To Every Thing, There is a Season … Preparing Garden & Shed for Winter Part One: Bulbs & Tubers

Cleaning and Preparing Pots & Tools for Winter Storage

Most years, by the time sleet and snow begin to fall, both my garden and home are well prepared for winter. By mid-November, my firewood is stacked, dahlias are boxed up, spring-blooming bulbs are planted and vegetable beds are neatly mulched with chopped leaves and clean straw. But this season’s early snow really took me by surprise. Even in New England, where we’re known for our unpredictable weather, who expects two feet of snow before Halloween? And now —with white drifts covering much of the garden— even though I’m actually well ahead of schedule, it suddenly feels as if I’ve fallen far behind. It’s only the first week of November, and I still have many chores to finish up! Fortunately —with frost-free ground and daytime temperatures in the high 50s— the snow is quickly receding!

Out go the bulbs (I’m planting extra Tulips this year — including long-standing favorites: Queen of the Night & Apricot Beauty— just for cutting)

I plant a large number of bulbs every fall, both for myself and for my garden design clients. Some early bloomers, like Galanthus, Eranthus and Erythronium for example, need extra time to settle in and are planted in late summer or very early autumn (or even better, in the case of Galanthus, transplanted in-the-green, after blooming). But I find that other springtime favorites —especially tulips and daffodils— perform best when planted in cooler soil, after a hard frost. Of course for some of us in the northeast, the first killing frost came in the form of a snow storm this year. That really threw a monkey wrench in my schedule! But no matter, there’s still plenty of time. In the next few weeks I’ll be digging more holes than my resident squirrels; planting daffodils, tulips and anything else I find on sale, until the ground freezes! In small spaces —or for dramatic effect— I often plant bulbs in layers (click here to see how), and I also buy extra bulbs to chill and force later on in winter (click here for tutorial).

And in come the Dahlias. Sweet dreams, my beauties …

In my cold climate, another unfinished garden chore, lifting and boxing up tender Dahlia tubers, needs to be completed over the next couple of weeks. Usually, I pull Dahlias two weeks after the frost, when their foliage has completely withered. But this season, my Dahlias were still blooming in late October, right up until the first snow (and if they could, I’m sure the Dahlias would be telling you that this year’s weather was all very strange and confusing). Yesterday I cut away the blackened remains of my beloved Karma Choc, Ferncliff Illusion, and other favorite Dahlias, and began lifting them (gently now, with fingertips and a bit of assistance from a trowel) from their pots. After shaking soil from Dahlias, I rinse and air dry the tubers for a day before nestling them into newspaper-lined cardboard boxes, filled with damp cedar shavings (I’ve stopped using peat moss for enviromental reasons). Once boxed up, I put my Dahlias to sleep on shelves in a cool, but not freezing part of my cellar (somewhere around 45 degrees is good).

And so now, I’m off to plant spring-blooming bulbs for my clients. Have you ever known a gardener to say that they planted too many? Impossible!

Although I’m Sad to See Many Things Go, There’s an Undeniable Beauty to Stark and Skeletal Winter

Canadian Geese on Departure

A Confetti Display of Leaves and Seeds in Melting Snow

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6 Replies to “To Every Thing, There is a Season … Preparing Garden & Shed for Winter Part One: Bulbs & Tubers”

  1. Michaela

    @ Donna – I recommend storing tuberous Begonias in a similar manner (boxed in a non-freezing part of a cellar or similar place), but prefer dry cedar or other shavings, as opposed to the slightly moistened mix I use for Dahlias. I store Gladiolas flat, in old shirt boxes. In all cases, consistent temperature (40-50 degree range) and some ventilation is important. Sweet dreams! M

  2. Jane Rexing

    What else can be used to store tubers if you do not have cedar shavings? Is perlite okay? This is my first season to grow dahlias and attempt to store them.

  3. Michaela

    @ Jane – I’m so glad you are experimenting with Dahlias. I think they are so beautiful and rewarding (they can be easily divided to make more tubers!). If you don’t have cedar shavings or other kind of wood shavings or sawdust (like the kind used in gerbil cages), I would suggest clean, slightly dampened sand (you can find this in hardware stores or big box home centers). You can use peat moss, but I have stopped due to the fact that this natural resources is becoming depleted. I would not use perlite, and never soil. Some gardeners store them bone dry, but I do not recommend this. I prefer a slightly humid environment for Dahlia bulbs. Hope this is helpful, and please feel free to leave more questions! I hope to write more, as time permits. xo M

  4. emily

    Thank you for the Dahlia tips. Want to tell you how much I love your website. I don’t always comment, but I come here once or twice a week and I just enjoy it so much. Emily.

  5. Michaela

    @ Emily – How sweet of you to leave such a lovely comment! I always love hearing from readers, and it’s so rewarding to know that you are following along, enjoying the blog and finding something helpful here and there. xo Michaela

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