storage of summer dormant bulbs

Jim McKenney
Tue, 08 Jul 2008 14:08:41 PDT
This year I’m making an effort to get all of my summer dormant bulb
collection out of the ground (or out of their pots) for a census followed by
storage in the house until they are replanted in late summer or early fall. 

It’s obvious that not all bulbs need the same summer treatment. For instance
tunicated bulbs such as tulips generally store without problems while
un-tunicated bulbs such as frits can be very touchy about moisture levels.
In fact, in my experience Fritillaria are subject to injurious desiccation
when stored dry and exposed to air. 

One potentially useful aid is the use of plastic bags. But I’ve learned the
hard way that there is a right way to do it. Janis Ruksans in his Buried
Treasures advises caution in the use of plastic bags, and he’s right: many
bulbs will quickly rot if taken moist from the ground as they are entering
dormancy and placed in plastic bags. 

But I’m convinced that frits need an artificial tunic if they are to
withstand dry storage. For the big frits such as Fritillaria imperialis and
F. persica, I wrap the individual bulbs in newspaper. This not only prevents
too much drying, but the newspaper cushions the tender bulbs. For small
frits I put them in envelopes of newspaper for two or three weeks, checking
them occasionally to see how things are going. Once I’m convinced that they
are no longer losing water and are thoroughly dry, I move them into plastic
bags for the rest of the storage period.  

These plastic storage bags have several advantages, the most interesting one
being that one can easily observe the bulbs as they undergo subtle changes
during dormancy.  They also make it easy to quickly spot problems such as
mold or rot. And if the bulbs begin to look too dry, it’s easy to give them
a light spritz of water. I think that to do this early in the storage period
would kill them; but later in the summer it seems to help them. 

After reading the above, I realized that I’ve been puffing away as if I were
an expert about this. But I’m still feeling my way, and luckily enjoying
some successes. Don't take this as advice. I'm really just fishing for
responses here: what do the rest of you do? 

I mentioned Janis Ruksan’s Buried Treasures above. I was lucky to meet and
spend hours alone with Janis during the Washington, D.C. leg of his tour. I
took a real liking to him. But now that I’ve spent some time with his book,
I sincerely and respectfully wish his publisher had taken up Jane McGary’s
offer to edit the book. The occasionally clumsy English is not the problem.
A sympathetic, experienced, knowledgeable editor with a backbone would have
avoided other infelicities, such as the irritating and  seemingly irrelevant
blocks of text touting plants easily available in the current trade. Whose
idea was that?   

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, 39.03871º North, 77.09829º West, USDA zone
7, where seed is about to ripen on Sprekelia formosissima. 
My Virtual Maryland Garden
Webmaster Potomac Valley Chapter, NARGS 
Editor PVC Bulletin 
Webmaster Potomac Lily Society

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