Garden Blog

Tips for storing your dahlias

Dahlias tubers can be enjoyed for years with proper handling in the fall. Follow these easy tips from National Garden Bureau member American Meadows on how to dig and store your dahlias tubers.

Native to Mexico, dahlias won’t survive the freezing temperatures that many North American gardens experience. Digging and storing dahlias for the winter is extremely easy and simple if you follow these tips.


When to dig up your dahlias…

If you live in an area where the ground freezes, you’ll want to dig your dahlia tubers up before there’s a hard frost.

A good indication of when to dig your tubers up is when the plant starts to turn brown and die back.

What’s the difference between a frost and a freeze?

A frost (ice crystals forming on surfaces) generally happens when the air temperature is between 36-32 degrees F.

A freeze happens when air temperature dips below 32 degrees F. A hard freeze is usually between 28-25 degrees F, and a killing freeze is 24 degrees F and below.

Digging the dahlia tubers up is extremely easy:

Cut foliage back, so that only a couple of inches remain above ground.

Take your preferred digging shovel and dig around the tubers, being careful not to accidentally sever the roots. Many gardeners use a pitchfork to prevent this from happening.

Once you’ve dug the tuber up, shake the dirt off and set it aside.

Repeat until you’ve dug all of your tubers up.

Rising dahlia tubers off

After you’ve dug all of the tubers up, gently wash the dirt off in a tub of water, or with a garden hose.

Make sure not to puncture the skin of your tubers, as this could cause them to rot over the winter months in storage.

Examining and trimming dahlia tubers

After you’ve rinsed the tubers off, it’s time to examine each clump to make sure that there are no rotten parts. If there are, cut these bits off.

If the tubers have several eyes, you can divide them at this step in the process as well. Use a sharp knife to divide tubers, making sure each piece has at least one eye

Beginner Tips…
The eyes of dahlias are the set of cells
 that produce the next season’s plants and blooms. They almost look like pimples! If you can’t identify them in the fall, wait until the spring to divide your tubers as they may be more visible by then.

Drying Dahlia Tubers Before Storing For Winter

The key to successfully storing dahlia tubers for the winter is making sure they stay dry, have good air circulation, and are in a cool, dark spot.

You can store the tubers in a variety of containers – milk crates, plastic bins, paper bags, and cardboard boxes all do the trick. Just make sure there is space left between each tuber and there is some air circulation.

Place the tubers in a cool, dark space that won’t freeze. For many, this could be an unheated basement, attic, closet, or utility room.

Re-Planting Dahlias In Spring

Once spring arrives, ground temperatures have warmed and there is no more chance of frost in your area, you can bring your beloved tubers out of storage and re-plant them in your garden to enjoy again and continue to enjoy your dahlias for years to come.

Special thanks to the National Garden Bureau for helpful gardening tips.

 

Is your lawn looking weak and thin? Overseeding can help you get back to the thick, lush, green lawn you’ve always wanted. By spreading grass seed over your existing lawn, you can thicken up the thin areas, and your lawn will start to look terrific again. (This is different from reseeding, which is when you start over and plant a completely new lawn.)

When to Overseed

In the North, the best time to overseed your lawn is in the fall, when the soil is still warm but the air is cooler, and there are fewer weeds for new grass to compete against. Since your trees are starting to shed their leaves, there’s plenty of sunlight. However, if you are unable to overseed the lawn in the fall, your next best time is the spring. If you live in the South, the best time for overseeding is late spring through mid-summer, since warm-season grasses need warmer soil temperatures to germinate.

 

Why Overseed?

Over time, grass gets old and needs to be replaced. Worn-out lawns invite weeds. Overseeding is a fast, inexpensive way to help bring your lawn back to its lush, green self without tearing everything out and starting over.

1. Mow Low

Before overseeding your thin lawn, cut your grass shorter than normal and bag the clippings. After mowing, rake the lawn to help loosen the top layer of soil and remove any dead grass and debris. This will give the grass seed easy access to the soil so it can root more easily after germinating.

2. Choose a Grass Seed

Which type of grass seed you choose depends on your existing grass type. If your lawn consists of cool-season grasses, choose a product specially designed to thicken thin lawns. If your lawn has a warm-season grass or you are unsure of the best grass for your area, the people at the garden center can help you choose the right seed for your lawn. If you don’t know what type of grass you have, consult our staff for help.

3. Improve the Soil

If you’re using grass seed to overseed your lawn it’s a good idea to rake in a thin, 0.25-inch layer of enriched soil over your lawn to help the seed settle in. Don’t put so much down that you kill your existing grass; less than a quarter of an inch is plenty. 

4. Spread the Seed

You’ve cut the lawn short, raked it, and removed any debris. Now comes the easiest part of the overseeding process: Just fill up your spreader, adjust the setting according to the label directions, and apply. Don’t have a spreader yet? A rotary spreader is an excellent choice for small lawns—it’s simple to use and spreads product quite smoothly. For larger lawns, a drop spreader might be the best spreader for your yard.

5. Feed and Water

To give your new grass seedlings the essential nutrients they need for fast growth, apply a starter (or for late season seeding use a Fall fertilizer) after you’ve spread the grass seed. Afterward, no matter which product you used to overseed, be sure to keep the soil consistently moist by lightly watering once or twice a day until the seedlings have reached the height of the rest of your lawn. 

Thanks to Scotts for these lawn care tips.

Every gardener knows it. Fall is for planting. From the cooler weather and heaps of rain to fewer pests, diseases and weeds, fall has distinct planting benefits.

Throughout the fall we will identify some of the best plants and activities to do in fall. Stay tuned for our expert tips, guest blog posts and giveaway’s.

But in the meantime, learn why planting in fall can make spring gardening much, much easier.

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6 Reasons Why Fall is the Best Time to Garden

1. Work is Easier on Plants… And You

The cooler air temperatures are easier on both plants and gardeners. Neither of you need to suffer through the intense summer heat. Yet, in fall, the soil is still warm enough for roots to thrive. They will grow and get established until the ground freezes.

2. There is More Time in Fall

There are more good days for planting in fall than in spring, when bad weather can make being outside impossible. Plus, you have more free time as a gardener than during the spring rush.

Note: The window for fall planting ends six weeks before your average hard frost, usually September or October.

3. Mother Nature Does the Watering for You

In many regions of the country, fall showers happen often. You might not ever have to water new plantings, which means less maintenance for you. However, due to the cooler temperatures, it’s a cinch to water plants if it doesn’t rain at least 1” per week.

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4. Easier Weed Control

In the fall, weed seeds are dormant, i.e., they don’t grow. So any weeds that do grow up in your flowers are easily removed when they first appear as sprouts in spring.

5. Bye-Bye Pests and Diseases

Pests and diseases are less prevalent in the fall. Most of the bugs are either dead or preparing to hibernate in fall. Plus, the humidity that promotes many diseases fades away.

6. Fall Planting Results in Earlier Blooms

Like fall-seeded lawns, fall-planted wildflower seed has a chance to “settle” into your site during the winter, and is ready to burst into growth in early spring. This is why fall-planted wildflower seed is up and in bloom about two weeks earlier than spring-planted seed.

While all of these make compelling reasons to garden in the fall, the season also means bargain time at garden centers. Check back often for the best deals.

Thanks to Espoma for sharing this gardening tip!

In general, plant foods fall into one of two categories: (1) Synthetic Fertilizers and (2) Natural Organic Fertilizers. Each type has its own advantages and disadvantages.

SYNTHETIC PLANT FOODS

Synthetic Fertilizers are materials that are manufactured chemically as opposed to found ready made in nature. In general, synthetic fertilizers fall into one of two categories: (1) Water soluble and (2) Controlled release fertilizers.

Water Soluble Plant Fertilizers. Water soluble plant foods completely dissolve in water and release their nutrients immediately thereafter. They are ideal when you need a quick solution to a problem and for nursery growers who have a drip irrigation system. The trade-off for rapid response is that the feeding is generally short lived, lasting approximately a few weeks. Frequent applications are required as well as mixing with water. Leaching can also be a problem, especially in sandy soils or under high moisture conditions. And burn (dehydration) potential is higher due to solubility and high salt index. Examples of water solubles include: urea, ammonium sulfate and ammonium phosphate.

Controlled Release Fertilizers contain a plant nutrient in a form that delays its availability for plant uptake significantly longer than a water soluble fertilizer. The delay occurs by one of two mechanisms: (1) Coating a water soluble source such as urea with molten sulfur, wax, or plastic. The thicker the coating, the slower the release. Examples include sulfur coated or polymer coated urea. (2) Chemically combining materials to form insoluble polymers, which release nutrients more slowly as the length and number of polymers increases. Ureaform is an example of this. While both types give plants a long lasting feeding, neither contains all of the advantages that you will find with natural organics.

NATURAL ORGANIC FERTILIZERS

Although no universal definition exists for the term “natural organic”, our guiding definition is any material derived from plant, animal or mineral origin that contains one or more essential nutrients for plant growth. While it is true that all fertilizers ultimately feed nutrients to plants in the chemical form, it is the process by which they are delivered that makes natural organic plant foods superior to others.

“Feed the soil that feeds the plants”. Plant growth is dependent on the health and vitality of the soil surrounding it. The process by which natural organic fertilizer  deliver their nutrients enhances the fertility and structure of the soil. Natural organic fertilizers are digested by soil microorganisms, which then release the nutrients in a form available to plants. This process produces humus, a spongy material that improves soil structure. When you improve soil structure, the soil is better able to hold the proper balance of water, air and nutrients until they are required by plants. Plants respond by developing larger root systems. Larger roots support more vigorous top growth and make plants less susceptible to drought. And by stimulating a healthy population of beneficial microorganisms in the soil, plants become more resistant to insects and diseases.

Slow, steady feeding, as the plants require it. The nutrients in natural organic fertilizers are not in a readily available form for plants to use until they are digested by beneficial microorganisms in the soil. This process is slow and largely dependent upon three factors: the microbial population in the soil, moisture, and soil temperature. A healthy population of microbes in the soil is necessary for the digestion process. Moisture is required to sustain microbial life as well as to keep nutrients flowing into the plants root zone. And soil temperature is critical because as it rises, plants require nutrients more rapidly. Fortunately, microbial activity mimics these requirements and also increases as soil temperature rises, so that plants can be fed the needed nutrients, as they require them.

The safest choice for your plants and the environment. Unlike synthetic plant foods, natural organic fertilizers have an extremely low salt index , which means there is little to no risk of burning (dehydrating) plants in periods of extreme drought or when over-applying. Natural organic plant foods are generally very resistant to leaching out of the soil, so their nutrients stay in the root zone until the plants need them. And since most natural organic ingredients are byproducts from commercial farms and meat processing plants, the utilization of them for feeding plants is really a system of recycling much like composting.

Soil and plants receive much more than just the primary nutrients. With natural organic fertilizers, they receive organic matter containing millions of beneficial microbes (bacteria, fungi and protozoa) that help improve soil structure for better moisture retention, nutrient retention, aeration and drainage. They receive secondary and trace nutrients as well as vitamins, minerals, and plant growth hormones that promote plant growth and improve resistance to insects, diseases and climate extremes.

Examples of natural organic ingredients include: bone meal, blood meal, kelp meal and greensand. It is for all of the above reasons that we have always used natural organics as the primary source of nutrition in our Tone line of products. It has established the Espoma Tones as the finest, safest, and most reliable plant foods available.

What is a native plant?
Seems like a simple question, right? It turns out that some things are not so easy to define. Horticulturists, botanists, growers and gardeners don’t always define the word “native” in the same way. Here’s how they differ.

The Strict Definition of Native
Some people believe that only plants found growing naturally in the wild, with no intervention from humans, are truly native to the place they are growing. If you collected seed from these wild plants and grew them in your garden, those seedlings would also be considered native.

However, if you selected one of those seedlings, gave it a name, and propagated it for sale, strict nativists would no longer consider your new named seedling to be native. 

Native Cultivars
Many people who enjoy native plants also consider seedlings and cultivars of these plants to be native. You may have heard the term native cultivar (“nativar” for short) used to describe such plants. A native cultivar is a plant that results when native parent plants are used to create a new cultivar.

In the case of one parent, a plant breeder might select and propagate one plant that has an especially unique trait, like brighter colored flowers, out of a hundred seedlings sown from a native species. This one selected plant would be considered a native cultivar because it is a derivative of the native species.

In the case of multiple parents, a plant breeder might make a “complex cross”, transferring the pollen from more than one native plant onto another in hopes of making seedlings that inherit desirable traits from multiple parent plants. The resulting seedlings would all be considered native cultivars.

Are native plants easy to grow?
There are many myths surrounding native plants. One is that all native plants are easier to grow and longer lived than cultivars. In many cases, this is not true. First, you need to look at where the plant you want to grow is native to. If you live in Wisconsin and that plant is native to the Southeast U.S., it may be quite difficult for you to grow because of the difference in climates. If you want to grow natives, it’s a good idea to check the USDA website to see which types of plants are native to your state.

When plant breeders select cultivars of native plants, one of the characteristics that is commonly sought after is disease resistance. Many native species of Monarda (bee balm), for example, are commonly plagued by powdery mildew in the wild, but named cultivars have been selected for their disease resistance.

Breeders also select for traits like stronger stems that don’t require staking, a longer bloom time, self-cleaning flowers that don’t require deadheading, longevity in the landscape, and greater vigor. All of these things save gardeners time and resources, making many native cultivars easier to grow and maintain.

What’s your gardening goal?
Everyone has a different goal when they plant a garden. Some are looking to recreate a tiny piece of the prairie that once stood where their suburban home now sits. Some want to grow as much of their own organic produce as possible. Some view planting as decorating their garden, patio and porch with welcoming color.

No matter the goal, many gardeners enjoy lower maintenance plants, those that draw in butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators, and those that require less frequent watering. Many native plants offer these desirable attributes. As plant breeders develop new varieties each year, there has become an expansive group of native cultivars to choose from at the garden center. 

Thanks to Proven Winners 

Summer is still going strong, but fall is on the way! Are you planning to continue your harvest into autumn this year? If so, now is the time to start planning (and planting). There are so many interesting crops that thrive in fall weather. See the best vegetables for fall gardening!

Why Plant a Garden for Fall?

Every July, I try to convince my farmers’ market customers that they should be planting their fall gardens, but I don’t have many takers. Most give me the fish eye like I am trying to put something over on them. These are the folks that do a marathon planting session on Memorial Day weekend and then scratch “planting the garden” off their to do list—done for the year! They don’t realize that many crops can be put in the ground before that traditional planting day and others need to be planted later when they can mature in colder weather. A large part of our market day is spent educating people about the possibilities.

  • Planting fall crops lets you continue growing fresh, healthy food at home—plus, there is nothing like home-grown crisp, leafy lettuce.
  • The plants produce better and the work is spread out over several weeks.
  • Cooler temperatures means less watering and less sweating for you!
  • Warm soil is key to good germination, so by the time you’re planting in July and August, the soil will be warmed and your seedlings will grow like mad.

What Vegetables Can Be Planted for a Fall Harvest?

Here in New Hampshire, I’m rather limited by our short growing season. However, if you live somewhere warmer, you can likely get away with planting a lot more for a fall harvest!

  • After pulling our garlic in mid-summer, we had seedlings of lettuce, bok choy, chinese cabbage, and kale ready and waiting to plug into the empty beds.
  • Spinach and Swiss chard can also be started from seed during summer, as both will last into colder fall weather. 
  • Ever the optimist, I planted more bush beans, summer squash, and cucumbers, knowing that I will have to cover them when cold weather threatens.
  • If you live in a warmer part of the country, you may be able to plant another round of summer crops such as tomatoes and peppers.

What Makes For a Good Fall Crop?

Generally, vegetables that mature quickly and that are frost tolerant make for the best fall crops.

  • Vegetables that can survive light frosts (in the 30 to 32˚F range) include beets, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, celery, collards, green onions, potatoes, Bibb and leaf lettuce, mustard, parsnips, radishes, spinach, and Swiss chard. The flavor of some of these, such as collards and parsnips, is, in fact, much improved by exposure to a spell of below-freezing temperature.
  • Even hardier vegetables that can survive temperatures as low as 20˚F include cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, kale, leeks, rutabagas and turnips. Upon thawing out, these hardy vegetables will continue to grow between freezes!

When to Plant What

It’s important to plant at the right time for your location. Here’s how to get a general idea of when to plant:

  1. See your local frost date calculator
  2. Then take the days to maturity for the crop you plan to grow (usually listed on the seed packets) and count back this number of days from the frost date. (If the days to maturity listed is from transplant, not seeding, add another 4 weeks to this figure.)
  3. Because plants grow more slowly in the shorter, cooler days of fall, add a ″fall factor″ of another week or two to the maturity time.
  4. Then add in the length of the expected harvest period and you’ve arrived at your planting date. Of course, you can plant earlier than this date, but to ensure a good crop, consider this to be the “last planting date.”

Generally speaking, here’s the rule of thumb:

  • 10-12 weeks before first frost: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, celery.
  • 8-10 weeks before first frost: Arugula, Chinese cabbage, collards, kale, lettuce, mustard greens, spinach, Swiss chart, turnips
  • 6-8 weeks before first frost: Beets, radishes

If you plan to offer your plants protection (such as cold frames or row covers), you can plant 2 to 3 weeks later and still expect to get a good harvest!

Fall Gardening Care Tips

  • Mulch your beets, carrots, turnips, and parsnips before the ground freezes hard. Even if the vegetable tops wilt, the roots will survive with mulching and you can often harvest through the winter!
  • With fast-maturing crops such as lettuce and hardy greens, stagger small plantings every few weeks to keep the harvest spread out or you’ll get all your lettuce at one time. 
  • Of course, you’ll need to follow gardening principles you’d use in the summer. Provide good soil (with organic matter), fertilize with plant food if you wish, and water consistently.

Our thanks to Farmer’s Almanac