Autumn opportunities

Saving flower bulbs for next year

By Richard Burke

This autumn has presented an uncommon opportunity to more-methodically attend to garden clean-up and prep for next year. Here, in the third week of October and counting, the weather continues to invite us outdoors in relative comfort, to manage fallen leaves leisurely, since the trees haven’t all shed at the same time. The honeycrisp apple, Nanking cherry, honey locust and some boulevard trees are still in various stages of even changing colour.

But, raking/saving/disposing of leaves is only the most obvious of fall chores. We have been charting plants that continue to provide flowers and colour well past their best-before date – the first frost. On Oct. 18, perennials such as delphinium and monk’s hood, fall aster, dwarf blanketflower, peach-leaf bellflower and sweet William/dianthus were hanging on. Annuals and sort-of annuals like snapdragons and the odd gazania – depending on where it was planted – haven’t given up.

Only a few days ago, several rose bushes provided the last of their buds as cut flowers that opened in vases inside.

One of the more rewarding efforts is perpetuating or protecting plants that if left out for winter would not survive. But, with some easy cleanup and storage, they can be revived to wow next year.

After the first frost, when the dahlia tops crumpled to the ground, we dug up the bulbs, washed the dirt off, and let them dry for a couple of days. They were then put into boxes, covered with peat and stored in a dark place with a constant temperature. The bulbs we just prepped had been put through that process last year and not only came through shining, but provided more plants when the bulbs were divided. (How to Divide Dahlia Bulbs by the Dahlia Guy is a short, useful YouTube primer. He divided in the fall. We did in late winter before planting.) They overwintered in a closed cupboard in the basement with a constant 15-degree temperature.

Tuberous begonias can also be stored when the bulbs have dried after the tops have frozen and you have dug them up. It helps to note the colour and keep colours separated.

This year in February, we brought bulbs out about the same time they were starting to appear in the stores and planted them in pots in the greenhouse. A sunny spot in the house would work too. By the end of May, when the frost risk seemed behind us, the healthy plants were transplanted into beds. We had flowers about a month earlier this year than the previous year and more of them.

A potted Japanese maple and potted Korean maple got moved into the garage to go dormant but away from the winds and occasional severe cold that would do them in.

Next week, we’ll plant some new tulip and allium bulbs to add colour to some beds that lacked it last spring.

According to the weather forecast, that should be no problem. We did that just before Christmas a few years ago, on a particularly warm, Southern Alberta December day.


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