Many gardeners store tender bulbs indoors over the winter: gladiolus, cannas, callas, tuberous begonias, etc. At the present time, they are dormant and we like to imagine them fast asleep, free from any mishaps… but that’s not necessarily the case. You’ve probably stored your bulbs dry and in a cool spot (the second detail is less important than the first) and that’s great, but sometimes the unexpected happens. That’s why it’s worth inspecting your bulbs from time to time during the winter.
The bulbs you grew in pots over the summer and brought indoors still in their pots during the winter are less easy to inspect… but also less prone to mishaps, so you can just leave them be. It’s the bulbs taken out of the ground and stored in boxes or bags that need a going over. Just dig them out of the sand, peat, newspaper or whatever else you used to cover them and inspect them individually.
If they appear shriveled, spray them with water and let them absorb that moisture for 15 to 20 minutes before putting them back in storage: you’ll see the wrinkles disappear like magic!
Sometimes a bulb begins to rot … and that rot can spread to neighboring bulbs. A rotting bulb will smell musty, like a rotten potato, and the damaged part will be black or brown and soft to the touch, again, like a rotten potato. In most cases, there is nothing you can do: just toss the rotting bulb into the compost. For rhizomes (like cannas) or tuberous roots (like dahlias), it is however often possible to cut out the rotting part with a sharp knife…especially if there’s only a bit of rot. It all depends just where the rot is occurring: if it’s far from the growing point, you may have some success. Just like when you’re cutting off the browning part of a rotten potato, you have to cut a bit into healthy flesh to eliminate decay completely. Afterwards, keep this bulb apart from others, in a different box or bag, just in case.
That’s it: there’s not much to this winter inspection. However, so you don’t forget to inspect your bulbs time to time, why not add a monthly “inspection day” to your agenda? My electronic agenda “pings” at me monthly, reminding to get up off my behind and do the deed. That’s really all it takes to keep your bulbs healthy through the winter!