town Hall Green (10 AM to 4 PM) and these gorgeous new wreaths will be a big part of our display, and will be available for purchase.

Also new this year, Butternut Gardens will again create beautiful handmade winter holiday wreaths. It has been several years since we offered these. Some of you still have magnolia wreaths created by Butternut Gardens years ago. i am most happy to offer these again. Like the autumn wreaths, these will be available online through this Butternut Gardens website and also through some of our retail partners. Please check back here in a week or so and, hopefully, we will be up and running. A few other surprises are also in the offing - can you say, “winter bulbs” to brighten those short-day months? Yes!

Piggybacking on the corporate flower popup shops, Butternut Gardens is working on some in-home flower parties as well. Stay tuned for details.

This year, we have added several “flower partners” to our little flower operation. That means more flowers being grown and more customers having access to our farm fresh flowers. Needless to say, that takes time and lots of hard work. Definitely fun and worth it, but definitively cut into blog time this year. Weddings, too, kept up pace with former years, and kept my communications limited.

All in all, it has been another wonderful flower-filled growing season. It is not over yet. The dahlias are blooming their little heads off right now, and some specialty mums are just about ready to get started. It is, however, coming to a close sooner than later. That does not mean the work ends. It simply means the work changes. Lots of garden cleanup lies ahead. There will come a day when the season officially ends, and I always meet that day with very mixed feelings, but that day is still a couple of months away.

I want to wish you all the best in your gardens for the rest of this season. Enjoy the time in the sun, fresh air and soil. It is very special to have this all at our fingertips.

Lavender is in bloom!

Lovely lavender is blooming here at Butternut Gardens LLC and you can pick some up at The Little White Flower Cottage on site here.  I grow three varieties and all smell heavenly. Guess who loves lavender as much as you do... bumblebees. They are all over this wonderful flower. With our bumblebee populations declining, I love knowing that I am growing something, which helps them. I ask you to please consider growing some lavender plants if you have space for them. Lavender prefers full sun and good drainage. You can add builder's sand to give better drainage. Also, lime will increase your soil's pH, which is also beneficial to lavender since it likes a bit more alkaline a soil than our soils are naturally. Beyond this, lavender is not tricky. You will enjoy the flowers, the gorgeous silvery grey foliage and the visiting bumblebees.

How well do your dahlias multi-task?

Are your dahlias good multi-taskers?  Of course they are!  Look at what they are doing above soil level -- lots of great foliage coming out and flower buds on the "to do" list. Now consider what is happening below soil level -- roots, roots, roots... Yes, your dahlias are GREAT at multi-tasking. 

As a flower farmer, I want this multi-tasking to continue SORT OF.  From now until frost I get a lot of requests for dahlia FLOWERS but not so many requests for "roots". As a result, I am out pinching my plants to push them into bloom and flower mode.  So, what is pinching? It is simply cutting off the tip of the growing shoot. As a result, the plant sends out two new shoots on the sides and just below this pinch point, and starts to put more interest in leaf and flower growth. Hurray. Success. In all actuality, the plant would get to the bloom stage without my doing a thing, but this gives me two potential flower stems instead of one at a low point on the main stalk. This helps ensure good sturdy flower stems as well. So, here at Butternut Gardens LLC, "Operation Dahlia Flower Production" is on the front burner and it won't be long now until you can pick up some amazing dahlia blooms here at The Little White Flower Cottage or at one of my wholesale customers. Why not give your dahlia plants a pinch as well?

The Little White Cottage is Beauty in Motion!

So, The Little White Flower Cottage isn't ACTUALLY moving, but what IS in motion are the flowers and the growing season. I think of the flowers that were in the ground and bouquets just a few weeks ago and a month ago, and I consider what I have for you now - today - and it amazes me how fast this growing season is going past me. Hellebores, daffodils, forsythia - long gone. Tulips... anemone... out of here...  So right now, the peonies are just getting ready to flood the gardens with their blooms. I grow a number of varieties so I can extend the bloom time. My first ones are always coral. I have started tucking scattered blooms into some of the bouquets. A number of white, blush and pink varieties will follow, along with the "reds" which are more a purply-red than a bright orangy-red. Finally, I have a bicolor one, which is fuschia-colored and white. Peonies aren't the only thing going on here, however. I go outside and suddenly the iris, false indigo, geum, columbine and so many others are staring me down as if to say, "Watch me now!" I don't feel so on top of things. 

If you want to see what a year in the garden looks like, please stop on by at this rockin' Little White Flower Cottage, my new little retail space right here at Butternut Gardens. You can find it, and so many amazing flowers, at 1120 Hulls Highway, Southport. Come by often, even just to look, to see what's growing. I think you'll love it.

When Pigs Fly....

 The Little White Flower Cottage here at Butternut Gardens is open for retail flower sales. Come by to pick up some fresh flowers right where they are grown. 

The Little White Flower Cottage here at Butternut Gardens is open for retail flower sales. Come by to pick up some fresh flowers right where they are grown. 

The Little White Flower Cottage at Butternut Gardens had its big day today as it opened for retail flower sales of my farm grown flowers. I loved showing off TLWFC to so many of my flower friends. Thank you to all for stopping by.

In case you couldn't make it today, you can try to beat the Nor'easter and stop by tomorrow - Saturday, May 13 between noon and 6 PM or come on by with Mom on Mother's Day, Sunday, May 14 between 10 AM and 4 PM. Maybe best to wait until Saturday, so Mom doesn't blow away?

Within this magical little cottage you will find amazing (don't mind if I say so) flowers keeping cool in their nice cool, temperature-controlled cooler. You don't know how happy this makes me. I hate, yes, strongly dislike, working so hard to grow awesome flowers and then not getting them to you in as cool a fashion as possible. So, cue the cooler. And cue the huge smile on my face! To think, I used to bring ice to put into the buckets at the farmer's markets! I know my flowers are super fresh when I cut them, but ninety-five degrees is 95 degrees, folks, and once that flower is cut 95 degrees is NOT ideal. Neither is wind.

Going forward, the Cottage might need a day off after Mother's Day weekend, just to rest up a bit. After that, you will be able to visit this magical little cottage whenever it is best for you. It will be open and full of flowers pretty long hours every day of the week. So, forget about racing to the Farmer's Market before it closes. Forget about having to drop the tennis racket, or pack up the beach gear to meet market hours. Take a casual little drive over to the cottage whenever it suits your schedule. The Little White Flower Cottage will be holding some sweet flowers just for you.

 Weathervane on top of the Butternut Gardens LLC barn near the Little White Flower Cottage.

Weathervane on top of the Butternut Gardens LLC barn near the Little White Flower Cottage.

Closing up for the night, after day 1, wasn't easy, but this flower farmer needs a bit of rest so it was, "Good night Little White Flower Cottage. Good night pig flying over the barn. Good night Moon." 

Tomorrow is another day.

 Mixed bouquets, straight bunches, and flowers in vases are all available.

Mixed bouquets, straight bunches, and flowers in vases are all available.