Many of our most beautiful summer flowers are tender tropical plants that will not survive our winters. It is a waste of time to dig them each fall and waste of money to have to repurchase each spring. That is if you can find the same varieties. As they must be dug anyway, it makes sense to clean and store them overwinter.
The when and how to dig is key to saving the tender bulbs, corms, rhizomes and tubers. (They will be referred to as ‘bulbs’, to save space.) Dig or lift after foliage has died back or no more than 3”, and before the first frost. By then bulbs have developed buds or, ready to produce them in the spring or summer. If interplanted with other plants, carefully dig with a narrow trowel. Clumps can be lifted with a narrow pitch-fork and separated. Save extra bulbs as special gifts for garden friends. Gently remove dirt and cut roots back to 1”. Do not wash as the bulbs will absorb the extra moisture and can contribute to rot. Whatever containers you use to store, make sure that it is not air-tight. Punch holes in cardboard and layer with newspaper, peat moss, vermiculite making sure the bulbs do not touch. Slightly mist the material to prevent it from drying the bulbs.
Store in a dark, dry location at about 50 degrees – unheated garage, basement(only if dry) or non-defrosting refrigerator. Check monthly on them and discard rotten, moldy, or desiccated bulbs. Plant at the appropriate time.
Tender bulbs include: begonia tuberosa, canna, caladium, dahlia, elephant ear, ornamental ginger, and gladiolus.