Tuesday, November 29th, 2011
Tuesday, November 29th
My husband, an upstanding, energetic member of the Bethel United Methodist Church, is not generally given to rebuking his wife. However, lately there’s been more than a few grumbles at the state of our garage. It seems one whole bay is taken up with assorted dirt-encrusted tuberous plants.
Can’t be helped. After 33 years, you’d think Jerry would understand that a mess in the garage is necessary in November. By that time old man frost has finally blackened the foliage of tender cannas and dahlias, and it’s time to store them for winter. But first they have to dry a bit. Due to chubby rhizomes, these stalwarts do very well in our unpredictable summer weather, and I’d like to see their handsome faces next year. In fact, I’ve kept my dahlias and cannas going for decades by placing them in cold, dry winter storage in my garage, which never freezes nor rises above 50 degrees.
Here’s how I do it: I gently dig the entire clump, making sure my spade is far enough away from the heart of the plant that I’m not damaging any tubers. I heave up the whole mass, shake off as much dirt as I can, and haul it to the garage. (my bay of the garage, it should be noted) There I place the mass where it can’t be run over by wheeled garbage cans or stepped on by careless kids.
I let the clusters dry for several days before I clip and compost the withered foliage, leaving several inches of stem protruding from the rhizomes. In the meantime the containers get prepped. Back in the early days of my current garden, I’d plant hundreds of hardy bulbs each autumn and would save the ventilated cartons in which they arrived for use as winter storage. Once full, these cardboard cartons would be placed on a shelf. One memorable winter, however, I lost the whole kit ‘n caboodle when my husband inadvertently discarded them in a spate of garage cleaning.
Now I use plastic storage bins, which apparently don’t look as disreputable as dirty cardboard boxes. These I fill with ever-so-slightly damp peat moss. A layer of peat covers the bottom of the container, and on that goes a layer of rhizomes, carefully placed so they don’t jostle each other. More peat, then more cannas, until all are situated and no sign of them is visible. I then cover the tub and mark in bold lettering the following: “Colleen’s Bulbs!! Do not open, disturb, remove, or discard, under threat of gardener’s wrath!”
They don’t get touched.
In mid-January I lift the lid and apply a little water. In March I exhume the contents, discarding the deceased and potting up the 75% remaining. These are hardened off prior to planting out.
That’s all there is to it. By wintering over, I save both my favorite cultivars and a few dollars. As of next week I’ll have finished snugging the dahlias and cannas into their winter quarters.
Then I can work on my marriage.