Tropical plants add wonderful, lush foliage and bright colorful blooms to summer landscape. In cold climates, it’s common to grow tropical plants as annuals that will die over the winter, and be replaced every spring. But many of these tropical plants form corms, tubers or bulbs (commonly referred to as bulbs) that can be grown year after year by overwintering indoors. With a little bit of dirty work, and a small amount of storage space, you can easily overwinter tender bulbs.
You will be able to keep plants that you love without worrying about having a sunny window to put them in, or fighting pest infestations during the winter. It’s a huge money saver too!
Tropical Bulbs To Overwinter Indoors
Here’s a small list of common tropical plants that have bulbs, corms or tubers which can be overwintered indoors.
- Canna lily
- Spider lily bulbs
- Voodoo lily
- Elephant ear
- Crinum lily
- Tuberous Begonias (not all begonias are tuberous)
- Calla lilies
- Sweet potato vine
How To Dig Up Tender Bulbs
The best time to dig up tropical bulbs for overwintering indoors is in the fall after the first few frosts have turned the leaves brown. This will trigger the plants to go dormant naturally. You can dig up tender bulbs any time that is convenient to you, but you must do it before the ground freezes.
I like to wait until a few hard frosts have killed the foliage before I dig up my tender bulbs. You can cut the foliage down to the ground before digging up the bulbs, or you can wait until after you’ve dug up and cleaned the bulbs to remove the foliage.
I prefer to cut most of the foliage off before I dig the bulbs, leaving enough of the stalk to use as a handle if possible. To avoid damaging the bulbs, start digging several inches away from the stems of the plants. Dig around the entire root ball to loosen it up, and then lift it out of the ground. As you dig up the bulbs, make sure that you keep track of what is what (unless you like surprises).
Carefully loosen up the clump of bulbs, removing as much dirt as possible. Cutting off tightly bundled roots will help with this process. You don’t need to cut off all the roots though. The goal is to loosen up the roots, remove the bulk of the dirt, and separate individual bulbs as much as possible. Tender bulbs could be overwintered as one big clump, but splitting them apart helps prevent rotting.
As you separate the bulbs from the clump, inspect each one and discard any that have signs of rot. Healthy bulbs are firm, not mushy. Remove the remaining foliage before overwintering tender bulbs.
To reduce the chance of your tender bulbs rotting or growing moldy over the winter, allow the bulbs to cure (dry out) for several hours or days before overwintering indoors. To do this, I lay newspaper on the garage floor and then spread my tender bulbs out on the newspaper. The larger the bulb, the longer it should cure. One or two days for small bulbs, three to five days for large bulbs.
How To Overwinter Tender Bulbs
Once the tender bulbs have cured, it’s time to pack them up. I use cardboard boxes so they are easy to stack in a corner in the basement, but you could use paper bags too. I would not recommend using any type of plastic container for overwintering tender bulbs, unless it is well ventilated.
You can wrap each bulb in newspaper, or you can pack them in peat moss or saw dust. Whatever medium you choose to use to store your tender bulbs, make sure it is fairly dry before packing. To prevent rot from spreading between bulbs, try to pack them so that the bulbs aren’t touching each other. Continue to pack the bulbs between layers of packing medium until the box is full. Don’t forget to label them so you know what you have come spring.
Store tender bulbs in a cool (above freezing) and dark location. You can check them periodically during the winter to make sure there aren’t any signs of mold or rot, and ensure they aren’t drying out.
Overwintered tropical bulbs can be planted in pots and placed in a sunny room several weeks before they’re planted outside, or they can be planted directly into the garden in the spring after the last frost. Digging up and overwintering tender bulbs requires a bit of work, but is a great way to save money and get a jump start on the garden in the spring.
For more indoor gardening tips about overwintering tropical plants, click here… Overwintering Plants
What’s your favorite method for overwintering tender bulbs? Tell me how you do it in the comments below.