Overwintering Tender Bulbs

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Overwintering Tender Bulbs

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.

Frost Damaged Tender Tropical Plants

Frost Damaged Tender Tropical Plants

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.

Overwintering Dahlia Tubers

Overwintering Dahlia Tubers

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.

Cut Foliage Off Canna Lillies

Cut Foliage Off Canna Lillies Before Overwintering

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).

Dig Up Canna Lillies In The Fall

Dig Up Canna Lillies In The Fall

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.

Discard Rotted Canna Lily Bulbs

Discard Rotted Canna Lily Bulbs

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.

Single Canna Lily Bulb

Single Canna Lily Bulb

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.

Allow Tender Bulbs To Cure Before Overwintering Indoors

Allow Tender Bulbs To Cure Before Overwintering Indoors

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.

Overwintering Canna Bulbs In Peat Moss

Overwintering Canna Bulbs In Peat Moss

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.

Storing Canna Lily Bulbs Over Winter

Storing Canna Lily Bulbs Over Winter

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 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.

 

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Comments

  1. says

    After I wrote this post, I decided to do some experimenting with the types of containers I used for storing my bulbs. I wrote a follow up blog post about what I did and the results. Check it out… Tender bulbs unpacked

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