Dahlias need our help in winter

We need to dig them up after the first hard frost and store them

Kelly Heidbreder
Kelly Heidbreder

Holy bloomers! My daughter and I have had a blast this fall with a small garden full of dahlias.

We have a variety of sizes and colors. The prize-winner in our garden was the gorgeous dinner plate dahlia that is almost the size of my head. Luminescent yellow, it was so heavy that it was lying on the ground. The dozen thick tuberous roots we buried a few months ago are still pushing out blooms.

But dahlias aren’t strong enough to live through our tough winter weather. They are like your tropical cannas and gladiolus. We need to dig them up after the first hard frost and store them until the ground warms up next season.



Dahlias have a beautiful complex bloom that looks like a huge chrysanthemum. They sprout from a thick root that is easy to find. The first thing you need to do is keep an eye on the strongest and healthiest plants. Those are the ones you will save for next year. If you see some plants that struggled from disease, you might not want to save those headaches for next year.

Wait for frost to make your move. It will be easy to tell because frost will turn the foliage dark green. Cut the stem so it is only four inches tall from the ground. Keep track of the flower size and color. You will label each of the roots when you pack them away.

Use a garden fork or spade to dig under the roots and gently shake them out of the soil. Take it slow. You don’t want to damage the root before it goes to sleep for the winter. Shake off as much soil as you can without damaging the root.

If the roots are getting really big, you can split them. They are like potatoes and have eyes that become buds. Keep at least one eye per root. The root looks almost like a sweet potato. The bud at the base of the old stem is called the crown. Look it over carefully to make sure there are no soft spots or signs of decay. Don’t save any roots that are soft.

Spread the roots out on newspaper in a cool dry place for a day. Then, get them ready to pack away for the winter where the temperature will not go over 50 degrees.



Delicate cannas are another gorgeous bloomer that needs some winter protection. They have tuberous roots too, but have bumps that become growth points.

After the killing frost, cut them down to three inches above the soil line. Dig them out gently, just like the dahlias. Let these dry for a day or two before packing them away.



My grandma used to call gladiolus a long tall drink of water. I always thought that saying was silly and still chuckle when I think about her saying it. They are long and tall and will push blooms out to the very ends of their stem.

Under the surface of the soil, they grow from a funny-looking root that is called a corm. You can pull the root out of the ground just before the first frost or coax them out with your garden fork or spade. Shake off all of the loose soil and cut the stem down to about two inches from the corm. There might be little baby corms in the soil too. Save those. They are called cormels and can be planted next season.

Let the corms dry for a couple days before packing.


Packing instructions

Find a dry fungicide for bulbs at your favorite home and garden store. Put a half a cup of it in a small brown sack and toss each corm or root in it and shake it around to get each one covered in fungicide.

Separate your roots and corms, making careful note of their size and color. This will help you when you plant them again next year. There are many ways to pack them. You want a container that won’t hold moisture. You can put them in open paper bags, or burlap bags. Old onion sacks also work well.

The key is to keep them dry, but not so dry that they shrivel. You can also wrap them individually in newspaper with a little bit of soil and pack them in boxes filled with moss, vermiculite, dry sawdust, or sand. Keep them in a spot that stays about 40 degrees and has a bit of air circulation. Then let them rest until the ground warms up next spring.

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