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The fastest way to get bulbs into the ground is to be ready to plant them when they arrive. Bulbs are tough, and yours will probably be fine for several days before you have to worry about storing them properly. Just remember that depending on where your bulbs originated from (e.g. thousands of miles away in Holland), they have probably already endured a long period above ground before you buy them. Do your best to have beds ready when it's time to plant.
Ideally, bulbs should be kept in a sleepy state until planting day. This is best achieved by regulating their temperature. A few types are a bit more finicky, but as a general rule most bulbs can be safely stored for up to several weeks in a cool, dry place where temperatures hover between 38 - 45 degrees F. Your refrigerator (see Avoid Ethylene below), is the ideal spot. In the short term, bulbs will also stay inactive at slightly higher temperatures (between 55-65 degrees F), but they are at a greater risk for drying out. Until bulbs are rooted in the soil, freezing temperatures will harm the embryos. As long as temperatures don't fall below 32 degrees F, unheated basements, garages, closets, or utility rooms will work just fine, too.
Even in a state of suspended animation, your bulbs will continue to produce a small amount of moisture. For this reason, it's important to store your bulbs in a way that allows them to breathe, while at the same time prevents them from drying out. Open trays or paper bags work best. Avoid plastic, which can collect moisture and produce mold.
If you decide to refrigerate your bulbs before planting them, make sure you keep them away from apples and other fruit. Many types of fruit release ethylene gas, which assists in the ripening process. In an enclosed space like a refrigerator, this gas can build up and cause damage to the flower buds.
If it's going to be longer than a week from the time you buy your bulbs until you're ready to plant, you need to think about proper storage. If it's only going to be a few days, don't worry about it. Most bulbs will be fine just lying around the house in the bag or box they came in. Just make sure you keep them away from heat sources like radiators, air ducts, and direct sunlight, which can dry them out in only a matter of hours.
In USDA Hardiness Zones 7-10, certain types of spring flowering bulbs need 6-20 weeks of pre-chilling before they are planted in order to initiate the flowering process. In these warmer zones, gardeners can either purchase bulbs that have already been "pre-cooled", or give the bulbs an extended cold-treatment in the refrigerator (at 35 to 50 F) before planting. These bulbs are usually planted in late November and December so it's important to plan ahead.
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Have a hard time storing bulbs for the winter? Wrap each one in a paper towel, or other medium to keep them dry. Place each one in a compartment in an EGG CARTON! Easy to label and easy to keep assures the next planting season will be much easier!
By Eric from Minneapolis, MN
Great idea Eric! I love it! (10/22/2006)
It's people like you who share their nicest ideas with others that makes this site so wonderful.
Thank you so much. (08/26/2009)