Saving dahlias: How to remove and store dahlia tubers

Posted on: October 10, 2019 | Written By: Doug Oster | Comments

It is a yearly ritual for me to photograph Amy Krut’s dahlia garden at the end of the season. We became friends on Facebook, and after seeing just about every inch of her landscape filled with the late blooming beauties, I knew I had to photograph them.

Amy Krut has created a memorial dahlia gardenat her Ross Township home in memory of two friends and her father. This is 'Vancouver.' She shows how saving dahlias for the winter is done.

Amy Krut has created a memorial dahlia garden at her Ross Township home in memory of two friends and her father. This is ‘Vancouver.’ She shows how saving dahlias for the winter is done. Photos by Doug Oster

The low angle of the sun makes for dramatic light on the blooms. The flowers tower over Krut while sitting on her front porch. She opens up about a special memorial bed, filled with dahlias, created two years ago after losing a couple good friends. Her plans for that garden changed greatly when her father Terry died in January after a long battle with cancer.

“When dad passed, the memory garden quadrupled in size,” she says quietly. “My dad gave me the love of flowers,” she adds.

She started growing azaleas, but it didn’t take long until she found her true passion.

“I bought my first dahlia and absolutely fell in love with it,” she says smiling. “Dad told me they were the most amazing flowers.”

The two would peruse the Swan Island catalog together, looking at all the different shapes, sizes and forms of dahlias. Fourteen of the 99 different varieties Krut grows now are in the memory garden. Each one is chosen for a special reason and “because I know dad would have loved them.”

Amy Krut has created a memorial dahlia garden at her Ross Township home in memory of two friends and her father. This is 'Gladiator' in the memorial garden, planted in memory of Krut's battle with cancer. She shows how saving dahlias for the winter is done.

This is ‘Gladiator’ in the memorial garden, planted in memory of Krut’s father and his long battle with cancer.

‘Gladiator’ represents her father’s long battle with cancer. ‘Bodacious,’ was a cultivar he loved.

“‘Polka,’ we argued and went back and forth as to whether it was a dahlia,” she says laughing.

‘Destiny’s Blessing’ is dedicated to her sister.

“‘Destiny’s Teacher,’” she says. “It’s the things you learn as you’re going along to someone’s final destiny,” Krut adds solemnly.

Her father gardened to excess, she says proudly. At his farmhouse there were 50 peonies, more than 25 iris and tons of poppies. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree when seeing Krut’s amazing collection of dahlias.

Saving dahlias

Amy Krut has created a memorial dahlia garden at her Ross Township home in memory of two friends and her father. She shows how saving dahlias for the winter is done.

Amy Krut has created a memorial dahlia garden at her Ross Township home in memory of two friends and her father.

Her admitted obsession includes digging and saving the tender tubers that dahlias grow from. It’s only been five seasons that her love for the plants has overtaken her garden life, so each season the process of saving the tubers is refined. Everyone who saves dahlias does it a little bit differently.

“I’d say about 75 to 80 percent will make it over the winter; you’re always losing some,” she says.

She’ll probably be storing close to 500 tubers this season.

First she lets the foliage blacken with a hard frost and then removes it, cutting close to the ground. If the frost only takes a few plants, those are cut down and the others stay until the cold finally does them in.

The tubers are left in the ground for two weeks. They will hopefully grow eyes (like on a potato). A tuber needs an eye to bloom next season.

The tubers are dried for a day or two. Some get rinsed off, others are left as is. When she has multiples, those are the tubers used for storage experimentation.

The tubers are divided by cutting them apart.

Krut labels each tuber with a sharpie to identify it and layers them in peat moss or vermiculite-filled plastic boxes with lid. The tubers are never allowed to touch.

She stores them underneath her porch where it stays between 50 and 60 degrees. The temperature can never drop below freezing or the tubers will be killed.

“That’s the dahlia room, she says with a laugh. “There’s no room to move around once I get everything stored.”

She will begin potting some tubers up as early as mid-February. They are stacked on movable metal racks she bought when the local Kmart went out of business. On warm days, she’ll push the rack out of the garage to give the plants some time to grow. The sooner they can get started, the earlier she’ll be able to enjoy the blooms. They can’t be planted in the garden until all chance of frost has passed.

They spend all summer growing, with some varieties blooming earlier than others. Her garden is covered with flowers as most dahlias reach their peak as fall begins.

Amy Krut has created a memorial dahlia garden at her Ross Township home in memory of two friends and her father. This is 'Ferncliff Illusion." She shows how saving dahlias for the winter is done.

This is ‘Ferncliff Illusion.’

“I love coming out and seeing everything bloom. It just really makes me happy,” she says smiling. “The colors just amaze me. There’s no end to the different colors out here. There’s purple, but there are 10 different shades and five different shapes of purple.”

The memory garden is there to honor her friends, father and his gardening excess. This year there are 50 new varieties being introduced in catalogs, she says.

“I was showing them to dad before he passed. The memory garden is going to grow again,” Krut says. “There are so many that my dad loved. He battled cancer for 12 years, and you just thought it was never going to end.”

Choking back the tears, Krut adds, “When we lost him, I knew I needed to give a bigger part of the garden to him.”

Doug Oster is editor of Everybody Gardens, a website operated by 535Media, LLC. Reach him at 412-965-3278 or doster@535mediallc.com. See other stories, videos, blogs, tips and more at everybodygardens.com.

More from Everybody Gardens

Heirloom dahlia has a rich family history.

Tips for spring planting of tender bulbs.

A lifetime of gardening together includes digging dahlias.

Shop special Everybody Garden products today!

Doug Oster is manager and editor of Everybody Gardens with a passion for gardening and a love of sharing is experiences with other gardeners. You will also find Doug’s gardening contributions in the Tribune-Review each week. He’s an Emmy Award winning producer, television host and writer. Oster is co-host of The Organic Gardeners Radio show every Sunday morning at 7 a.m. on KDKA radio in Pittsburgh. Oster’s Outstanding Documentary Emmy was awarded for Gardens of Pennsylvania, a one hour special he conceived and produced for the PBS affiliate WQED. Doug appears every Thursday morning on KDKA-TV’s Pittsburgh Today live at 9 a.m. “Gardening is fun, he says, enjoy every day spent outside tending vegetables, flowers, shrubs and trees.”