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How to store tender bulbs over the winter

Dahlias and cannas are just some of the terrific bulbs to bright your summer garden, but they will not survive cold winters. To preserve the bulbs and tubers for another season you need to bring them indoors for the winter storage.

Timing: Tender bulbs produce foliage and flowers that last all summer and into fall. When the first hard freeze occurs the top growth turns black and dies. Clear the top growth away and put that into the compost heap, then lift the bulbs from the ground. The roots are attached to fleshy white tubers or bulbs, and should come out with the bulb.

Prepare for Storage: Let the bulbs and surrounding soil dry in a sheltered, frost free place until the soil comes off the roots and leaves them clean. Let the bulb dry thoroughly before storing.

To Store the Bulbs: The bulbs need to be stored away from frost and rodents. Plastic containers with tight fitting lids are perfect for storage vessels. Put a layer of sand, vermiculite, peat moss, or even newspaper, on the bottom of the container. Add a layer of bulbs but do not let them touch each other. Add a second layer of dry material and continue until the container is filled or you have stored all your bulbs. Label the container so that you know what you have inside! Store the container in a cool bedroom, basement or closet until next spring.

Over the winter, occasionally check the container and bulbs to make sure than there are no bulbs rotting or forming soft spots.

Next Spring: Late winter or early next spring you bulbs will start to come out of dormancy. Divide large tubers so that they all have some sprouting points as well as some roots. Pot everything up into a temporary container and let them sprout and start growing. When your frost free date arrives and the soil has warmed up, plant the tubers and bulbs for another year in the garden.

Storing your bulbs over the winter allows you to save a little money on the garden, as well as preserving your favorite summer flowers.

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Gardening Tip of the Day

  • Preparing the garden in the spring often means waiting until the beds dry before the soil can be worked. This can steal a week or two (or more!) from the start of the planting season. If the soil is prepared in the fall, however, you can get a jump on spring crops.
    After clearing the garden of debris in the fall, till the soil to break up the surface of the beds. Blanket the soil with a thick layer of compost and/or shredded leaves. In the spring, rake off any leaves that haven’t decomposed and discover a fertile, friable soil ready for planting!