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How to Store Bulbs for the Winter

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How to Store Bulbs for the Winter

While bulbs are some of the easiest plants to grow, they do have some specific needs in terms of how and when they are cared for over the winter months. In many cases, you don’t need to disturb them at all — just let them be to return with more glory the next year. But there are a number of reasons to dig those bulbs up and store them over the cold months, and if this is something that has intimidated you in the past, we’re here to help!

Reasons to Dig Up and Store Your Bulbs

Depending upon your location, the type of bulbs you have in your garden, and your specific weather conditions/patterns, there are lots of reasons why you’d opt to dig up and store your flower bulbs. These are the most common:

  • Your bulbs aren’t cold hardy. Bulbs like gladiolus and Asiatic or oriental lilies aren’t cold hardy and won’t survive a winter north of zone 6 or 7, so lifting and storing them will keep them safe from cold damage.
  • Your bulbs are overcrowded and need to be divided. Daffodils and crocus, for example, should be dug up and divided every 5 years or so to prevent overcrowding that leads to a decrease in flower size, plant height, and inconsistent blooming.
  • Critters usually dig up and carry off your bulbs in the winter. Ah, those darn squirrels! We get that they’re hungry in the winter months, but we still want our tulips and daffodils to grace our gardens and not a furry creature’s dinner plate.

Types of Bulbs & How to Dig and Store Them

There are two types of bulbs (tender and hardy) and, while the process for digging them up and storing over the winter is similar, there are a few differences. Learn when and how to dig up and properly store all of your bulbs with these steps:

Tender bulbs: Most tender bulbs are planted in the spring for summer blooming, and include amaryllis, canna, gladiolus, begonia, dahlia, caladium, and Colocasia. If you live in a colder climate, these will need to be dug up and stored.

  1. When to dig: Dig these bulbs up in the fall after their foliage dries up or turns yellow.
  2. How to dig: Use a garden fork or spade to gently loosen the roots all the way around the base of the plant. Be careful to avoid cutting into the fleshy bulb or structure, then gently lift it out of the ground.
  3. How to clean: Clean gently with a hose to remove soil and other debris. You don’t need to wash gladiolus bulbs, though, until after they are dried/cured.
  4. How to store: Dry/cure them by placing in a room away from direct sunlight in temps around 60-70 degrees for a few days (gladiolus take a few weeks, though). Store in a cool, dry place (40 degrees is ideal for most), only storing large, healthy bulbs.

Hardy bulbs: Most of these are planted in the fall for spring bloom, like tulips, daffodils, lilies, hyacinth, crocus, iris, snowdrops, allium, fritillaria, and grape hyacinth. Hardy bulbs can usually withstand cold winters and don’t need to be dug up and stored every year.

  1. When to dig: Wait until the fall to dig them up, but if you must lift them before then, make sure you wait til the foliage has withered and yellowed.
  2. How to dig: Dig hardy bulbs up the same way you would tender bulbs.
  3. How to clean: Shake off loose soil, discarding any bulbs that are damaged or are too small. Trim off extra foliage. Set them in a box of peat, shredded paper, or other packing materials to dry for a few days. 
  4. How to store: Store on paper in a cardboard box in a cool and dry place — the refrigerator or cool basement is perfect.

Note: In this blog, you’ll notice that we’ve used the term “bulb” to refer to many types of plants that have underground food storage organs, but these plants also include corms, tubers, and rhizomes. Want to learn more about which is which? Read “Bulbs, Corms, Rhizomes, and Tubers: What They Are and How to Grow Them.”

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  • Jenny Peterson