Skip to content

Digging, Lifting And Storing Tender Bulbs

Digging, Lifting And Storing Tender Bulbs
Master Gardener Scoop – November 29, 2017

By Leora McTall
Master Gardener

During our warm October this year it was easy for gardeners to procrastinate – each day putting off the dreaded chores of digging, lifting and storing tender bulbs for winter.

Now November is reminding us that winter is nigh. So, with this colder, rainy weather, we know we must “get into gear”.

First, a definition of tender bulbs, according to University of Minnesota Master Gardener, Mary Meyer: “Tender bulbs – Plants that have fleshy storage structures (bulbs, corms, tubers, roots, rhizomes) which are killed by cold winters if not brought indoors”.

A list of tender bulbs includes begonias, caladiums, calla lilies, cannas, dahlias, elephant ears, gladiolus, glory lily (gloriosa superba), oxalis, Peruvian daffodils and tuberose.

The Missouri Botanical Garden advises to dig tender bulbs after the foliage has died back, or after the first frost, and before the ground freezes.

A lot of gardeners avoid growing tender bulbs because of the work required to save them from the winter. But these flowers are some of the most beautiful, tropical plants, a statement in our gardens, making them well worth the effort.

Here on the deck, the flamboyant Bengal Tiger/Pretoria Canna stole the show with its huge yellow and green striped leaves and ever-blooming orange flowers. So it is the first plant to be dug and saved. They were really hard to dig out, the rhizomes had become so twisted and knotted together, and were easily broken off.

It just takes a lot of time, patience and some muscle to dig these.

Several black elephant ears, which had been wintered over, were planted into one container on the deck, this gardener not having the time or inclination to be very creative.  The elephant ears loved the rich soil, ample water, and close attention they received all summer, rewarding guests and hosts with a show that wouldn’t stop.  Now these bulbs must be dug, lifted and stored for the winter.

After digging, the tender bulbs must be “cured” or dried before storing. Just lay them out in the shade, or since it is so late now, bring inside to dry in the garage, shed or basement to avoid a freeze or rain outside.

When the bulbs are completely dried, then store in peat moss, newspapers, wood shavings, paper bags, vermiculite or sand.

Peat moss seems to be the preferred material. Store bulbs in a cool, dry place where they cannot freeze.

Check out the University of Illinois website (or neighboring university websites such as IN, KY, WI, MO, IA) for storing instructions for specific plants.

Keep in mind that anyone can set up a gardening website, so be leery of some of these sources.

Be sure and label your bulbs as you dig. They all start looking alike, come spring.

Add these digging chores to the fall planting of more daffodils, tulips and crocus, plus taking some of the benches and garden decor inside, and then realize why we gardeners are so busy in the fall.

It’s a race against time now.

Leave a Comment