Dear Dahlia Doctor – Must I Dig Out My Tubers?

Dear Dahlia Doctor,

Just planting those tubers was a lot of work. Do I really need to dig up each and every single tuber and then go through the process of storing them? I don’t have space nor do I have all the necessary supplies to store them.

What are my options for leaving them in the ground?


- Tired of Digging


Dear Tired,

Yes, you can leave your tubers in the ground. Just be aware that as dahlias grow, so do the tubers – and having a large clump isn’t necessarily a good thing if you want healthy flowers the following year. Tubers also suffer when Jack Frost comes along or when the ground gets soggy, like it frequently does here in the PNW. These are all things you need to take into account when planning your garden. It is perfectly alright to leave them if you’re just growing them for fun, but if you have any intention in showing your flowers, well then, it would be best to dig them up. If you have questions about that, just come to one of our Seattle Dahlia Society meetings and we can walk you through the process of digging up, cutting and storing your tubers for winter. Just shoot us an e-mail in August or September and we will let you know at which meeting we will be discussing and showing how to do this.

In the mean time, if you are okay with just keeping your tubers in the ground, you can leave the ground as is or you can cover the area where your tuber is planted with leftover Bubble Wrap from any recently purchased fragile items or packages that come; heavy duty plastic works well, too. You can also use old table cloths – oil cloths work well, too. This will add a layer of protection for when Jack Frost comes to visit. You can probably do this in November/December, depending on when winter actually comes to the PNW. This may not fully protect your tubers, but it will help insulate them from the cold.

Dear Dahlia Doctor, I Think I Just Killed My Dahlia Before It Had A Chance To Live

Or, cut the dahlia stalk close to the ground at the end of the previous growing season… but if you do that, and are like me with a very unorganized garden, you may fear forgetting where you planted your dahlia and then not being there when it first pops out of the ground and then losing it to those dastardly slugs! *shakes fist at evil slugs & snails that never go away*


Don’t pull this dead dahlia stem/stalk out. Cut it instead, as close to the ground as you can when you see new dahlias growing. By the way, this plastic around my dahlia is from an orange juice jug; I use cut up milk jugs and juice jugs to form a wall between my delicate dahlias and heinous slugs.

So… somehow there came a thought that doing this was a good idea since some new dahlias have begun to pop up here and there and doing this would make more room for them.

Oops. This one is still among the living.

Yeah… NO!

Apparently, the part that is below ground can still be alive. Well, nobody ever explained that… and there may be many others out there who may find themselves in the same situation.

As you can see, the inside is very much alive.


Is there a chance for my dahlia? I pulled out the dead (what I thought was dead) stem and ended up pulling out part of the living plant… oops… it had new shoots growing from it. If it gets planted, can it survive? What should I do?!
Unjustly Framed for Dahlia Murder

We will see if it lives… for now it remains on life support.

Dear Framed,
Dig up the entire clump of that dahlia.  Wash the tubers off with a strong stream of water from the hose then you will undoubtedly see eyes sprouting.  Cut each tuber with an eye and a piece of the main stem, then replant those tubers for more dahlias.
Or see what happens to the section that you broke off and then cut apart the tubers once the growing season is over and store the cut tubers over winter and replant them next year.
Attend one of our meetings for instructions on how to cut tubers. Dahlia experts are always on hand for some one-on-one chats.
- The Dahlia Doctor