Digging, dividing and storing tubers


It’s time to save your tender tubers such as dahlias so that you can enjoy them again next year. Unfortunately, many tubers just won’t survive our winters. You can just treat them as annuals. However, with all the hard work you put in to plant them, why not overwinter them?

Dahlias are the most popular of all the tubers. These plants can be kept for many years if they are treated properly.

Dahlias start producing tubers in the spring, but these roots are not mature until late in the growing season. The longer they are kept in the ground, the more mature they will be, and chances are better that they will survive in winter storage.


Don’t be in a hurry to dig up dahlias. Wait until the top growth dies back or is killed by the first hard frost.

Delay cutting the stems until right before you’re ready to dig up the tubers; the stems are hollow and can collect water which in turn can promote crown rot and tuber decay. Use a garden fork to loosen the soil around the entire clump. Be sure to start wide enough around the clump so that you don’t accidentally pierce a tuber.

Gently lift the tubers from the ground and clean the soil from the tubers; you can use a garden hose to wash away clumps of soil.

Allow the tubers to dry by placing them out of direct sunlight in a dry place for a day or two. If you want to keep track of what varieties you have or perhaps the color, remember to label the tubers. A felt tipped pen works well and you can write directly onto the tubers.


Tuber clumps can be left intact for the winter and then divided in the spring, or they can be divided now. Some gardeners find it easier to divide now and smaller divisions can be more convenient to store.

When dividing clumps, each division must have a piece of the crown with an eye. Once your tubers have been cleaned and cured to dry, use a sharp knife to make divisions; tuber divisions should be large enough so that they can keep well over the winter without shriveling.

Don’t forget to mark your divisions with variety name or colors. Look at your tubers carefully. You don’t want to save any that feel soft or have any brown or rusty colored spots on them.


There are various ways to store tubers over the winter. There isn’t one that’s better than the other. Just be sure the tubers are kept in a dark area where it doesn’t freeze; it should be about 50 to 60 degrees.

The area should also be dry; exposure to too much moisture will cause your tubers to rot.

Many containers can be used: cardboard boxes, plastic bags, five-gallon buckets. Pack the tubers in slightly moistened vermiculite, wood shavings, sand, or newspaper. A little moisture is necessary to be sure the tubers don’t dry up and shrivel. However, if the medium is too wet, the tubers will rot.

You will want to check on your tubers over the winter and adjust the moisture level. You can also remove any tubers that have dried up or rotted.

In early spring, move the tubers to a warmer location (dark but room temperature) to encourage eyes to develop. Enjoy the fruits of your labor next year by planting them back in the garden once all danger of frost has passed.

Interested in learning more about gardening, while enjoying shared tips, tricks, and camaraderie with other gardeners? Consider training to be an Oneida County Master Gardener Volunteer. For information call or visit cceoneida.com, phone 315-736-3394, Ext 100. Like us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/cceoneida) and check out our YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/user/cceoneida).


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