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Saving Money – Can You Dig It?

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Saving Money – Can You Dig It?

If you plant tender bulbs such as cannas, dahlias and elephant ears, you know replacing them annually can get expensive for those of us who live in zones where they don’t survive the winter.  Now is the time to put a reminder on your calendar to plan digging and storing your favorites for use next year.  Not only will you save money but you will be rewarded with larger, hardier plants.  Many tender bulbs multiply rapidly and can also be divided at this time and used or shared with friends in the spring.

Timing: If possible dig when the soil is moist, not muddy or dried and cracked, making it easier to lift and clean the bulbs.  The time you choose to dig is also important.  If you dig too early, the bulbs may not have stored enough energy to grow a healthy plant next season.  If you dig too late, the ground may have frozen hard and the tender bulb with it.  Most plants can be lifted out of the ground when their foliage yellows and dies back or after the first hard freeze when the leaves turn crispy and dried or black and mushy.

Digging: For all plants such as dahlias, cannas, and other like materials, it is important to loosen the roots gently with a fork or spade, digging several inches back from the base so that the roots are not cut off unnecessarily.  With large bulbs it is especially important to loosen the soil on all sides before lifting the clump of roots and soil.  Avoid cutting, breaking or “skinning” the fleshy structure.  Diseases can enter readily through cuts and bruises causing rotting and eventual loss during storage.

Cleaning: Once you have dug your plants, you will need to trim the stems then clean the soil off so fungi, diseases and insects won’t ruin your bulbs during storage.  Some bulbs are best gently washed with a hose (e.g. dahlias, cannas) to remove excess soil and allowed to dry completely so they don’t mold.  Corms are best left unwashed (e.g. gladiolus, crocosmia), allowed to air dry and the soil removed gently with a paintbrush.  For elephant ears (e.g. alocasia, colocasia) or caladiums, cut back the foliage to 4-6 inches after the first frost then dig the bulbs.  Again, do not wash but allow them to air dry then brush off any remaining soil.  After your bulbs are cleaned, inspect for diseased tissue, shriveling from dehydration and insect damage from borers or bulb mites.  Discard any that don’t look healthy and firm.  Bulbs and corms often multiply and can easily be pulled apart at this time.  In the case of gladiolus, the cormels should be removed and old corm discarded.  Tubers and rhizomes can be broken apart now or in the spring for more divisions.

Curing: For most tender bulbs (e.g. dahlias, cannas, alocasia, colocasia), the curing period should be relatively short.  This short-term curing or drying period is typically between 1 to 3 days, depending on temperature.  Others such as caladiums, gladiolus or crocosmia do best with a longer curing period of one to three weeks.  Either way, curing should be done away from direct sunlight or drying winds.  Choose a dry, well-ventilated area with a temperature between 60 - 70°F.

Storing:  Proper storage will ensure healthy bulbs for next year.  Corms and tender bulbs (e.g. gladiolus, crocosmia, caladiums) like it cool, dark and dry.  Once they have had their curing period, pack them away in properly labeled paper or mesh bags.  An ideal area is a chilly basement or garage that stays at about 40 - 50°F and does not fall below freezing.  Tubers and rhizomes are fleshier, so they need to be protected from drying out over the winter.  For dahlias, cannas and elephant ears, store in peat moss or vermiculite to maintain bulb moisture and keep them at 40 - 50°F.

It is good practice to periodically check tender bulbs during the storage season and remove any damaged or rotting material.  In cases where tuberous roots like dahlias have some rot occurring, cut back until you reach clean white, fleshy tissue again.  Remember that these structures are living plants and may need attention and care even during their dormant period.

Jan Gowen, Kemper Horticulture Assistant

| Categories: Fall | Tags: bulbs, dahlia, elephant ears, colocasia, glads, crocosmia, storing bulbs, canna, caladium | View Count: (4692) | Return
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