Cultivating Dahlias: Tips and Tricks for a Bountiful Garden

Can you believe it’s almost October and time for our first frost?  I personally love this time of year but one task that was originally overwhelming to me was Dahlia storage. First, I want to say I am in no way a dahlia expert I am just a hobby gardener who loves to grow Dahlia’s in my cutting garden. They make the most beautiful bouquets and are one of my favorite flowers in my garden. So, follow along on my dahlia journey with tips and tricks I learned along the way. Many of you asked about how I care for my dahlias if you are only interested in the dividing process you can scroll to the end but I included everything I learned about dahlias in this post.

Planting Your Dahlias

Dahlia’s are easy to grow they thrive in warm sunny weather.  Like most flowers they need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight but the more sunlight the happier they will be.

One of my first lessons learned is to make sure you plant them is healthy soil.  If you are growing in raised beds a good, raised bed mix is fine but if you are planting in the ground like I do you need to amend the soil.   Do not make the mistake I did you, need to amend with good compost. After my first year mistake I now put about 2 to 3 inches of good compost on my beds and then add my fertilizer I use plantone. Equally important is to make sure your soil drains well. Dahlias do not like wet clay soil that holds moisture, it will cause your tubers to rot.  This was a lesson I learned the hard way I lost most of my tubers because they received too much water from my drip hose. So I can’t stress enough that dahlias like to be dry.

Dahlias are cold sensitive so plant them outside after all danger of frost has passed.  I am in zone 6b so that is Mid May for me.  You start earlier if you have a greenhouse or a way to keep them protected and still receive sunlight.  Since I plant mine in my cutting garden I dig individual holes with my bulb auger about 4 to 6 inches with the growing eye facing up.  Then cover with the amended soil.  Do not water. I know it sounds crazy, but until you see the green shoots above the soil again do not water. Like I said they hate to be wet.  To help conserve moisture I place a thick layer of mulch around my plants I use sweet peat but you can use the mulch of your choice.

After your Dahlia plants are about 8 to 12 in tall use a sharp pruner to snip the top 3 to 4 inches off the plant just above the set of leaves.  This is called pinching and something I originally did not do or think was necessary, but what I found is pinching the plant I was able to get more flowers because the plant then sent up additional stems.

Finally, to stake or not to stake. That is the question! I think it depends on the dahlia you are growing but in most cases the answer is yes, you need to stake.  If you do all the steps above, you will have abundant flowers on each plant and this will cause the plant to be heavy and the weight will cause the stems to break from heavy rain and wind.  You can use individual stakes that’s the method I use but you can also use tomato cages or netting with stakes which I think I am going to try next year. depending on our garden setup.   The more you cut and the deeper you cut, the more beautiful flowers you will have In addition to being my most loved cut flower they will multiply over the growing season and next year you can have even more beautiful flowers or share with a friend.

Digging and Storing

The first autumn frost marks the conclusion of the dahlia season. If you’re in a position to purchase new tubers each year, this task may not be necessary. However, if you wish to preserve your tubers for future use or to share them by dividing them, this is a crucial undertaking—one that often raises many questions.

It’s essential to exercise patience and wait approximately 10 to 14 days after the initial frost before you commence digging up your dahlias. This waiting period allows the tuber’s skin to toughen, a lesson I learned from experience. Rushing this process is ill-advised, as waiting longer yields better results. The only exception would be if an impending freeze posed a threat to the tubers.

When the time comes to unearth your dahlias, start by trimming the stem to a length of 4 to 6 inches. As you begin to dig, ensure that you position your shovel or, as I recommend, a pitchfork, about one foot from the former center of the plant. Take care not to nick the tuber; this is why I prefer using a pitchfork, as it allows for easier dirt removal. Gently shake off any excess soil, keeping in mind the fragile nature of the tubers. Once lifted from the ground, wash them thoroughly and trim the stems further down with pruners.

Note: Pitchfork 12 inches from base.

After washing, allow them to air-dry for exactly 24 hours—no longer. Subsequently, carefully inspect each tuber for signs of damage or rot. If any tubers appear broken or rotten, promptly remove them; damaged tubers left in storage can cause the others to deteriorate. Once damaged tubers have been removed, place the remaining ones in a breathable burlap-lined tote, filling it with peat moss and topping it with additional peat moss and burlap. While wood shavings or vermiculite can be used, if you opt for vermiculite, add about a cup of water to the mixture before covering the tubers. However, peat moss has consistently yielded good results for me.

After first frost around 14 days. Dig up preferably with a pitchfork around 1 foot from base.

Once dug up if has soil around it, carefully shake it off. Remember they are fragile.

Images show once I removed soil.

Removed any damaged tubers. Let dry for 24 hours.

Store the tote in a cool, dry area, maintaining a temperature between 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s important to note that individual homes may have different temperature conditions, so adapt accordingly. Personally, I place my storage bins in the basement, adjacent to an exterior wall, but monitor the temperature vigilantly.

Favorite Dahlias

Below are my three favorite Dahlias to grow. Based on your survey responses, you agree! Share in the comments if you have other favorites!


Image 1: Cafe au Lait

Image 2: Sweet Nathalie

Image 3: Wizard of Oz


Another reason they are my favorite is they make beautiful arrangements. What is your favorite Dahlia or why are Dahlias your favorite? Thank you for reading the blog!

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