How to Store Summer Bulbs During Winter

Don’t leave your tender summer bulbs in the ground during winter. Here are tips on how to store bulbs so they survive year after year.

When storing dahlia tubers, make sure they have at least one "eye" so that new plants can grow when you replant come spring. Image: Eagle Dahlia Farm

Don’t let winter wreck your tender spring and summer bulbs and tubers. Before the ground becomes too hard to dig, gather and store next year’s dahlias, gladioli, canna, and elephant ears — to name a few. Here’s how.

  • Gather bulbs after the first hard frost, after foliage is dead. Cut back leaves to 2-4 inches before storing.
  • Insert a fork or spade 1 ft. from the base of each plant and dig in a circle, taking care not to cut or scape bulbs or tubers.
  • Clean bulbs and tubers with a soft brush or gentle wash. Dry before storing.
  • Dust bulbs and tubers with a fungicide to help prevent rot.
  • Pack in containers that breathe, like cardboard boxes, and in a medium that helps keep moisture and temperature constant, like sawdust, coarse vermiculite, shredded newspaper, or sphagnum peat moss. Make sure bulbs don’t touch each other.
  • Check bulbs monthly to make sure they’re resting peacefully. Discard mushy or rotted bulbs. If you see any insects, treat with insecticide.

Bonus Tips

  • Divide canna and elephant ear bulbs and tubers, and then “cure” in a dry place for a few days to toughen skins. Wrap in newspaper to store.
  • Only store dahlia tubers that host at least one “eye,” a round protrusion from which new plants grow.
  • Before storing, label each bulb with a permanent marker. Be sure to note the bulb’s color.
  • Plastic produce bags that contain holes for circulation are good for bulb storage.
  • Even if you store all bulbs correctly, you’ll likely lose about 10%.