Storing Summer Bulbs
Dahlias, cannas and gladiolus are easy to grow and make spectacular displays in the garden. Unfortunately for gardeners north of the Carolinas, these bulbs need to be lifted after the first frost turns their leaves into a slimy mess. However, these bulbs can be planted and enjoyed year after year with proper winter storage.
Winter storage requires three things: a set of roomy storage totes with lids such as those manufactured by Rubbermaid, a bale of peat moss, and a sharp spade.
Choose a dry day to dig the bulbs. This will prevent soil from clinging too tightly to the bulb or corm, and it will also prevent the garden soil from compacting. Plunge the spade into the ground, aiming for the edge of the bulb or cluster of bulbs. Use the spade to lift the bulb out of the ground without cutting into or damaging the bulb. Bulbs with nicks, cuts or other damage tend to rot in storage. Brush off as much dirt as possible from the bulb, and then allow the bulbs to air dry for one or two days before placing into the totes.
Place a 1-2" layer of peat moss into each tote. Cover with a single layer of bulbs, and then cover the bulbs with more peat moss. Continue to layer the bulbs in the totes until totes are full and bulbs are completely covered with peat moss. Cover the tote, and store the totes in a dark, dry, frost-free area. A pantry, root cellar, or unheated attached garage are excellent places to store the bulb-filled totes. The peat moss provides some insulation for the bulbs and also helps maintain just the right level of moisture so that the bulb stays plump and healthy.
Check the totes periodically through the winter. If the storage area breaks 50 degrees, some of the bulbs may begin to sprout in the peat moss. If this happens, then remove the sprouted bulb and pot up in good potting soil. The impatient greenery can be grown as a house plant or transplanted into the garden as soon as the chance of frost has passed next spring.
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