Some flower bulbs and tubers are too tender to remain in the ground during the cold winter months. Beautiful gladiolas require removal before the hard frosts. Lilies, such as cannas and callas are also considered tender and should be dug out before winter. Mark the location of the tender bulbs when you plant them. Some tubers, such as begonias and caladiums also require digging in colder climates. Remind yourself to dig up these bulbs and tubers in order to continue enjoying them year after year.
You can safely dig up these bulbs and tubers anytime after they have gone dormant. This will vary depending on your location, but you can determine dormancy by slight yellowing of the leaf tips. This usually occurs during late summer, well after the last blossoms have fallen off the plant. Light freezes will not hurt them and you can wait until the exposed tips are starting to dry out, but be sure to dig them out before they turn brown. Take them out while the soil is still fairly warm and workable. Be careful when you remove them. Use a hand shovel to remove the surface soil, then, if possible, use your hand to lift the tubers from the dirt. Sharp edges on your shovel can break through the tender surface, allowing bacteria and fungus to enter the living part of the bulb. Gently rub away any dirt that is packed on them.
Prepare your dug out bulbs for storage. Cut away excess foliage from your cannas, callas, and gladiolas to within a couple of inches of the bulbs. Bulbs must be dry before putting them away for the winter. In warm weather, lay the bulbs outside in the sun. Be sure to bring them in if it starts to rain or gets very humid. If the weather is cold outside, place your bulbs on newspaper inside your house in a well ventilated room. Allow space between the bulbs for the air to circulate and dry the bulbs. You may place a fan on them to speed up the drying time.
After the bulbs are thoroughly dry, gently brush off any remaining dirt. Place the clean dry bulbs and tubers into paper bags, being careful not to pack them tightly. Allow room for air flow between them. Mark each bag with the type of bulb or tuber it contains, in order to keep from mixing them up. Place them in a cool dark area, free from moisture and humidity. Mice like to nibble on bulbs and tubers. If you have these rodents around your house, be sure to place the paper bags in a large rodent-proof container. Check the container on a monthly basis and allow it to air out for a few hours at that time. You will be glad you took the time to protect your bulbs next summer when you are able to enjoy those beautiful calla lilies, canna lilies and gladiolas.