After you’ve dug your tropical bloomers for winter storage, what’s next? If you supply the right conditions, it’s easy to prepare such topicals as elephant ear, gladiolus, cannas, calla lilies, dahlias, and similar plants so they’re ready for next spring.
First, after you’ve dug them up, shake off as much dirt as possible but don’t get carried away and bruise or cut the tissues. If you find rotted or broken areas, use a sharp knife to cut down to healthy growth and dust the cut with powdered sulfur to prevent further damage. (Wear gloves when handling sulfur and keep it off clothing or the smell will never come out.) Sulfur is a natural, highly effective plant fungicide available at most garden centers.
Second, you’ll need a cool, dry location for storage. An unheated or cool basement is ideal, so long as temperature remains above freezing because frozen tissues will turn to mush once temperatures rise again. No sunlight, please because heat could signal plants to grow, which you don’t want in February!
For storing, any uncovered, ventilated container will work fine: cardboard box, laundry basket, paper bag, or similar. Air must circulate in order to prevent rot. Avoid plastic tubs unless you’ve cut ventilation holes in them. Do not cover containers.
Next, you’ll need packing material for tucking loosely around the plants. You can use virtually any organic material like shredded newspaper, excelsior, dry peat moss (bagged or baled), pet bedding (wood shavings—but not cedar because of the oil). Some growers favor vermiculite but that’s a bit expensive. The key here is loose, organic, and airy.
The last consideration is moisture. Stored items can shrivel unless hydrated from time to time. Once a month (or every two weeks, depending on your conditions), uncover the plants and spritz them with a water bottle. Don’t drown them! Spritz the packing material as well. The goal should be some moisture—but not wet. Think of a wrung-out sponge. After the spritzing, cover the plants again and return to storage.
Re-plant in spring when soil temperature reaches 60 degrees. Don’t jump the gun because cold, damp soil will cause rot. You can start your tropicals in pots inside a few weeks before setting out and they should do just fine.