Our temps generally fall below zero degrees F. many times during the winter, and we get a bit of snow now and then, as well as ice and sleet on really nasty days. From November through February, temps below freezing are more the rule than the exception. This means that, if we decide to leave our tubers in the ground at the end of dahlia season, they will most likely freeze, and be "lost," requiring us all to buy new tubers for our gardens next spring. As a dahlia society, this is not really much of a choice, since most of us are not made of money. We like to be able to afford to continue to grow some of the best varieties of dahlias that can be pretty pricey in the first few years after introduction. Also, the viability of our club treasury is dependent on the proceeds of our annual tuber sales, where we sell tubers to the public at a fraction of the price they might pay to a commercial dahlia supplier. We need to dig and donate in order for this project to succeed. In addition, we have an annual show. Sponsoring this show requires a significant financial outlay, which is made possible through the proceeds of our tuber sales. It is one of the most effective ways of sharing the beauty and wonder of the dahlia with our local population and lovers of dahlias from all over the state of Washington.
What this means is.......YES, we have to dig the tubers each year. This is the answer to what is probably the most commonly asked question. In NCW, not only do we have to DIG the tubers, we have to DIVIDE the tubers, LABEL and then we need to effectively STORE the tubers over the winter. For some people, this reality is enough to keep them from launching their own journey through dahlia-land. As a general rule, those of us who've accepted the challenge of "DDL&S-ing" our tubers have discovered how much fun it can be. Yes....I said Fun - like Christmas-fun! Read on...
First of all, you dig. I know - this sounds like work - but it's really not all that bad. Last spring, you put ONE tuber or one small cutting into the ground. If things went according to plan, you had blooms that lasted throughout the summer, and well into fall. You were rewarded, and maybe you thought that was fun, but I'm here to tell you that the real fun - the BEST thing - is to find out that that puny little tuber that you put down in May has propagated, and now, you might have 3, or 5 or in some cases, 10 or more tubers that you dig up in a humble "clump" on an October or November day. A wonderful return on a small investment, that has already provided great Summer blooms. These tubers are a true BONUS, if you choose to dig them. Storing is really not that complicated if you have a dry cool spot that stays between 38 and 44 degrees throughout the winter....and if you don't, maybe you know someone who does (even a local dahlia society member is often willing to help out with this!). The next best outcome of this late fall pursuit happens when you open the boxes of stored tubers in the spring time. Many of these eager tubers have started to sprout, virtually begging to be planted so they can start to give you the thrill of the bloom! You can hardly wait for your soil to warm up to 60 degrees (usually early to mid-May), so you can start the cycle of life all over again. Only this time, you have an exponential increase in the number of favorites that you can put down in your well-prepared soil, and it didn't cost you ANYTHING, except for a few long days of digging and dividing in November - in retrospect, it is always a small price to pay for such a priceless reward!
As you might guess, I have been spending a "bit" of time digging, dividing, labeling and storing lately, and today, I joined my club-mates to dig our club garden at Emerson Street. Over the course of the day, 7 of our members came down and worked together to get things "to bed" before the weather damages them. We still have a bunch of work to do, but as I was saying to Fernie, the hours that I sit in my work room, or my kitchen, or with a bunch of club members, cleaning and preparing these dear little promises for their winter's sleep, is exciting and comforting at the same time. It is such a gift to be able to be a part of the cycle of such a beautiful life.....So if you wonder if you need to dig these tubers, the answer is "You can if you choose to, if you want to share the power of the continuation of the life cycle at this level....Or, if you don't want to dig, we have great bargains for you to start your garden over again in the Spring...." Either way, it is some kind of wonderful....Can you dig it?
I can't ever dig at the garden without my dad's old grey sweater, or his little blue truck to haul tubers home.
John Ruud fixes Fernie's digging fork, while Sherry checks labels on tuber clumps.