Finding the best way to overwinter tender bulbs (dahlia and begonia) continues to be a challenge for me.
With absolutely lovely displays, dahlia and begonia are root plants, meaning that they grow from tubers, something like potatoes. But unlike spuds, if you leave these tubers/root in the ground here, they turn to mush.
The advice for wintering over is to dig them up, and keep them in dry cool earth so they are dormant but protected through the freezing months. But other than keeping them in the fridge (mine is not big enough for this – I tend to fill the cold drawer with veggies for cooking), the house is too warm (the plants would sprout) and the garage too cold (not heated).
Last fall, my resident carpenter (my husband Bill) and I thought we had the ideal solution. We built what we thought would be the perfect bulb box. Nine cubic feet of space, filled to the brim with lovely dry peat moss, all set for deep nesting of those dahlia roots and begonia lumps. And I dug everything up after the frosts came, trimmed and dusted and buried my green friends well past their eyes in the bulb box. The box lives in the unheated alcove of our sleep camp which we keep above freezing through the winter.
Yesterday was truth day. I put on some gardening gloves and went rooting through the bulb box – and have to admit to being disappointed. The tubers, dug from their winter nest, don’t look terribly healthy – more a tad frostbitten in truth. I guess the alcove is too cold and the box & peat didn’t amount to enough insulation. One or two may have survived – I have them settling in pots in the heated part of the camp building (my plant starting area), and will inspect today for survivors.
Over the years, I have learnt that disappointment is part of gardening. It happens: seeds don’t sprout, bugs eat plants, birds eat plants, dogs dig in the garden,
plants don’t grow… But it doesn’t happen all of the time. And each time is an opportunity to learn something new about plant preferences, and locations. In the end, I may have a surviving dahlia, but I definitely have a great supply of peat available, and a wonderful box that will be repurposed quickly.
Yes, I will grow dahlias again, and maybe I’ll try a different approach to wintering them over. But mostly, I’ll just enjoy the flowering season for what it is, beautiful and fleeting. and most appreciated because of its seasonality.
Now I must go look at my plant catalogues for dahlias.