Digging Up and Storing Tender Bulbs

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October 12, 2006

red gladioli flowers in the snowMy gardening attention span seems to be tied to the growth and die back of the plants in my garden. As they wake up each spring, I find myself full of energy and ambitious to take on various garden chores. As plants die back in the fall, however, my motivation tends to go dormant along with them. Although I can't resist the showy contributions they make to my perennials gardens, there are few chores I dread more than digging up tender bulbs and storing them for winter.


If you live in a zone where tender bulbs will not survive winter outdoors, here are some tips for making this task as quick and painless as possible.

Which Bulbs?

It's usually (although, not always) the summer bulbs that are considered "tender" or "semi-tender." These are planted in early spring or summer for blooms later the same season, and will not survive in the ground over winter in freezing temperatures. You can either treat them like annuals and replace them next year, or dig them up and store them over winter.

It's pretty safe to say that most summer bulbs are not hardy to Zones 6 and lower. Ranunculus, cannas, and calla lilies are considered "semi-tender." Certain cultivars have been known to be hardy to Zone 7, but only in ideal conditions. Gladioli and dahlias can stay in the ground over winter to Zone 8. Elephant ears, caladiums, and tuberous begonias like the "tropics." They are considered "tender" and are only hardy to Zone 9.


Hardiness Zones are helpful, but they are not foolproof. They do not account for specific site conditions and fluctuations in temperature. Therefore a bulb that overwinters successfully in Zone 7 may freeze in when it's planted in Zone 8. Always err on the side of caution or you'll risk disappointment. Just like any aspect of gardening, time and experience will provide you with the best answers.

Digging & Dividing

Cleaning & Curing




Monitoring Moisture

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