Home Improvement Expert Danny Lipford

How to Store Tender Bulbs Over the Winter

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Tuberous begonias are hardy to zone 10.

In all but the warmest hardiness planting zones, many summer and fall flowering bulbs, corms, rhizomes, and tubers will not survive a cold winter. Unlike hardy bulbs, which require a period of cold in order to bloom, these “tender bulbs” can’t handle the cold and need to be dug up, stored, and protected in colder climates. With a little practice, this can be done fairly easily and allows you to grow all sorts of plants that otherwise might not be winter hardy in your area.


Caladiums are tubers that can be treated as houseplants during the winter.

Tender bulbs that may need winter care include:

  • Acidanthera (Gladiolus callianthus, corm): Hardy to zone 7
  • Amaryllis (Hippeastrum, bulb): Hardy to zone 9 (Blooms indoors in winter)
  • Caladium (Caladium sp., tuber): Hardy to zone 9
  • Calla Lily (Calla sp., rhizome): Hardy to zone 7
  • Canna Lily (Canna sp., rhizome): Hardy to zone 7
  • Dahlia (Dahlia sp., tuberous root): Hardy to zone 8
  • Elephant Ear (Alocasia sp., tuber): Hardy to zone 9
  • Gladiolus (Gladiolus sp., corm): Hardy to zone 8
  • Taro (Colocasia esculenta, tuber): Hardy to zone 8
  • Tuberous Begonia(Begonia x tuberhybrida,tuberous root): Hardy zone 10
  • Windflower (Anemone coronari, tuber): Hardy to zone 6


Cannas can be left in the ground in zones 7 and higher.

Digging and Storing Bulbs for the Winter

To overwinter your tender bulbs, follow these basic steps:

  1. As the weather cools, the foliage on your tender bulbs will begin to turn yellow. This often happens after a light frost but before a hard freeze. Now’s the time to dig them up, before they are damaged by freezing soil.
  2. Very gently dig your plants by loosing the soil all the way around the plant, several inches or more from the main stem. Use a fork or spade to carefully remove the plant from the ground, making sure not to damage the main bulb or underground food storage structure.
  3. Clean the bulbs by shaking off the soil and rinsing them. An easy way to rinse them is by laying them on a screen over your compost pile and using a gentle stream of water to wash the soil off the plants and onto the compost pile for recycling.
  4. Place the bulbs in a dry place out of the sun and wind and not subject to freezing temperatures for a day or two to dry.
  5. At this point, most bulbs and tubers are ready to store. However, corms such as gladiolus, calla, acidanthera, crocosmia, freesia, tigrida, and tritonia now need a “curing period” of about three more weeks. These corms cure best at warm temperatures up to 85° F and should not be left out in freezing temperatures, so try to coincide this with a spell of warm weather or cure them indoors.
  6. Sort the bulbs, removing any diseased or shriveled ones.
  7. Cut off the stems and foliage.
  8. Treat the bulbs, if you wish, with a fungicide and/or pesticide powder.
  9. Label your plants! In the spring it’s easy to forget what’s what, and it’s impossible to tell what colors you have. With larger roots, you can write the name and color directly on them with a permanent marker, or gently tie on a labeled tag. For smaller ones, you may want to use paper bags (not plastic!) as your storage container, so that you can label each bag.
  10. Fill ventilated containers with a loose storage medium such as peat moss, vermiculite, newspapers, or sawdust. Some gardeners slightly dampen the storage medium, but you don’t want it wet enough to invite mold.
  11. Layer the bulbs in the storage medium – don’t let them touch each other.
  12. Put the containers in a cool, dry place around 50° F. A dry, unheated basement, garage, or crawl space is a great spot as long as temperatures stay above freezing.
  13. Check on your bulbs several times throughout the winter. Throw away any shriveled ones, and remove any packing material that is rotten or moldy. Small rotten spots can be cut away with a sterile, sharp knife. If you see bulbs beginning to wrinkle or look shrunken, mist the packing material with a little water.


My Taro often loses its leaves when I bring it indoors, but it soon sprouts anew.

Overwintering Bulbs as Houseplants

If you’d like, you can simply plant your tender bulbs in pots, and bring them indoors as houseplants for the winter. Many tender bulbs will do just fine this way, although be aware that they’ll grow and bloom on their own schedule. Plants are very sensitive to the length of daylight, temperature, and humidity, and these factors are difficult to control.

Replanting in the Spring

In the spring, after all danger of frost has passed and the soil is nicely thawed and warm, you can replant your tender bulbs. You can also divide them at this time if you want. For a head start, pot your tender bulbs indoors in very early spring, and move them outdoors when appropriate.


Elephant ears grow larger each year, so they’re worth saving.

Further Information



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13 Comments on “How to Store Tender Bulbs Over the Winter”

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  1. shirley Says:
    August 23rd, 2009 at 10:42 am

    I live in northern ontario and planted an elephant ear taro this spring.It grew at least 4ft tall.I have read many different ways for winter storage and I am not sure which one to use.I have to store the tuber {moist or dry] can any one suggest which is best?

  2. Official Comment:

    Julie Day Says:
    October 4th, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    Sue, if the succulents are hardy in your zone, you shouldn’t have to do anything special over the winter. I would move the planter to a porch or sheltered area, simply to keep it from freezing and breaking in icy weather and to provide less-harsh conditions for the plants.

    Tender succulents (those rated for zones warmer than yours) will need to be put at least into an enclosed garage or basement, and tropical succulents (those rated for frost-free zones) will have to be brought into the heated indoors.

    Check out Winter Care of Succulents for more info.

    Good luck!

  3. Sue Says:
    October 4th, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    I have several succulents growing in a strawberry pot and was wondering how to care for them for the upcoming winter months. I live in northeast Ohio and the winters get pretty rough here and I do not want these plants to die. Do you have any suggestions? Should I bring the planter in the house or leave it in my garage, which doesn’t get any sun at all. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thank you in advance, Sue

  4. Betty Lucas Says:
    October 11th, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    Our first time with calla lily bulbs. What do we do so that they will bloom again next year? Do we trim the leaves down to the bulb, leave them alone, or do we dig up the bulb? If we dig up the bulb, how do we keep it till next spring? Thank you.

  5. CATHY TETER Says:
    April 22nd, 2011 at 6:26 am

    DANNY, I LIVE IN HARRISONBURG, VIRGINIA, I WORK ON GROUNDS AT THE HOSPITAL, I HAVE A 100 DAY LILLIES TO MOVE NOW, HOW DO I POT THEM AND STORE THEM IN WINTER. THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME
    CATHY

  6. cristin Says:
    March 10th, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Help! I dug up my canna lily bulbs but forgot to store them inside. The winter was not to bad (south of kc, ks) so will they be ok to plant again?

  7. Monica Says:
    April 13th, 2012 at 10:37 am

    I live in Missisauga, Ont. Ihave recently bought several different varietes of Gladiolus bulb. I am unsure when to plant them. Can you help me.

    Monica

  8. Leita Says:
    May 23rd, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    Hi,
    I forgot to dig up my Cana lily, but I noticed that one of them is starting to grow again. Should I dig up the others or do you think they will grow also. Do they need to be dug up every year?

    Thank you ,

  9. Sue Says:
    November 7th, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    Hi,
    I live in zone 7 in southern virginia. I planted pots of caladiums/sweet potato vines on my cement patio.
    My question is….do I need to store the pots over the winter?
    I will be digging/storing the caladium bulbs.
    Thank you,
    Sue

  10. Gary A. Dayton Says:
    January 20th, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    We live in Oakland, California where we have just experienced 6 nights in a row of borderline freezing night times. All our Taro plants were “killed off” by the frost, even under their plastic cover. The bulbs -I assume- are still OK, but we don’t know for sure.We were very alarmed, as we are attached to our garden plants and freezing weather is extremely rare here. How should we treat them? Some are in big pots and some are in beds in the ground.

  11. Michelle Tyson Says:
    October 31st, 2013 at 9:37 am

    I live in central Indiana. I dug up my canna bulbs on October 23rd and let them dry on my enclosed and unheated front porch for 5 days. I then cut off the roots, wrapped them in newspaper, placed them in a cardboard box and put them in my basement. When I was cutting the roots I noticed they seemed a little softer than when first dug up. Did I dig them too soon? And will they still be okay (with careful monitoring) when it’s time to replant in after thevlast frost in Spring?

  12. Naomi Says:
    September 11th, 2014 at 8:43 am

    It’s September & I just now found some calla lilies in the basement that I had forgotten to plant! Some of them have sprouts several inches long. How can I best save them to plant outside next summer?

  13. sue Says:
    September 14th, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    I have a Amarylus bulb the flower brole off of. Can I store it inside during winter and will it come back to life next summer let me know sue

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