Late flowering dahlias

Fierce Blooms Dilemma – Lifting Dahlias

In Fierce Cutting Garden by Fierceblooms4 Comments

WORDS: Kathryn Cronin PHOTOS: Ricky Bache
Iam watching the branches of my trees dance to the storm called Brian as he breezes, thankfully just breezes through their swaying structures. They are fine but the same cannot be said for the tree house for which there has been just one breeze too many. It is sitting at a rather precarious angle in the cooking apple tree and I am unsure whether it will make another winter.

There was no power earlier in the week giving me a rather romantic excuse to light the candles. If I was in denial about winter coming, it has dropped me a few heavy hints quite recently.

Autumn is now crushed between the very late frosts and storms heralding the imminent arrival of cold dark and frost. There are a few brave souls on the cut today, battling along. Truth is that its tricky to steer in a narrow boat when the wind is up. Mostly the boat traffic is heading to their winter hiding hole before the worst of the weather arrives and the canal starts to freeze over.

This years autumnal wind has been unbelievably damaging to my darling flowering plants. It has knocked their beautiful heads off and blown their leaves into a shredded mess, effectively killing them. All round, it is time for a tuck up before the worst of the winter arrives. And I have learnt I need better wind protection next year.

I confess I find something rather appealing about pitting all my wit and strength against the force that is mother nature. You know full well of course that you will lose but I love the connection with the elemental when you are working in the garden. You feel a magical sense of the change in the season when everything is whistling around. Your hands and cheeks may be numb but you don’t stop until you’re tired and very cold and are damper than you realise. But oh the joy of sitting in front of the fire when you are still glowing from your exertions outside, not to mention the fact you can feel quite virtuous for completing your digging and potting. Well that’s how I feel.

There are certain tasks that you question every year though.

To lift or not to lift the dahlias is one question I ask every time. Lifting dahlias – it is the eternal autumnal gardening dilemma.

If I’m honest lifting dahlias is a bit of a non question. The truth is my cutting garden grows on clay. The cold wet winters in the north west take no prisoners. It would be a miracle for them to survive left in the ground, even if I poured buckets and buckets of compost over their heads. I do not live in the south in a protected walled garden on soil as free draining as a sieve and where the rain is less unrelenting. Even then I’m not sure I would leave them to the elements, not when they have been so beautiful and so bountiful. When they have been such gracious servants. It would feel like a betrayal.

To lift or not to lift is the eternal Dahlia autumnal gardening dilemma.

So lifting dahlias yes, but I cannot dig them out yet. Only when the first of Jack’s frosts arrives and they are blackened beyond the pale will I lift them. They have been flowering since June and there is no way I am stopping them. Even today, with all its squally cold, I have cut a wild garden style bouquet fit for any bride.

I find I am unconsciously looking for nice plastic trays that I can line with old potato sacks and fill with dry soil to store my precious tubers. I am looking out for mice and where I am in the open Cheshire countryside, a few of the larger rodents as they will nibble on them over winter given half a chance.

As well as deciding whether to lift your dahlias, there is another even more tricky dahlia dilemma. What dahlias to keep and which ones to let go. For many it is a key growing decision time for there is no point storing tubers that you have no intention of planting next year. I managed to label my varieties and was all set to get rid of a quite brightly coloured vanity called firepot that I had grown. As the season progressed however, Firepot came into its own and now glows in the autumn twilight. How can I get rid of that? There will need to be some rationalisation mind you otherwise I will be looking after acres of dahlias.

I have already partially solved the dahlia decision dilemma by agreeing to join a dahlia exchange. Well, the Dutch exchanged tulips, why not deal in dahlias I reasoned? Together with my fellow dahlia growers, I am very excited. My darling other half however, is deeply suspicious of the solution 3 dahlia growers have come up with to solve their dilemma of what dahlias to keep and what to get rid of. He fears further tuber proliferation and hence more beds to be dug and may have a point.

So, instead of attempting to skive out of a task that I know I will come to accept I need to do, I am looking on the task as one of gratitude to my hard working dahlias who have given me so much all summer long. I know I would be gutted, absolutely gutted if all I was left with in spring was a soggy mass dahlia tubers whose flowers would never see the light of day again. That would be poor thanks indeed. There is another element. Although you buy a variety, there are certain quirks in your dahlia tubers that you might want to keep. One of my labyrinths has more pale apricot colour and less of the pink in its petals. I could choose to propagate more from that one than the others.

To avoid that potential disappointing and disastrous day, and to pay homage to my darling dahlias, I will lift. I will store in my garage that has been as cleared of as many rodents as I can manage. I will tuck them under newspaper in their boxes filled with the driest dustiest dirt I can find. And if we have a time when it is getting really really cold, I will bring them inside the house. I lost David Howard a few year’s ago. I vowed never to lose him again.

Read more from Fierceblooms, this flower grower and Cheshire florist on the floristry blog.

Also on the site, there are loads more articles about my canalside cutting garden and a page detailing my fierce flower classes and tutelage.

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  1. The seasons rolling by….beautifully written and observed. Lovely start to the week! Thankyou.

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