Splitting and Pre-sprouting Dahlia Tubers

The day has finally arrived! I received my first big batch of dahlia tubers yesterday, from Longfield Gardens. I had also received one tuber each from Skyfall Flowers and Dutchbulbs.com a few weeks ago. With all of these tubers, I decided to try my hand at pre-sprouting–for some of them, just to make sure the bulbs were viable; for others, because I wanted to take cuttings and grow more of them ­čÖé

The first bulb I received, back on 3/25/21 (I’m in zone 5a/b), was from Dutchbulbs. It was a Fleurel bulb clump for my Moon Garden, and it looked absolutely dead. It was a dehydrated as could be, with the outer layer sloughing off most of the tuber clump. I trimmed everything off except for one damaged tuber which looked like it had a bit of crystalized sap on it, and planted that just to see if it was actually viable. The tuber from Skyfall Flowers, on the other hand, was a finely trimmed and cared-for Cafe au Lait tuber (that I paid way to much in shipping for–$15 for one bulb!). It looked happy and healthy. I planted both in pots indoors, and both have now pre-sprouted! The desiccated Fleurel actually has three sprouts coming off of it. I am amazed.

By far the bulk of my dahlias, however, have come from Longfield Gardens. Their prices are amazing (for us non-wholesale buyers, anyway)–3 full clumps of tubers per order, with each order usually ranging in cost from $14-$16.50. (Plus free shipping over $50!) I realized, when I received the bulbs, how they could offer such a low price on their dahlias, when so many other online companies are charging the same prices but for one bulb only. The clumps, when they arrived, were kind of a mess. Some of the clumps were almost immaculate, while others (such as the Melody Pink, for some reason) were so beat up I could barely salvage one good tuber out of each clump. Still, I was able to get at least one good tuber per clump for each type of dahlia I ordered–and some of them had up to 6 or 7 viable tubers. Here was how I processed them.

Though I hadn’t ever split a dahlia tuber before, I’ve now watched countless videos on how to do it, so I decided to give it a go. With the Longfield dahlias, I have at least three of each variety, so I figured the odds were good. I had heard that people often choose to divide the tubers in the spring because it is easier to find the eyes, and I have to agree. A good 2/3rds of the bulbs had eyes already sprouting. With the rest, I took an educated guess, or just kept them together in one clump.

Finally, I potted up two varieties yesterday: Melody Pink, as it was so beat up and I was concerned none of the tubers were viable; and Great Silence, as a friend of mine has already put in a request for that one. (I’m waiting on a set of 10×10 trays from Bootstrap Farmer to arrive before I pre-sprout the rest.)

The sprouts on my first Fleurel and Cafe au Lait bulbs from my earlier orders are just about ready to be cut, so I should have a Pre-Sprouting Dahlias Part 2 coming up soon. Wish me luck!

Seed Sowing, Week of 3/22/21

Another week, another batch of seeds started.

My Swallowtail Seeds order arrived, finally–over 30 days after I ordered it, true, but the website did warn of 5 week delays. So I was finally able to get my Echinaceas planted. My Pinetree Garden Seeds order also arrived, slightly quicker than the Swallowtail Seeds order, and another small order I put in at Johnny’s arrived, all in the same week. So it was a pretty busy week of sowing.

My “Moon Garden” plants are, for the most part, started. I’ll be using the Fleurel dahlia as my centerpiece, with the White Swan echinacea, Snow White malva, Abyssinian Gladiolus (Acidanthera Murielae), and white African daisy in graduated rows leading up to it, and any ranunculus and gladiolus bulbs form my mixes that end up being white, all framed by a moonflower vine. I’ve also got night-blooming jasmine on order, but that’s not set to arrive until late May, so I need to remember to leave some space in the Moon Garden for it as well. All in all, not a bad start for an all- white garden.

Sowing 3/20/21:

Madame Butterfly MixJohnny’s Seeds
Dahlia, Unwins Mix Baker Creek
Dahlia, Redskin Mix Pinetree Seeds
Calendula, Pink Surprise Baker Creek
Calendula, Zeolights Botanical Interests
Lupine, genericJoseph

Sowing 3/24/21:

Amazing Gray PoppyBotanical Interests
Black NasturtiumRH Shumway’s
Peach Melba NasturtiumBotanical Interests
Malva, Snow WhitePinetree Seeds
Rainbow Loveliness Cottage PinksBotanical Interests
Hollyhock, Indian SpringBaker Creek

Sowing 3/26/21:

Dahlia, FleurelDutch Bulbs
ECHINACEA, GREEN TWISTERSwallowtail Seeds
ECHINACEA, WHITE SWANSwallowtail Seeds
SALVIA, ROSE QUEENSwallowtail Seeds
SCABIOSA, FAMA DEEP BLUESwallowtail Seeds
MoonflowerSeed Savers Exchange
Madame Butterfly Bronze w/ WhiteJohnny’s Seeds

Sowing 3/27/21:

Basil, Lettuce LeafBaker Creek
Chamomile, GermanBotanical Interests
Cosmos, Sea ShellsBaker Creek
Swiss Chard, Ruby Red/RhubarbBotanical Interests
Beet, CylindraJohnny’s Seeds
Beet, BolthardyPinetree Garden Seeds
Salanova┬« Green Sweet CrispJohnny’s Seeds
Salanova┬« Home Garden MixJohnny’s Seeds
Delphinium, Sky Blue/WhiteSwallowtail Seeds
Hollyhock, NigraTrade Wind Fruit
Genovese BasilBotanical Interests

The reason I start so many seeds is because 1) seeds are cheap, and I’ve already paid for them; and 2) I like to have variety. I’m not sure if I’ll end up planting all of these seedlings in my garden, but I want to have the option to do so. And despite overspending on seeds this year, it’s still cheaper than buying these plants already started from my local garden center (assuming my local garden center even carried all of these varieties, which is unlikely). But, mostly I just need something gardening-related to do right now while I’m housebound and healing.

So far, everything from the 3/20/21 sowing has germinated, and the Amazing Gray poppy from 3/24 has also germinated (poppies seem to germinate very quickly). I reordered the Madame Butterfly Bronze with White because it turns out that I hadn’t ordered the correct variety earlier–I had ordered a Madame Butterfly mix instead. So I will have a ton of snapdragon seedlings to choose from in about two months.

A note on dahlia bulbs: not all dahlia sellers are equal, apparently. The Fleurel bulb I ordered from DutchBulbs.com (again, very early into my dahlia purchasing) was way overpriced, and the bulb I received was clearly dehydrated, with the outer skin peeling off of most of the bulb. I planted it up in a pot anyway, but as of yet, it doesn’t show any signs of life. To be on the safe side, I ordered another Fleurel from Longfield Gardens, which was cheaper and actually includes three bulbs per order rather than just the one Dutchbulbs.com offers. (Also, the customer service at Longfield Gardens is amazing! Quick to respond and very flexible in rearranging my orders.) Once I get all of the bulbs I ordered and have them planted, I’ll write up a comparison of the five companies from whom I ordered dahlia bulbs.

More Live Plants

So, the longer I sit at home waiting for my knee to heal, the more plants I buy. It is what it is.

I’ve picked up more bulbs, some lavender, and even another dahlia (I know, I don’t need any more). Here’s what I’ve got on order so far:

Miscanthus “Encore” (Proven Winners)

Miscanthus “Encore” (Proven Winners)

The Miscanthus is the plant I’m most excited about currently. I never thought I’d be the type to buy ornamental grasses–it’s always seemed too mature and “posh”–but, lo and behold, I am now aware of their many practical benefits.

The fence around my backyard is pretty but impractical. It’s also only a few years old, so I don’t have a really legitimate reason for tearing it down and putting up a more practical one–nor do I have the funds at the moment to do so. The fence is about 3′ high and in the picket fence style, with about 3 or so inches between each vertical slat. It’s pretty, but offers no privacy, and if we ever get a dog that is medium-sized or larger, it’ll be useless. (My parents, the former owners, had a mini dachshund.) As our back fence borders the alleyway, which is well paved and often used by joggers and dog-walkers in the neighborhood, I constantly feel like random strangers are walking through my backyard. it’s highly irritating but I couldn’t figure out how to handle it without spending a bunch of $ on a new fence, which my fianc├ę would never agree to. Enter ornamental grasses.

I came across the idea of using large ornamental grasses as a hedge while watching “You Can’t Eat the Grass”‘s bulb unboxing the other day–they had bought a different variety for use at their farm. I did some searching on Google and found one I liked–the Encore by Proven Winners ­čÖé I have a strip of dirt between the fence and the alley which is currently populated by 30-year-old day lilies which need to get dug out anyway. So, I ordered six of the grasses to plant in that area, which should cover the fence. And it’s grass, so I imagine it’ll grow pretty quickly once they get established. And it is supposed to have really nice fall colors and “winter interest”, which means the breeder recommends not cutting them back until spring, so means that the hedge will last most of the year. Problem solved! Hopefully.

English Lavender–Hidcote

Another plant I picked up is some English Lavender (Hidcote). I haven’t grown much lavender, and the small plant of French lavender I picked up last year I attempted to overwinter on my back deck, thinking it was hardy to my zone. Apparently not. Looking back, I think I was basing this belief on the fact that lavenders definitely overwinter just fine in California, where I lived for 15 years. (Many places in CA have massive lavender and rosemary bushes edging the houses.) Alas, I am no longer in CA and need to deal with Zone 5b limits. So this time I did some research and picked up a few English lavender plants, which are hardy to my zone. I bought them from Michigan Bulbs, a company i’ve never purchased from before, but I had a coupon for free shipping ­čÖé and many other online stores are already sold out. The plants are bare root, apparently, but I imagine they should fill out pretty well over the course of the summer.

Also from Michigan Bulb company are some more bulbs:

First, a mixed bag on dwarf Gladiolus bulbs. Dwarf, as I’ve never grown gladiolus and didn’t want to have to mess around with staking yet another type of flower. Next, a mixed bag of Anemones (again, a type of flower that is new to me). Finally, a mixed bag of ranunculus, as I had also ordered most of my ranunculus from Easy to Grow bulbs, and I wasn’t sure of the quality. Looking on Amazon, Easy to Grow is the main seller of ranunculus, and the reviews on the bulbs are pretty bad. (I had bought the bulbs directly through their website, which does not have any reviews.) So I figured the worse thing that will happen is I end up with too many ranunculus bulbs.

Finally, I did pick up another (!) dahlia. And I picked up some more Cafe au Lait tubers, because I realized I spent way too much on it earlier (it was the first dahlia I bought, and I spent like $15 for 1 tuber (!)–which, once I realized what I had done, completely broke my discount-loving heart.) I was so offended by this that I decided the only logical solution to this would be to buy more Cafe au Lait bulbs cheaper somewhere else. Obviously. So I did, but I needed to add more to my order in order to get the free shipping, so… I also picked up a mixed bag of caladiums and the “Melody Pink Allegro” dahlia, because it’s really pretty and pink and I’m a sucker.

Next up on my list of living plants to arrive, I believe, will be the Asparagus crowns from Gurney. Still need to plant my leeks/onions, which I should finally be able to do this weekend, assuming the dr gives me the ok at my appointment tomorrow. I’m thinking that many of these seed/plant companies assume that I have limitless amounts of land or that I’m actually a farmer. I am not. I don’t know what I’m going to do with 10 asparagus crowns–I really only have space for 5 at most, honestly, unless I start planting them in the lawn against the side fence–and the 25 strawberry plants and 25 sweet potato slips on order will likely be too many than I can manage as well. But that’s the size of order that they sell. Already, my local friends are getting inundated with seeds; the same will go for bulbs and live plants, I guess. (I’ve already hit my mom up for some of my dahlias, but as she lives in a condo now, she has much less space and no desire to care for a bunch of plants. ­čśŽ ) But as I’d really rather not grow any of these from seed, my options are limited. There are worse things, I suppose.

Ordering Live Plants, part 2–Flowers

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time watching gardening videos on YouTube this past year. Between quarantine and my knee surgery, I have’t been able to do much; and with this long winter, I’ve needed to be reminded that the green will come again.

I’ve found a lot of vloggers I like, but the downside (?) is that they’ve inspired me to expand my garden from just veggies to include flowers–most of which I’ve never even heard of, much less grown. And many of them are not grown from seed.

Dahlias

Lavender Perfection

Dahlias seem to be the big flower this year. Floret Flowers, a small family flower farm in the Pacific Northwest, is very influential in the cut-flower industry (the flower version of market farmers). They just put out a new book on dahlias, Discovering Dahlias, which has really amped up the buzz. Dahlias are one of those weird plants that have a huge amount of variability in their DNA, so the only way to guarantee what type and color of flower you’ll get is to divide up a tuber (or take a cutting from a growing tuber). You can grow them from seed–I’ll be doing both this year–but with the seeds, it’s a total toss up what type of dahlia you’ll get. The seed mixes I’m planting are Unwins Mix (Baker Creek); Redskin Mix (Pinetree Seeds); and Dwarf Cactus Mix (RH Shumway’s). They will not be as big nor as luxuriant as the flowers from the tubers, however.

Dahlis are a bit finicky; the are not frost hardy, and so in my zone (5a/b) we have to dig them out each fall and store them overwinter. The bonus of this is that, like most tubers, they multiply when they are planted; you’ll usually end up with more than you started. (Which is awesome, because dahlia tubers are expensive.) Swan Island is the oldest dahlia farm in the US; and Floret Flowers usually grows dahlias ,but took this year off so they could build up their stock again. Both of these farms are pretty expensive, however. The best prices I’ve found on dahlias (non-wholesale) is from Longfield Gardens in New Jersey. However, no matter which company you try, most dahlia tuber varieties are already sold out. The ones I’ve ordered are scheduled to be delivered mid-April.

Here are some of the dahlias I’ll be growing from tubers:

“Dinner plate” dahlias (7″-10″ blooms) Left to right: Fleurel; Lavender Perfection; Noordwijks Glorie; Thomas Edison; Vancouver; and Cafe au Lait. Cafe au Lait is considered one of the most desirable dahlias, and is often used in bridal bouquets.

Other dahlias–“Pom Pon” Dahlias (4″ blooms) Left to right: Black Satin; Cheers; Great Silence.

Ranunculus

Those darn YouTube gardeners have also turned me on to another type of flower I’d never heard of: ranunculus. Ranunculus are grown from corms (kind of like really small tubers) and from what I understand, they are almost as pretty as dahlias but are not nearly as finicky. They like cold weather and can be planted as soon as soil can be worked. Of courser, my orders won’t be delivered until mid-April, as that’s when the flower companies have decided that they should be planted in my zone, but next year I should be able to get them in the ground much sooner. I’ve decided to go much less dramatic with the ranunculus colors as well. Left to right: Picotree Red/Yellow (Longfield Gardens); Tecolote┬« Pastel Mix; and Tecolote┬« Rose (Easy to Grow Bulbs).

Finally, I’ve also ordered my absolute favorite flower, Night-Blooming Jasmine. Night-blooming jasmine is actually not a real jasmine; it’s a jessamine, which is a member of the nightshade family. Technically night-blooming jasmine is not perennial in my area, as they can’t handle frost; but I’ve been told that if I keep them potted and bring them inside to overwinter, they should survive. So that’s my plan. ­čÖé I absolutely *love* the smell of their flowers; regular jasmine just does not compare, and I’ve desperately missed their smell since I moved back to IL.