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Dig, cure and store. Step-by-step tips for over-wintering your dahlia, canna and gladiolus bulbs

Tan-colored dahlia bulbs covered in soil as they are being dug out of the ground with a shovel.
Yana Boiko/Getty Images/iStockphoto
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iStockphoto
Dahlia tuber dug up from soil before winter for storage. Gardening and flower propagation.

Now that everyone's garden has had a killing freeze, some flowers need to be dug up and stored or they won't come back next year.

One of the most popular of those flower bulbs is the dahlia. It's time to cut back their stems, dig up the clumps, clean them up and, cure and store them for winter.

Statewide, gardens have encountered a killing freeze. As you're prepping your gardens and raised beds to overwinter, the freeze can serve as a reminder to dig up your flowering bulbs!

Digging, curing and storing them now ensures they'll flower for you again next year.

Canna lilies, gladiolus and dahlias are subtropical bulbs, which means they won't survive the Vermont winter if left in the ground.

Dahlias are the more common bulb that folks in the region plant and grow, so we'll learn how to store those bulbs over the winter.

Once frost has killed the dahlia plants in your garden, cut the stems off right at ground level, then carefully dig up the whole clump of roots and bulbs.

Next, wash the bulbs off a bit, then find a location with cool temperatures, some shade and good airflow where you can place the bulbs so they can hang out for about a week. Leaving them out for a bit helps to toughen up the tubers so they can make it through the winter.

You can divide up the dahlia bulbs now, which takes some care, or wait till spring to divide them. In spring, the eyes that grow off the tubers are easier to see and therefore, separating the bulbs then will also be easier.

For now, once your dahlia bulbs have rested for about a week in a cool place, find some plastic buckets and place dahlia bulbs in the bottom with moistened material on top.

That material can be moistened woodchips, bark mulch, peat moss or sawdust. Once covered in the buckets, leave the bulbs in a cool basement (around 45 degrees) in the dark and leave them for the winter.

Check on the bulbs periodically throughout the winter and note if they begin to dry out and shrivel. If they do, mist them a bit with water. Conversely, if they are too wet and begin rotting, let them dry out.

In spring, pull the bulbs from the bucket, notice the eyes that have grown on the tubers, then divide them, plant them and share them with others.

Is it too late to start a home compost operation in November? Should I keep taking my compost to the transfer station and just wait till spring? And I put in some blueberry bushes in October, it was warm and they seemed to do well. What can I do to make sure they have a successful winter? - Matt, in Winooski

This is a great time to start a compost pile. Choose a box or a tumbler and put down some hardware mesh underneath it. This will help keep mice and rats from getting into your compost. And then start putting your food scraps in there.

The other composting habit to start this time of year is to drop in a handful of organic material each time you put food scraps in.

You can start a stockpile of such materials as hay, straw, chopped leaves or grass clippings specifically for this purpose.

Then each time you go out to drop food scraps into the compost bin, add a handful of this organic material. This ensures your compost doesn't get all slimy and messy.

The compost pile won't decompose much this time of year but it will in the spring. And you'll be keeping all of that material from the landfill.

And about the blueberry bush. If it's a new blueberry bush, add some bark mulch around it. And wrap the blueberry bush with some hardware cloth or wire mesh. Rabbits and mice love the young blueberry bush stems and this can help keep the plant intact.

Are there perennials I should not cut back, either because it helps the plant by not cutting or or because it provides food for birds and other creatures? I'm thinking about my hydrangea, crown thistle, yarrow, peony, and raspberries. - Lesli, in Burlington

If you want to be very ecologically minded, the new information advises not cutting back any of these perennials in the fall.

The reasoning behind it is this: a lot of beneficial insects are overwintering in the stems and in the debris around these perennials.

Instead, once we've got a string of 50-degree days again in spring, cut those perennials back and you won't have harmed any of those beneficial insects.

If you do want to clean the perennials up a bit now and prep them to overwinter, simply chop them a bit and leave the organic materials on the ground this fall, but the later you do this, the better.

Next week, we'll be talking about feeding the birds and keeping squirrels out of your bird feeders!

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Mary Engisch is the host and reporter for Weekend Edition Saturday and Weekend Edition Sunday on VPR.
Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on VPR. Be part of the fun and send your gardening questions here, for Charlie to answer on the air. Plus, find lots of great gardening tips and information for all seasons here. For more gardening information, check out Charlie's website, Gardening with Charlie Nardozzi. Charlie is a guest on VPR's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.