Tender bulbs may be lifted from the ground for a variety of reasons, including if room is needed for other plants or if they are crowded and blooming poorly. But they can also be removed to store until fall planting or over the winter. These guidelines will get you started.
Digging up spring bulbs
Ideally, hyacinths, narcissi, tulips, and other spring-flowering bulbs should be left until the foliage has ripened. Foliage is often prematurely removed to improve the garden’s appearance, but this can jeopardize future performance of the bulbs.
- To transfer, insert a spading fork straight down into the ground, well clear of the plants and deep enough to avoid damaging the bulbs.
- Carefully lever up the bulbs, complete with soil, leaves, and stems. Discard any pulpy or rotting bulbs.
- Dig a trench about 15 centimetres (six inches) deep, 30 centimetres (12 inches) wide, and long enough to take all the lifted bulbs.
- Lay a piece of fine wire or plastic netting at the bottom of the trench, and place the bulbs on it at a slight angle. They can be set so that they almost touch each other, but at least half the length of the stems and leaves must be above soil level. Let some netting protrude above the trench to make lifting the bulbs easier later on.Fill the trench halfway with soil, and water thoroughly (repeat during dry spells).
- After the leaves and stems have withered, the bulbs can be taken up for storing. Just pull up the netting, and lift the bulbs out. If only a few bulbs are involved, it may be easier to lay them in deep trays of damp peat moss.
- Cover the bulbs with more peat moss, and place the trays in a lightly shaded place. Keep the peat moss moist.
- When the leaves have ripened fully, remove the bulbs from the trays (or trench).
- Pull off the dead leaves, roots, and shrivelled skins. The bulblets attached to the parent bulb can be used for propagation; otherwise discard them.
- Place the cleaned bulbs, uncovered, in single layers in labelled flats, and store in a cool, dry place (safe from rodents) until fall replanting.
- Do not enclose the bulbs in a way that prevents air circulation, which is needed to prevent mould.
Digging up tender bulbs
Tender bulbs should be lifted when the leaves begin to turn brown in the fall.
- Lift them with a spading fork. For gladioli, cut off the top stems and leaves two centimetres (one inch) above the corm. Let the corms dry, uncovered, in trays in a cool, airy shed, for seven to 10 days. They can be left longer before cleaning.
- Break away the shrivelled corms, and separate the small cormels that surround the new corm. Cormels can be discarded or saved for replanting.
- Remove tough outer skins from the large corms, and destroy any that show signs of lesions or rotting.
- Dust the remaining corms with diatomaceous earth to control thrips, with sulphur to prevent dry rot and scab. This will pay dividends the next year in the corms.
- Store the corms in flats or mesh bags in a cool but frost-free place with good air circulation until spring. Some gardeners store corms in old nylon stockings. In cold regions all tender bulbs must be lifted in the fall and dried and stored like gladioli.
- Label to avoid mistakes when you plant next year.