Waking up my dahlia tubers

Posted in All posts, March, Dahlias, on

This week I woke up my dahlia tubers that I had stored over the winter from last year. Back in October, I cut down the frost-blackened foliage and lifted the tubers, potting them up into dry compost, labelling each type as I went along. Our big issue at home is one of space – all of the potted up tubers had to be overwintered in my nan's garage, as we don’t even have a potting shed!

I think overwintering dahlia tubers, just like the growing of sweet peas, is one of hot debate for gardeners because everyone has their own ideas. However, using a good, fairly dry compost has worked well for me, and it’s been a simple way of saving my dahlias over the winter months. The tubers have remained fat and firm to the touch!

Of course you can mulch them, as is done successfully at Perch Hill year-in-year-out (see Sarah's video to watch how she does this). I would try mulching at home, but due to space we have to lift our dahlias to make way for the tulips. It’s interesting seeing the growth rates of the different tubers; 'Downham Royal', 'Blue Bayou' and 'Happy Halloween' tubers have tripled in sized just in a season of growth, while the Bishop dahlias have stayed more modest in their tuber growth.

While working at Perch Hill last year I totally fell in love with 'Waltzing Mathilda'. It is a single dahlia, medium in size and not too big for a pot, with dark foliage and the most beautiful peachy, deep-pink single flowers. In an arrangement it makes a beautiful contrast to deep scarlets and crimsons. Unsurprisingly, I’m growing lots of 'Waltzing Mathilda' at home this year. I gave the potted up tubers just a little drink to begin with, as it's only until mid may that they can be planted out so there is no rush. 

I’ve also been setting some lily bulbs this week. I love lilies and it's shame we don't grow more. The shop-bought cut lilies seem to encourage people to think they are only for funerals, because they come only in a very pale palette in comparison to those you can grow at home. Yes they need feeding, staking and weekly checks for lily beetle, but nothing compares to them for summer indulgence and the gob-smacking 'look-at-me' factor within a border or in a pot. I set all my lilies into ericaceous compost as they all like the pH and perform better and bigger year upon year in such soils, especially the Orientals.

Good drainage is also key, so place lots of crocks and grit into your pots. You can set bulbs into plastic pots to plunge into the borders in May if your soil is heavy. Slugs also will nibble at emerging bulbs, so grit around where your bulbs will be coming up. I love having lilies to bring into the house – in great big stately homes you often see the huge tree lily types adorning halls. It’s the lily beetle you must watch out for with them at all costs – a baby wipe along the leaves' undersides to smear off the gross larvae is a vital aid!

By the end of the month I will be based in Stoke-on-Trent, so it’s my mum who will be on lily beetle squishing duties! This is due to me being employed at the Emma Bridgewater factory as their summer gardener. The courtyard garden I’ll be in charge of is a lovely modest size and very much a blank canvas. Here I will be putting the Sarah Raven philosophy into everyday practice. Each square inch has got to be both beautiful and productive, with cut flowers and salad crops to supply the onsite shops and café with fabulous colourful posies and the diners with delicious produce. It’s an opportunity I’m awaiting to start with excitement and nerves – I'll have a lot of seed sowing to be getting along with!

Enjoy the spring weekends to get your gardens off to a fab start in 2015!

Thanks for reading,