Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bulbs in storage

This year I made an effort to inventory the entire bulb collection. I never finished, but I dug and stored so many bulbs that I've heard lots of complaints about the continuing mess in the basement. It is a mess, too. There are heaps of little paper packets of alliums, crocus, fritillaries, hyacinths, muscaris, tulips plus smaller mounds for those groups of which I grow fewer varieties.

The tulip mound is the biggest.

If there is a secret to growing summer dormant bulbs such as tulips in our climate, it's simply this: get them out of the ground by the end of May. I used to think that the bulbs were eaten by voles during the summer, or that they eventually rotted well into the summer. But years ago I began to keep track of when I was digging the bulbs, and I noticed that certain stocks, tulips in particular, often showed extensive rotting even in early June. And in general, it's the biggest bulbs which rot first.

This early rotting is consistent with the usual history of garden tulips in our gardens: glorious bloom the first year (thank the Dutch growers for these), sporadic if any bloom the second year, and nothing or leaves only from then on in most cases.

No one in my circle grows tulips as far as I am aware. Everyone plants them and enjoys the first season display, but no one I know tries to keep them going from year to year. The annual digging wrecks the garden just as it is coming into its early summer beauty, so it's not surprising that so many gardeners leave the tulips in the ground and replace them yearly.

The digging is not as much work as you might think. I grow my bulbs in little plastic berry baskets. The digging itself goes quickly: it's the sorting, labeling, record keeping and summer packaging which take the time.

The image above shows bulbs in their summer packages, a wrapping of newspaper. After the bulbs are dug they are spread out to dry slowly in a shady place outside or even in the basement. This prompt drying-out is important: the bulbs come out of the ground heavy with moisture, and if not dried promptly the bulbs rot. It's a big mistake to store the newly dug bulbs in plastic bags: that's an invitation to trouble. But once the bulbs have dried a bit, some benefit from being transferred to plastic bags to prevent further desiccation.

What keeps this interesting to the hobbyist are the varying requirements of the different bulbs. Tulips are very tolerant of dry summer storage. Fritillaries on the other hand are a lot touchier. The treatment which works for tulips won't work without modification for most fritillaries.

1 comment:

A rootdigger said...

I would like to learn more, at what point do you dig. You can't cut the leaves for a long time. after the leaves die back is that when you lift the bulb and store. I never really knew how to take care of bulbs. I am so glad to see your little paper bundles. I shall have to take your advice and method of storage. I thought they would have to have some moisture. I worried about the roots on them. etc.