I previously wrote that now is the time to be planting your “fall bulbs” or also known as your spring blooming bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, crocus, hyacinths and snowdrops to name just a few. These are winter hardy bulbs that can stay in the ground year after year.
There are other bulbs, though, that are more summer/fall blooming and are considered “tender bulbs,” meaning that they will not survive our winters outside. Some examples of summer bulbs are: tuberous begonias, dahlias, gladiolus, canna lilies, Agapanthus (lily of the Nile), calla lilies, Eucomis (pineapple lily) and Colocasia (elephant ears).
This fall we have been enjoying beautiful, warm days and have yet to have any really cold temperatures. Once we have a light frost that blackens the top leaves of these summer bulbs, or the plants have started to turn yellow and die back (whichever comes first), it is time to dig them up and store the bulbs for winter.
The first step is to dig up the entire plant, including the bulbs. Make sure that you are putting the shovel into the ground a distance from the plant and then working your way in so you're not cutting through the bulbs.
When you have lifted the plants out of the ground, cut off the tops just above the bulb itself. The next step is to remove as much soil from the bulbs as possible.
If the soil is wet and hard to remove, you may want to let the bulbs sit out in the sun for a day or two to allow them to dry off before storing. You may find that when you dig the bulbs some of them have fungal damage, such as bulb rot.
If they are badly infected, discard these bulbs so that the infection does not spread to other bulbs in storage. Before storing, you can treat the bulbs with a fungicidal dust to cut down on chance of mould and mildew. This is why it is so important to make sure the bulbs are dry before storing them.
Once the bulbs are dry, place them in a material that breathes, such as paper bags, carboard boxes, open baskets, bushel baskets or mesh bags. Never store the bulbs in closed plastic bags or containers as plastic will keep the moisture around the bulbs and cause them to rot.
Store the bulbs in a cool, dark, dry place, such as a fruit cellar. If you have a garage that never freezes, this can also work. Ideally, the temperature should be between 7 and 10 degrees Celsius (45 to 50F). If the bulbs freeze, they will just turn into mush.
If you are growing summer bulbs in containers, you can either store them as described above or you can store them in their pots for winter. Stop watering the pots and allow the soil in the pot to dry out before storing. Store in a cool, dark, dry place.
Now you are one step closer to putting your garden to bed for the winter.
Joanne Young is a Niagara-on-the-Lake garden expert and coach. See her website at joanneyoung.ca.