Those beautiful tropical blooms look amazing in the garden, but they are not fans of our long, cold winters here in southern Ontario. If you want those blooms to come back next year, you’ll have to do a bit of work, but it’s sooo worth it. Use this technique with bulbs that aren’t winter-hardy in our zone, like Canna lilies, Gladiolus, Calla Lily, tuberous begonias, and more.
Step 1: Wait for Frost
Wait to dig out roots after the first frost that just wilts the leaves. If the deep cold comes early, this could be a cold job! Frost stops the growing process and will help bulbs dry out.
Step 2: Trim plants
Cut the plants down to 6” of stem. You can use a sharp knife, and compost all the cuttings.
Step 3: Dig out the roots
Use a digging fork or shovel to get the roots out of the soil. Start by digging at the outer edges to avoid damage to the bulbs. Dispose of any damaged bulbs.
Step 4: Remove the soil
Brush or shake the soil off the bulbs. This is best to do when the ground is fairly dry, before the fall rains have soaked the soil. If the weather is warm enough, it’s ok to use the hose to remove the dirt. Be careful though, you don’t want to accidentally remove any of the outer layers.
Step 5: Trim Stem and Roots
Use hand pruners to shorten stems and roots. Leave a 2” stem stub.
Step 6: Dry roots and Store
It’s best to dry your bulbs out a bit before storing them for the winter, to prevent rot during the winter. Arrange on screens or trays and place in a cool, dry place. The shed or garage will work well if the temps aren’t around freezing day and night. You can even lay them out during the day in the sunshine. After cut edges have sealed and bulbs are drier to the touch, they can be stored for the winter.
Pack in milled peat moss, perlite, shredded paper or bagged (sterilized) compost. Or store them in mesh bags, hanging or boxed up for the winter. Add several sheets of newsprint between the bulb layers to reduce the chance of rot.
For tender bulbs growing in pots, you can simply store them in the soil, in the pots. Just cut off the leaves and stem before storing away for the winter.