Garden Tips - March 2017 - Deborah Carney

Dahlias - "I can't wait !"

Yes, I’m a bit impatient these days.  It seems like this winter has unleashed all of its fury during the first two weeks of February.  The hardy souls who call northern New Hampshire home during the winter, have endured 5 heavy snow storms in 9 days dropping about 5 feet of snow on top if the 15 inches of snow from previous storms (but who’s counting any more). Suffice to say, I am so ready for spring, and since my thermometer has been hovering around a very un-natural 55 to 65 degrees this week, my internal clock tells me that it’s time to plant something, anything! I don’t care.

While the snow is far from gone, and the ground is far from thawed, what, oh what, is one to do to survive until spring actually arrives. Well, after pacing around my kitchen, my basement and my garage a few times. After scratching my head and pondering this mighty question, I realized that I had passed the bucket holding my Dahlia bulbs at least three times!!  My bucket of sleeping Dahlias, of course!  I love my Dahlias!  They look so cozy all cuddled up in their peat moss winter blankets.  How about I wake “the guys” up for an early spring roll call!  Yes indeed, this will be my cure for Spring Fever.  So….looking at the calendar and not out my window I set about starting my bulbs inside during March so that I can transplant them into the garden in early May. 

Usually I wait and plant my dahlias directly into the earth in May or June, wait 6 weeks for them to sprout and grow, and wait again to cut my blooms in July or August.  But, like I said…….I can’t wait.  My bulbs and I have been hibernating inside all winter.  It is now time to bring the babies in from the garage, dust them off and bring them back to life.  If I start them in the house this month, it will make me feel like the process has started, and this will make me happy.  Hooray!
To begin this AWAKENING I start with a new, clean, fresh pot. For dahlias that grow 1 to 2 feet tall use a 6 inch pot, for 2 to 3 foot tall use an 8 inch pot, and a 3 to 6 foot tall plant, use a 10 inch pot.

For soil, select a good sterile potting soil like Miracle-Gro potting soil or Espoma super potting soil with microbes.  Planting depth is easy; most bulbs need to only be covered with about 1 inch of soil in the container.  Remember to place the bulb root end down in the pot before covering.

Once the dahlias are planted in your pots, give the soil a good watering and move the container to a warm location in the house.  At this point warmth is more important than light, at least until they wake up and get growing.  Keep the soil moist while the bulb develops, so check the soil frequently with your fingers.  Once the plant pokes up thru the soil, water thoroughly and fertilize. A good choice of fertilizer is Fertilome’s Blooming and Rooting 9-59-8.  Paul Parent recommends this fertilizer for root development and flower production on all flowering plants and bulbs. 

Now it’s time to get excited!  The bulb is growing and I am feeling happy. I get to move it to a sunny location in my house and watch, watch, watch it grow!  Remember to turn the plant as it reaches for the sun.  A cooler room will slow growth and allow for a healthier and stronger stem.

Two weeks before the dahlias go into the outside ground, harden the plant by putting the pots outside during the day time and back into the house at night.  By the second week move the plants into the garage or a tool shed at night and finally after that, you can safely leave the pots outside all night and proceed after that with planting the plants into the ground for the season. Starting your dahlia bulbs early this way will hopefully give you lots of beautiful early blooms and a longer more productive blooming season. You’ll be glad you didn’t wait too!

Deb (March 2017 Horticultural Newsletter)

Ref: Paul Parent Newsletter - March 3, 2011