Oopsie. I finally decided to figure out what was in the garbage bag in the seed-starting area of the basement, and it’s a dahlia. Last fall, I let this chore go too long, and when I finally decided to remove the dahlia from the large pot it was in, I discovered it was mostly frozen in place. I managed to get it out of the pot, then put it in this bag and into the basement so the soil could thaw. After that, I planned to remove as much soil as possible and store it with the other dahlias.
But clearly I forgot. And now this dahlia is sprouting in the basement, yearning for light and life. What should I do? Several options come to mind.
- Wrap it back up, stick it in the dark, crawlspace part of the basement with the other frost-tender bulbs, and hope for the best.
- Same as above, except cut off all the sprouts first.
- Do what I originally intended: wash off all the soil (outside? in the cold?), let it dry, cut off the sprouts, and put it in a box in the dark part of the basement.
- Pot it up and grow it like a houseplant.
I chose the last option, partly because my husband said, “It’s trying so hard to live, you’ve got to give it a chance!” But also because I’m already tired of winter and kind of bored and I want to see what will happen.
I wanted something wide and shallow to pot it into. My windows are already crowded with houseplants, so I didn’t want a huge container–or a top-heavy one. I had a pretty large hanging basket in the basement seed-starting area, but that wasn’t big enough.
Rats. This means a trip out to the garden shed. It’s 34°F (1°C), which is actually not too bad for this time of year, but it’s warmer in the house and snow covers the ground, so I’ll have to put on my boots. Sigh. At least I remembered to measure the diameter of the pot that didn’t fit, and to bring the measuring tape with me to the garden shed.
My rummaging in the garden shed failed to turn up a completely satisfactory pot. The larger 2 and 3 gallon pots were not quite as wide as this one, just deeper. I don’t want a deep pot. I’m afraid if there is a lot of soil in the pot, the dahlia tubers will rot. I would have to use one of my outdoor, fake-stone pots to get more width, and I just didn’t want to bring something that heavy and bulky into the house.
So Mr. Wants-to-Live dahlia will have to make do with cramped quarters, and I will have to be very careful watering him. I’ll probably take the pot to the sink.
Will this work?
I expect the leaves will green up and grow taller. There certainly won’t be enough light for the dahlia to bloom. I hope there is enough light that the foliage stays compact. If it starts stretching to the ceiling and flopping over, I will have to cut it back. I will be keeping my eye out for insect pests–aphids, scale, mealy bugs–and I might just chuck it if it gets infested.
If I manage to keep it alive until the Spring Equinox, I will take cuttings to see how they do. I’ve never taken dahlia cuttings before but I’ve seen it recommended. In fact, some people say you get a better flowering plant from a cutting.
Why was that dahlia sprouting?
It may be hard to believe, but it’s too warm in my basement. It’s best to winter over frost-tender bulbs and tubers at a temperature between 40°F (4°C) and 50°F (10°). Our basement–even in the crawlspace part–is a bit warmer than that.
That’s good for our plumbing (no frozen pipes!) but not the best for the frost-tender bulbs–or for forcing spring-blooming bulbs like hyacinths, which want to be chilled at 45°F (7°C). Look what’s going on in the dark crawlspace, where the rest of my frost-tender stash is.
I don’t usually check my stash in early January, so I don’t know if it’s early for them to be doing this. They are usually putting out some sad growth by the time I check on them in March, which I don’t cut off when I plant them. But I never had a dahlia tuber send out such vigorous growth before.
By the way, you should check on stored tubers once a month, to make sure they aren’t drying out. If they are, you’re supposed to mist them.
I should probably open the boxes and check on my dahlia tubers. Maybe tomorrow. The crawl space is a rather awkward place to move around heavy boxes, and I’m feeling lazy. My dahlia tubers rarely get checked until I think it’s time to start potting them up in April. The crawlspace has a dirt floor, so it usually stays humid enough. Usually.
Despite the basement’s drawbacks, I haven’t figured out a better place to winter over these tubers. The attic and the detached garage both get below freezing on our coldest nights, so they are even less suitable storage areas for these plants. Page Dickey, in Uprooted (aff link), describes forcing bulbs in a cold frame. I think forced bulbs can take it a bit colder without harm. I’m not sure that would work for storing dahlia tubers, especially if I kept it dark.
I’m not ready to entirely give up on wintering over tender plants or growing bulbs indoors in the winter. But I am starting to wonder if dahlias are worth the trouble. They haven’t bloomed well for me the last couple of years, so why am I doing this? Because I remember the one or two years they did do well, and keep hoping to repeat that.
And in the depths of winter, anything is possible next spring.