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Vermont Garden Journal: Overwintering Bulbs

Janey Henning
You can overwinter begonia and other bulbs with a few easy steps and plant the tubers again next spring.

With our warm, dry summer and fall, the subtropical bulbs have been putting on a show. Canna lilies, dahlias, gladiolus, Four-O-Clocks and other tender bulbs have been growing strong. But with the first frosts of the season rolling through the area, it's time to dig and store them.

These bulbs are not hardy in our area, so it's either dig and store now, or do like my neighbor is doing: Just let nature take its course and treat them like an annual.

While cannas and dahlias get most of the gardening press, there are other tender bulbs such as tuberous begonias and Four-O-Clocks that can be dug and stored. Most gardeners don't realize these bulbs form a tuber by late summer which can be dug, saved and replanted in spring. You'll get a bigger and faster- growing plant than starting from seed each year.

Here's what to do to overwinter these bulbs:

Once frost has nipped the tops, dig these bulbs, corms and tubers. Cut off the foliage right above the bulb and wash or knock off the soil. Let them dry in a warm garage, barn, or room for a few days. 

For gladiolus, remove the older bottom corm and bulblets and store the newer, fresher top corm in onion bags in a 40-degree Farenheit room. Place the dahlia clumps and canna lilies upside down in boxes covered with slightly moistened vermiculite, peat moss, or wood shavings in a 40-to-50-degree Farenheit room.

Check them periodically in winter for shriveling or rotting. If too moist, let them air out. If too dry, mist them with water. Once dry store tuberous begonias and Four-O-Clocks in layers in boxes filled with slightly moisten peat moss.

And now for this week's tip, when creating your Jack-O-Lantern for Halloween, soak the pumpkin in water overnight to hydrate it. It will be easier to cut and will stay intact longer.

Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
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