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Starting dahlia tubers in pots.

16 years ago

It took me a while, but I'm a newbie, and I searched for very specific info on starting my dahlia tubers ahead in containers before planting in my garden. Just thought others could use this info(with pictures!) I found on


Comments (14)

  • Poochella
    16 years ago

    I've had that article bookmarked for a couple years and her advice worked well. Never had pictures before, that I recall. I hate the part about drilling holes and running wires crosswise through a big pot, but I did it. Wires and I don't see eye to eye. I'm not convinced that you'd need to absolutely provide crosswires to support a pot stake, but it sure didn't hurt. With 3 ft varieties or less, they could easily be skipped.

    Thanks for the reminder for a good article.

    Here is a link that might be useful: Pot growing link made easy

  • Poochella
    16 years ago

    Pitimpanai of Chicago fame had good luck using willow branches in a teepee/tripod formation for potted dahlias. Is that too rustic? I like a green painted rebar post- just don't lean over and put your eye out on a shorter one.

  • purpleflowerlover
    16 years ago

    Poochella, I am also a fan of green painted rebar and was also worried about putting my eye out on the shorter ones, especially since I'm in the garden a lot at dusk or even later using lights when it gets too hot during the day! I've found that impaling small round childrens bouncing balls on the tops of the short ones works well. I have even used the whiffel balls (the ones with holes in them) on top of the taller ones and when an early frost threatens, it's alot easier to throw blankets over them without having the blankets tear from the weight.

  • nancyd
    16 years ago

    I am starting my dahlias under grow lights this year. However I prefer to use fiber pots so I can transplant them directly outside in the ground without disturbing them. I was unable to find anything like that this year. I needed some that were 9" in diameter because of the size of the tubers. Finding plastic azalea pots was no problem, but not fiber. Any ideas - good websites that you've seen them in?

  • plantlady2
    16 years ago

    You can use 1/2 gal. cardboard milk cartons to start them in- staple the top closed- this now becomes the end, lay the carton on it's side & cut the new top out of it, leaving a flap to write the name on. Put in potting soil & lay the tuber in with it's neck sticking out. Cover the tuber with potting soil leaving the neck out. It won't hurt the plant one bit to carefully tip it out of the carton when you're ready to plant. A neighbor does all of her tubers this way & she has 1- 1 1/2' tall plants when we help her put them out in May.

  • nancyd
    16 years ago

    That's a FANTASTIC idea, and I like the idea of recycling. I'll have to try that next year. You guys are so clever. Thanks.

  • covella
    16 years ago

    Poochella are you out there? I can't believe I'm admitting this but I stayed up last night till after midnight putting my tubers into baggies with a cup or 2 of soil. Some of the White Perfection tubers were so gigantic I don't know what I would have done if I wasn't using the baggie method you told us about. Anyway 30 or 40 bags later they are in. I wanted to ask you when to plant them out, or how to hold them till the temp is reliable. A lot of my tubers were already eyeing up - except of course the infamous Otto's Thrill which all looked like little shriveled rocks.

    I was really tough on the spare tubers in the packaging and tossed a few of each type into a spare bag but most went to the compost pile. Last year I wasted so much time on tubers with no eyes.

    I have always grown dahlias in containers but this year first time I made some space to plant out some of the really big dahlias like Thomas Edison, White Perfection and my buddy Otto. Now I finally have to pay attention to all the discussion about staking. What have you all decided - which is best?

    Last question - will deer browse the dahlias? Are there any other critters that will bother them? I have every creature available in the Midwest but raccoons, squirrels and all the moles, voles and shrews are the worst. In fact last night while I was weeding after dark - the coyotes were howling down along the river. I have finally almost completely cleared out my old vegetable garden of perennials and shrubs and plan to set out some veggies and most of the dahlias. They will need staking, but the deer could definitely get in since the electric fence is now down.

    Looking forward to the season!

  • Poochella
    16 years ago

    Hey Alyrics! Nice to see you.

    I use the baggie thing mostly to verify there's a viable eye, assuring a chance at a plant in your future. You can leave the tuber in the baggie- they will root up and grow nicely if they have an eye, but it can be a little tricky getting them out. If you get growth, you can transplant to a milk carton, a flat, a pot or whatever or cut the baggie open when ready to plant and set it in its nice dahlia nest in the garden or pot. Keep the bag tops open and monitor the moisture. I've lost some to too much and too little moisture in the baggies (which sounds like poor rocky Otto's Thrill there) What is it with you and poor Otto's!??? You could change your name to Otto Slayer, Otto Resuscitator, Otto Dehydrator. LOL I really miss that flower all of a sudden!

    Deer have never ever taken so much as a leaf off my dahlias and they are unprotected by fences or Scarecrows etc.
    Moles dig holes, voles and mice follow, as Plantlady taught me, and they turn your tubers into nibbling fastfood, but they have never killed any plant for me. Coyotes are creepy aren't they? They don't hurt dahlias but are creepy. Gophers I don't know about.

    Stakes: wood, green metal flanged fence posts, rebar, inverted tomato cages or other. I guess for longevity, I'd go with metal. Wood stakes are cheap and have lasted in our wet climate many years, but they do rot and break, sometimes at inconvenient times. Rebar is sturdy but dangerous unless tall and I'm remembering that helpful hint about kids'play balls to put atop them. Thanks poster who said that :) Fence posts are extra sturdy and work really well. I put them a bit further away from the tubers to allow for new tubers to grow close to the flanges that hold the post in the ground. Just a few inches will do. I have since learned: dig first, pull flanged fencepost later. Worked like a charm.

    Here is an eyeless tuber. It will never produce a plant. There is no eye, I could wait until December for one to form: it's simply not there. Wait til you see the roots.
    Here are the roots, straight out of the baggie: no eye, no plant. But plenty of wonderful roots going nowhere.

    I can't help you with planting out in Ohio but the link might lead you to something.
    Don't be a stranger Alyrics. We'll need a status report on Otto's Thrill as time goes by!

    Here is a link that might be useful: Ohio Dahlia info

  • covella
    16 years ago

    Hi Annie
    I don't know if I ever saw this post! I'm so sorry, you must have thought I completely didn't care about your reply. Hopfully no Otto accidents this year - God willing. If it does happen I'll know for sure I'm jinxed but it will be worth a laugh. I didn't do rebar - I bought 8' heavy bamboo stakes painted green so I could clip them off at the height I want after the dahlias grow up a bit.

    I changed my potting medium this year - mixed about 1/3 of shredded mulch, 1/3 ProMix and 1/3 Sweet Peet, to get better drainage. Now its been so dry I'm watering - can't count on any year being alike can ya?

    I talked to the Pres of our local dahlia society and he says deer are notorious dahlia munchers here - so who knows what they will do in my garden. I have one plant with slug holes in it, but the ones right beside it are clean. Iron phosphate time. I'll miss having Bishop of LLandaff this year which is so common but what a great plant. I love fire engine red and really only lobelia cardinalis does that in the fall besides dahlias - that I can think of.

    I know I'm going to be sorry I didn't get more variety in dahlias but cest la vie - I put in 32 and thats enough.

    This year I'm going to experiment with disbudding and disbranching I think. If I get a good specimen or 2 maybe I'll enter the county fair just for kicks.

    Can't wait to see your photos - and everyone's. Best part of fall on virtual gardens is looking at dahlia photos.


  • Poochella
    16 years ago

    Happy Summer all. These long days are so fine for outdoor work, I had to convince myself it would be rude for the neighbors to mow the lawn at 9:15, but I wanted to.

    Princesspeony, I've been thinking all Spring of where I heard about the child's play balls over the top of rebar and there you are! Still haven't got them, but I will.

    Alyrics, what horrible deer you have there in Ohio! I try to read posts every few days, but am so busy I forget to reply or whatever. I just saw a doe and her two little fawns yesterday in our neighbors' pasture. So cute. So hungry. Liquid Fence was applied to the perennials and small trees in the browsing zone today. Works great. Smells horrible. I don't even worry about the dahlias and the plentiful deer here; I have raspberries and blueberries adjacent to dahlias and the berry foliage can be nibbled, but never a dahlia! The slugs are a different story. Even though their numbers have been down for a few years, a few are out there slithering. Only one dahlia has suffered greatly from their appetites. Nothing like prevention though.

    You should definitely try disbudding and see if you notice a difference in flower quality. I bet you will. Anyone else reading should try it too. A blue ribbon may be in your future! It is an easy practice which becomes second nature very quickly. This is the time of year when the dahlias grow faster than I can top them. They're so sneaky when a little heat is offered up by Mother Nature.

    One of my color concentrations this year was red: both bright reds and dark reds; so if they grow well, I'll post the results in the gallery. How about Crocosmia Lucifer? Great bloom in a different shape. People love it.

    I miss my Otto's Thrill! It's been lost for a few years now here, but at one time I had about 8 plants of it. That is one beautiful big bloom. Goes great with Sedum Autumn Joy- a definite deer appetizer that.

    I, too, hope people make use of the gallery here. The Gallery link is near the top of the forum thread list. GWeb has added an extra page since early on, I think, so don't be afraid to post photos.

  • covella
    16 years ago

    Yes the stinky stuff does work. I use something called Deer-X, made of pig blood, rotten eggs and latex. You do not want to let it drift onto you because if not washed off immediately the latex causes it to sti(n)ck for days. First time I used it I took 3 baths in soap and vinegar and my family was telling how bad I smelled for 2 days. I now gown up like I'm going to surgery.

    oooh I love red and can't wait to see yours. Post soon. I will be jealous - I didn't do any reds this yr. My dahlias are going to be late I think....crossing fingers for August blooms. If my Otto's do well it will be my pleasure to send you some this fall. I planted combinations of Otto, White Perfection and Thomas Edison, and Otto, Papageno and White Perfection - so at this point have no idea which is which till they bloom.

    Sedum AJ for deer? I can count on mine passing that right up in favor of chewing up a Kalmia or something else they aren't supposed to like. I even - and get this... had something take a chunk out of an Aconitum one time. Hope it gave it a nice stomach ache and a lesson.

  • Noni Morrison
    16 years ago

    What I have heard about dahlias and deer is that if a mother
    deer doesn't know that they are edible she will not teach her fawn to eat them...but if she does know and eats them then she will teach all her children that that they are good food! It seems to me that she tells all her girlfriends too so they then tell their younguns that they can eat them!

    When I lived at the central part of the island they did not bother my dahlias at all. I moved to the southern end and The only ones I can leave outside the fence are some around the driveway tucked into the lilacs. They did get a few nibbles last year but did not get eaten down to the roots.

    THen my ducks discoverd that dahlias were good and ate all the fancy ones in my mixed perennial and rose garden by the front door..inside the deer fence.

    This tells me that deer and ducks do communicate...and will gang up on you!

    So far this year the deer have not discovered the dahlias growing in a parking strip bed that has lavender and cannas and alliums. Origonally it was to hold all my most special dahias but that idea did not last long!

    Never trust any animal around your dahlias. If it does not eat them it will take a nap on them!

  • covella
    16 years ago

    Like I said, the stinky stuff does work!