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Never Lose a Dahlia Name Again!

Just write the cultivar name on the tuber so you won’t forget it! Photo: Swan River Dahlias

You’ve started to build up a nice collection of dahlias: ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, ‘Kelvin Floodlight’, ‘Night Butterfly’, etc. In the garden, each is clearly distinct: the flowers are of different colors, different shapes, different sizes, even the size of the plant itself varies. There is no risk of confusion. But in the fall, when you dig up the tubers in order to store them dormanct indoors for the winter? Or in the spring, when you go to plant them? Well, you have to admit it: without their flowers and leaves, all dahlias look pretty much alike!

Obviously, you can write the cultivar name on a plant label and place it with the tubers of that variety when you store them for the winter. But labels have an unfortunate tendency of falling off, becoming misplaced or even disappearing entirely. And it only takes a few seconds of distraction to totally forget which dahlia is which. 

The result? A whole series of unnamed dahlias you’ll probably never be able to correctly identify. What confusion!

So, why not solve the problem the simple way and just write the name of the cultivar directly on the tuber?

The tuber should be dry and relatively clean. Take an indelible marker (one designed for garden use is best; I find standard Sharpies smear all too readily!) and write the name on the tuber. In spring, when it’s time to plant the tuber for a new season, its cultivar name will still be perfectly legible (even if the tuber is now a bit shriveled) and you’ll immediately be able to distinguish it from the other varieties!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

5 comments on “Never Lose a Dahlia Name Again!

  1. can you share the name and where to purchase the indelible garden marker, please. I’m reading Amazon reviews and they are all bad

    • That’s because they fade in sunlight, although they’re not supposed to. On dahlia tubers, not a problem. For outdoor marking, I use one called Staedler permanent. It’s both waterproof and UV resistant.

  2. Patricia Evans

    A friend gave me some dahlia tubers this spring and that’s how she had labelled them which was very helpful. What brand marker do you suggest? The one used in the photo appears to be a Sharpie.

  3. It works well for bearded iris too, but is written on the leaves, can be lost if the leaves shrivel. The rhizomes are not so easy to write on. I have done this with plumeria stems.

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