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Digging and Preparing Spring Bulbs for Winter
October 04, 2010

Just when I thought I had seen my last hummer, this chubby little fella stopped by to entertain my for an afternoon this past week.

By the looks of it, I'm thinking a juvenile male (look close, you will see a bit of markings where a colorful gorget will be later on).

I still have my feeders up, but the migrating hummers seem to prefer the plethora of flowers my yard still offers them.

It's the first part of the month and that means it is time to give your feeders a good cleaning and sanitizing once again.

Be sure to rinse thoroughly and allow to dry before filling them again.

It's nice to see American robins again,.

You may or may not know this about robins.

After mating season and raising a family is done for the summer, most robins will take off.

Sometimes to cooler locations, but mostly they will stay local, hanging out in and near open woodlands.

It is because the change of their diet.

No longer are worms first and foremost on the menu (hot dry conditions forces worms deep into the ground).

I keep my lawn and garden watered, I have plenty of worms, but no robins during the heat of summer.

This time of year fruits, berries and insects get top billing and they seem to prefer nature's habitat.

Nature dictates this change of diet no matter what.

As summer begins to wind down and the temperatures cool, robins come out from their open woodland feeding grounds.

Cool days put insects into a dormant state and become difficult to find.

Most berry bushes are done fruiting.

Typically fall means more rain and rain means worms come to the surface once again as a robin's diet changes to include fruits, insects and worms.

A warm autumn day also gets the bugs moving as well.

Toss in the pre migration loose flocks and you may see scores of robins in any given location.

Just another one of our 'Creator's' many wonders.

It is nice to see the White-crowned sparrows again, I spotted them first this past Wednesday.

My southern friends, be patient as they will be there soon enough :-)

(Excuse the poor photography, it was from a window near sunset).

They stop by every spring and fall for about three weeks on their way to spring breeding grounds in northern Canada and winter migration grounds starting a couple hundred miles south of here in Southwest Michigan.

They are always welcome, as I enjoy the cheerful sounds of these birds.

For the past couple of years, Karen has suffered from Fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by widespread pain in your muscles, ligaments and tendons, as well as fatigue and multiple tender points places on your body where slight pressure causes pain.

For Karen, weather conditions seem to play a huge roll in how she feels on a given day and this makes planning things a bit difficult.

She sleeps a lot too.

Anyway, we were blessed with a couple of near perfect early Fall days this past week.

That meant a chance to get to downtown Grand Rapids and see some of 'ArtPrize'.

This is the second year of the event/competition and already it is the largest of its kind worldwide and has some national recognition.

Artist from around the globe show off their work.

For some of the art, words can't be found to describe it.

Others use art to make a statement and so on.

For newer readers, I welcome you and please understand that the art I'm showing is not a weekly thing, but I felt it was worth sharing some of it with you and to show I do have a bit of life or culture:-)

There were sculptures/art made from trash and a Lion Pride made of nails.

Some of the pictures today are from our afternoon of no pain (for Karen) and enjoying a wonderful day.

The picture of the coffin is made of thousands of cigarette butts while cigars make up the handles.

The picture of the girl's face is made of various wine bottle corks.

The Bronze man is a living statue (Robert Shangle), you really need a double take on him.

There are a couple pictures of paintings,

One image is made totally of push pins.

The giant penny is made from thousands of real pennies (old and new)

And the one that had us totally awe struck was a drawing by Chris LaPorte titled, "Calvary, American Officers, 1921" done completely in #2 pencil.

You will see a broad view and a close up or two of this artist's work.

If this one doesn't win.................................

I could post pictures of my gladiola and dahlia bulbs, but what fun is that.

Today's topic is on 'Digging and Preparing Your Spring/Tender Bulbs or Winter'.

Some of you are seasoned veterans at this and may simply skim over this.

We had our first killing frost last night and I know many of you have had a killing frost and are already digging away.

Still, I know we have many new gardeners and gardeners that, for the first time have planted some tender bulbs and may need a bit of advice.

If nothing else, enjoy some of the art.


How to overwinter summer bulbs:

In most parts of the country, non-hardy summer bulbs, such as gladiolas, dahlias, caladiums, and elephant ears, won't survive over the winter.

But all is not lost.

You can dig up the bulbs, store them over the winter, and replant them next spring.

A lot of work?

Not really, especially considering the money you'll save.

This my not be an issue for you if you live in warmer climates or where the ground doesn't freeze.

However, for those of us that must dig and store, these tips may come in handy for you.

Stored properly in a cool dark place, summer bulbs and tubers can survive the winter, ready to be potted up in spring, or planted into the garden for more summer blooms.

These bulbs (technically, rhizomes, corms, and tubers as well as bulbs) originate from tropical or subtropical climates and will die if left in the ground in regions where the ground freezes.

When should you dig them up?

Look at the foliage, if the leaves are green they are still working to provide food to replenish the bulb.

Once the foliage begins to turn yellow its job is done, indicating that it's time to dig up the bulbs.

This usually occurs around the first light frost.

For most bulbs, you can cut them back and dig them up after frost has blackened foliage.

A good frost stops the growing juices from flowing.

Carefully remove as much soil as you can.

Here's what to do:

Cut the leaves off, leaving a stem about an inch or two long. Leaves and stems are not needed, as the plants are going to be dormant and not making any growth through the winter.

Using a spade or fork, very carefully loosen the soil around the plants and gently lift the bulbs from the ground.

Gently brush off excess soil and discard any bulbs that show signs of disease or rot.

Hang or spread out the bulbs is a warm, dry location, out of direct sun, to "cure" for seven to ten days.

Once bulbs have cured, trim the remaining foliage down 1/2 inch from the bulb.

You can either carefully wash the soil off the tubers or bulbs, or just let it dry and work it off by hand later.

I prefer to wash mine off.

Leave bulbs or tubers exposed to air in a frost-free place for a couple of weeks.

Any remaining stem should be dry before going into storage, otherwise rot could develop.

Store in vermiculite or dry peat (available at garden centers) in paper bags or cardboard boxes in a cool, frost free place at 40 to 50F (5-10C).

Some gardeners protect the cured bulbs from disease by dusting them with a fungicide, such as sulfur, although I've never done this and have had continued success over the years.


Dahlia tubers are prone to drying up somewhat, and these should be stored in slightly moistened peat moss or saw dust.

Check them through the winter, and if they've shriveled, moisten the peat moss or saw dust.

Some authorities suggest plumping shriveled dahlia bulbs up in a bucket of water overnight.

If you do this, let them dry thoroughly before you put them back into storage.

You can even do this with the dwarf potted one you buy as an annual.


Digging time for the bulbs depends on the planting date.

Lift them, a spading fork will do, when growth has stopped but before foliage turns brown, usually 6 weeks after blooming, as glads need time to grow a new corm.

In the North, (zones 3-6) dig them before freezing weather comes, as corms are tender,

Cut off tops just above the corm, and store in an open box to let them cure for a month.

You can make your own shallow screen-bottom tray containers for storing them or punch holes in a cardboard box.

This allows circulation of air through the corms.

Deep containers like bushel baskets keep them too hot and confined, and they aren't recommended.

After the corms have cured, clean them by removing the dried up roots at the base of the new corm, and break off the dried old corm.

Leave the husks on the new one unless there is danger of thrip infestation.

Store in a cool, dry location.


In any applicable climate zone, wait until frost kills the foliage of the cannas and then cut it off to just above the tops of the bulbs.

In climate zones 8-11, your bulbs should over winter in the ground just fine.

Zone7 requires a mulch covering.

In colder climate zones, dig the canna bulbs up.

Clean them of excess soil by brushing off the dirt gently with your fingertips, a paper towel or a soft clean cloth.

I prefer to wash mine off and discard any damaged ones.

Allow to air dry for several says to allow open spots to scar over.

Take the bulbs inside to a place where the temperature won't drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit for the entire winter.


The best time to dig or remove from pots is in the fall before, or just after, the first frost.

Sometimes the plant will turn a light shade of yellow. This is another indication that it is time to dig it up.

Carefully remove all stems and brush away all of the loose soil.

Do a quick visual inspection for weevil damage.

This will be apparent if there are little holes dug into the tuber and it will need to be discarded.

Carefully place the tubers in dry peat or sawdust, making sure that they are thoroughly covered.

You can use a flower pot, paper bag, or whatever you have handy.

Store the tubers in a cool dry place where they will not become damp or frozen.

Retrieve and replant the tubers in February or after the last frost to plant again.

Washing the newly unearthed tubers is optional, but I prefer to wash all my bulbs off

If you do wash them, make sure that you do not store them while they are wet.

Make sure that they are completely dry before covering them for the winter.


They are very sensitive to cold and hardy only in USDA zones 9 through 11, to zone 7 with heavy mulch.

Calla bulbs can be dug, overwintered indoors and replanted in the late spring to be grown as annuals in cool climates beyond their natural range.

The best time to harvest calla lily bulbs for spreading, moving or winter storage is in the early fall before the first frost.

Be sure to cut the tops first before you dig, or you will tear off and split your bulbs.

Excavate the soil very carefully from around the perimeter of the calla lily plant or bulb. Begin digging a perimeter trench at least 6 inches from the main stem of the plant was.

Dig a trench at least 8 inches deep to ensure that you can get under the bulb with your shovel or trowel, allowing a buffer of an inch or two of soil.

Carefully loosen the roots from the soil.

Lift and lever the bulb and root mass gently in several spots around the trench perimeter to loosen the roots.

Lift the root mass and bulb from the loosened soil of the trench.

lift the calla bulb and the attached roots from the soil.

Be careful, bulbs tear easily.

Gently brush off any excess soil from the bulb, again, I wash mine down and allow to air dry for several days.

Store it in a dry, dark and cool place at approximately 50 to 60 degrees F.


Saving caladium bulbs is not recommended since bulb size usually decreases after one year's growth.

I know I have given up trying to save them.

If you want to try to save caladium tubers for another year, dig them as soon as possible and allow to dry in a well-ventilated but shady area.

Lift tubers in fall and dry in warm place above 40 degrees.

After 7 to 10 days, remove leaves and dirt, then pack in dry peat moss, vermiculite or similar material for storage. Pack tubers so they do not touch each other.

Place container in an area where temperature won't drop below 50 degrees F.

Try to keep bulbs from touching each other.

Second year foliage is usually not as good as the first year, therefore more satisfactory results may be obtained by starting with new tubers each year.

For planting or replanting, Soil temperature needs to be at least 70 degrees.

Elephant Ear:

The plant will start having difficulties when the temperature falls below 50F (9-10C) or so for more than a few days.

Before freezing temperatures take over, the tuber (root system) will have to be dug up.

Again, I prefer to cut back the huge leaves first and do a final trim after digging, as the massive leaves will tear away at the bulb if not removed before digging.

A healthy plant will have developed multiple new tubers during the growing season. It's best to leave these intact during storage.

Separation will not do significant damage though.

Trim most of the green vegetation (top growth) off the top of the tubers: leave no more than half to 1 inch of leafy growth on the tuber.

Let the freshly trimmed tubers sit in open air so they can visibly dry out before final storage (maybe a couple of days at most will do).

Drying out will minimize the potential for mold, and bacteria to develop.

Store the tuber during the colder, winter months in a cool, dry place (45-55F is desirable).

Don't store in a plastic bag, as with all bulbs, ventilation is a must.

You may want to store in dry sphagnum peat moss, saw dust or garden vermiculite.

When the warm season comes around again, separate the tubers as necessary, plant a new and enjoy.

Well, it is time to fly for now.

Before I go, here is your positive thought for the week.

The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.

William Arthur Ward

I have used this quote before, yet it is worth repeating time and time again.

Did you have a teacher or someone special that inspired you in any way?

For me it was my Physical Education or gym teacher, Mr Knobloch.

When you go to a smaller school as I did (Wayland was class C and small B at the time), you often have a certain teacher more than once.

Phys. Ed. was no exception.

I had Mr. Knobloch through Junior High and my Freshman, Junior and Senior years.

Mr Knobloch also taught a history class (you got it) and was the football and wrestling coach.

Coach Knobloch must've seen something in me that I didn't see.

He inspired me (and rode me hard at times) to be my best and to keep at it.

(That meant a few extra push ups nd a few extra laps.)

By my senior year, I was his right hand man.

When graduation day came, I came up to coach Knobloch to thank him.

I started out with "Hi Coach"..................................

He quickly said to me..............................

"Call me Gene, your a man now"

Gene Knobloch passed away several years ago, but I will never forget that man for how he inspired me.

How he saw something in me that I didn't know existed.

He saw a man and I will forever be thankful to Coach Knobloch for his inspiration and friendship.

Hopefully our parents inspire us too.

Too many times it doesn't always happen that way.

In the later years of my mom's life, she told me I was not just her son, but a friend as well.

I was speechless and what a great honor.

(No I didn't start calling her Betty.)

Teachers that inspire..........

Are you one that inspires?

God Bless.

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

John 15:15 (New International Version)

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers.

Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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