Winter care for summer bulbs


Our readers repeatedly ask for information on how to care for their summer bulbs.

For information on dahlias, cannas and gladioli’s, you don’t have to bid adieu to these delightful summer perennials just because the growing season is drawing to a close. It’s easy to winter-over these and other cold-sensitive perennials that grow from bulbs, corms, and tubers.

Most tender plants need to be brought in before the first killing frost.

For cannas, tuberous begonias, and other plants that you’ve grown in containers, the procedure is easy. These can be stored indoors over winter in their pots. Check for insects or plant diseases before bringing them into the house. Once the foliage dies back, trim the plants back to just above the soil line. Place in a cool, dry place with good air circulation.

If you have grown them outdoors then you must follow other steps. Begonias need to be dug up when the foliage is starting to brown or after a light frost; the stems should be cut back close to the tuber. They should then be allowed to dry out inside until the stems are dry, these can then be pulled off and the excess soil brushed off of the tuber. They are now ready to be placed in a box or a bag with some peat moss, and stored at about 45°to 55° F.

Gladiolus bulbs should be dug up in late September. They need to be removed before a hard freeze. The stems can be cut back to about 1” above the corm; they then should be stored in a dry area for 2-3 weeks. As the corm dries the root cap becomes dry and can be removed. These can be stored in a mesh bag at 40°to 50°F.

We grew some beautiful Dahlia’s this year so now the plants shouldn’t be dug up until a hard frost has completely killed the foliage, the dead foliage can be cut off at ground level, then place them in a paper lined cardboard box with peat moss at 50° F for the winter.

For cannas, after frost has damaged these plants they can be cut back to 2-3 inches, then wash them gently with a hose to remove the excess soil. They should be allowed to dry in a shady area for 2-3 days then they can be stored for the winter at 40 to 50° F.

For plants in the garden, start by cutting back the foliage to a few inches above ground. Then, with a spade or other digging tool, carefully loosen the soil around each plant about six to eight inches from the crown of the plant. Dig deep enough to get below the plant, taking care not to scrap, gouge, or otherwise cause a wound as this may expose the plant to infection.

If you accidentally cut the plant’s storage system, which is what the bulb, corm, or tuber really is, allow it to dry out so a scab will form before putting it in winter storage.

Carefully brush off the soil, which may harbor diseases. Refrain from vigorously scrubbing or washing off the caked-on soil as this may cause damage. Spread out on newspapers or trays in a warm, dry location.

Place the corms, tubers, or bulbs in a paper bag. Add a handful of slightly dampened peat moss to help prevent the plant parts from drying out. Do not overfill the bags to give the plant materials room to breathe.

Do not use plastic bags. Moisture will build up inside the bag, causing rot. Besides paper bags, it is okay to use mesh bags (like the kind onions or potatoes come in) or string bags. This will give you good air circulation and should make it unnecessary to add peat moss.

Mark your bags according to variety, then place in a cool, dark place for the winter. A basement or garage is ideal, provided it does not get too wet or cold. Temperatures between 45 and 55 degrees F are preferred.

Check on your stored bulbs in winter months – dampen the peat moss if bulbs are drying out or shriveling. If there is any damaged material it should be thrown away. The begonias can be started in pots in a sunny window in late February or early March. The other plants are generally placed outside once the temperatures warm up.

Having completed this, spring is not far away when we will bring out our gems, carefully brush away any remaining soil and plant for another summer garden.

By Charlene Thornhill

Along the Garden Path

Charlene Thornhill is a volunteer citizen columnist, who serves The Daily Advocate readers weekly with her community column Along the Garden Path. She can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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