28 September 29, 2010


Last week, I had told you about how to take care of your houseplants before you take them back into your house. There are some other things that you should bring back into the house. It is a little bit of work, but the results come next summer is well worth your time being spent now.

Many of you plant summer flowering bulbs. These bulbs are Dahlias, Begonias and Gladiolus. There are other summer flowering bulbs or rhizomes, but what makes these different is the fact that they will not survive the winter if left in the ground. However, if you dig these bulbs up and store them for the winter, you can re-plant them again next spring. The reward is the fact that you will have a better crop of flowers next summer.  Here is what you need to do.

Many people will wait until the frost kills off the foliage before they dig up the plants. You can do this but sometimes the frost comes late and if the frost is actually a freeze that penetrates the ground and freezes the bulb, then you will have lost the plants. If you get a few good days in the near future, you can cut the plants back to within an inch or so of the ground. Using a shovel or a spading fork, carefully dig up the plant. The reason I say carefully is because you are trying not to damage the bulbs or rhizomes that are under ground. Once you have the plants out of the ground, you want to shake off the excess soil. Using a garden hose, you want to wash all of the soil from around the bulbs or rhizomes. In the case of the dahlias, you will have a mass of sweet potato looking things attached to the stem of the plant. You need to take some time to look at these sweet potato looking rhizomes. If you see any that are damaged, cut them off where they attach to the stem of the plant. In the case of the begonias and the gladiolus, you will sometimes see many bulbs that have formed under the main part of the plant. These bulbs are snapped off from the plant.  Again, check these bulbs for any sign of damage and discard any that are damaged. The reason that you are discarding any of the damaged part is because the damaged parts will rot during storage. The rot can spread to any of the healthy bulbs stored with them and cause the loss of the healthy bulbs.

At this point, you need to allow the bulbs to dry for a few days. The bulbs, or rhizome clumps, need to be spread out in an area where they won’t freeze and where they won’t become a fall harvest for squirrels or other hungry creatures. After the bulbs have had a chance to dry, give them a final inspection for any signs of decay. Discard any parts that have decayed. As an extra precaution, you can dust the bulbs with a bulb dust. This dust helps to prevent any decay and helps to ward off any insect attacks.

The bulbs or rhizomes need to be insulated from the dry air of winter. Even though the bulbs are stored where temperatures don’t go below freezing, the air during the winter months can dry the bulbs out. You can use dry peat moss to cover the bulbs, but I prefer to use vermiculite. Vermiculite tends to be a better insulator.

Get some shallow boxes and put an inch or so of vermiculite in the bottom of the box. Next, arrange the bulbs or rhizomes on top of the vermiculite. The bulbs should not be touching each other. The rhizomes probably will but that is OK. Now cover the bulbs or rhizomes with an inch or so of vermiculite. The boxes can then be moved to a cool and dark place for the winter months. Many people will store the bulbs in an unheated cellar. This is OK as long as the bulbs don’t freeze. Alternately you can store the bulbs in a cool closet.

Come springtime, you can replant your bulbs or rhizomes and then you can wait for a spectacular show of color!

Well, that’s all for this week. I’ll talk to you again next week.

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