Is it time to dig my bulbs? Are there any I can leave in the ground over winter? What is the best way to store bulbs?

Many summer flowering bulbs will freeze if left in the ground over winter. Gladiolus, Canna, Ranunculus and Anemone normally survive. Dahlias sometimes survive, but it is safer to dig them. Tuberous Begonias seldom survive unless planted near a building or other protected area.

The best time to dig is after frost has damaged the tops but it has not gotten cold enough to freeze bulbs in the ground. That is usually about late October or November. After digging, cut off the tops leaving an inch or two of stem. Bulbs can be washed with water or simply brushed to remove dirt. They should be air dried a few days in a location where they will not freeze. After drying, stems usually separate easily from the bulbs. Dahlias with multiple tubers can be divided. Make sure each tuber has an attached growing point.

I like to use dry vermiculite or sawdust to store bulbs. This prevents them from drying too much. Best storage temperature is between 35 and 50 degrees F. They can be stored in a refrigerator if there is nothing else which generates humidity.

This is also a good time to divide and replant hardy bulbs such as iris and lilies. Iris should be dug and replanted about every 3 to 4 years. The older, inner rhizomes should be discarded and the outer, newer ones replanted. Tops can be cut back to 4 to 6 inches in length.

Lily bulbs also become too crowded after 3 to 4 years in the same location. Bulbs can be dug up and spaced so they are about 6 inches apart.

Now is also the time to plant hardy, spring flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Bulbs give the best landscape effect when planted in clusters of at least 6 bulbs. Spring flowering bulbs can be planted in annual flower beds. Then new annual flowers can be planted between the bulbs next spring.


Allen Wilson

Allen has been writing about gardening for over 30 years. He is a retired professor of Horticulture.

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