Putting away the garden


Brugmansia (Angel’s Trumpet)

Brugmansia can have a very hard wood trunk. Gordon waits until the first light frost, then cuts off the green growth right down to the hard wood often going right into the trunk. He keeps about 24” of trunk on each plant, removes them from their large heavy clay pots, and places them in lighter plastic nursery pots for winter storage in a totally dark, cool spot—along with the cannas. This year, he didn’t pull them out of storage until late April, and, though they appeared quite dry and dead, they soon sprouted and reached record size with hundreds of blooms—they’re blooming now, as you see, above.


I must say these are my personal nightmare—I’ve never successfully saved the tubers. But here goes. Cut them down , remove dirt, rinse them, dry them, all very gently. Make sure the tubers you are saving have “eyes,” which show the beginning of a sprout. Separate the tubers from the stem and trim off excess material, including the roots. Bag your tubers in vermiculite, peat moss or wood shavings, completely covering them. Create small holes in the top of the bag for air circulation, and write the name of the variety of dahlia on the bag for identification purposes. Store your tubers in a covered box or plastic storage container at 45-50F (basements typically work), and check them twice during the storage period for rot and dryness. Remove the rotted tubers, but shriveling tubers may be given a few squirts of water from a spray bottle to keep them from completely drying out.

There you have it. I don’t know about the dahlias, but this year I’m going in big for overwintering. Thanks to Gordon Ballard and Brian Olinski for sharing their knowledge.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. I think a garage with protection–I have heard of people using bubble wrap around pots in the garage.

    And then some attached garages are too warm.

  2. The only other exotic we use at home in the UK, Ginger lillies (Hedychium) take exactly the same treatment as Cannas in case anyones got some and is wondering.

  3. Though I have an old house, I have a too-warm cellar. But I’ve got a friend with a great crawl space and a relative with a cool cellar. It’s twice annual rituals, hauling plastic buckets to them in the fall and fetching them in the spring. (And I always offer plants as ‘rent’.)

  4. Can’t i just keep this stuff alive all winter in my kitchen, like houseplants? Our cannas and elephant ears overwinter in the ground here (n. georgia zone 7b), but I have brought in some haleconias, a porter weed, and some gingers I brought home from my mom’s garden in Florida. Will that work? Thank you for this post, this is my first year to try this.

  5. Maybe. The problem is that central heating is too hot and dry and often a house does not provide anough light–some sort of greenhouse is best for keeping stuff going over the winter.

    I have a friend who has all kinds of tropicals and near-tropicals–she actually rents space in a greenhouse and they come and take it all away. I am in the process of trying to create a greenhouse-like room upstairs in my house and will post on it. It will need extra light, moisture, and cool temps, which i think I might be able to engineer.

  6. Okay–this all sounds like too much work.

    I have a too-warm basement and have raging success with both cannas and dahlias. In my experience, cannas don’t mind heat in dormancy. The cannas, I just pry out of their pots after a frost has destoryed the foliage. Cut off the stems at a few inches. Toss carelessly into a box–forget about them until April, when I start them in the house.

    Dahlias–same deal, dig them up, cut off stems after frost. Forget about all other fussy trimming. Not necessary. Maybe let ’em dry in the sun for a few hours. These I throw into either cardboard boxes or ideally, Rubbermaid plastic tubs with lids, and fill them in with wood shavings. I put them in a cooler spot in the basement–and ignore, until February, when, if I’ve put them in cardboard, I go down every few weeks and pour a tea-kettle’s worth of water on the shavings.
    (In my experience, drying out is more of a danger than rotting.) I’ve successfully ignored them completely in the Rubbermaid.

  7. Michele, I have been waiting for your input because your dahlias are fabulous!! Of course, using words like “throw and “ignore” does make it seem easier.

    I’ve never saved any of this stuff, so I plan to try a couple different things. Like–for the colocasia, I am thinking of trying to keep 2 of them growing inside (saving the rest in the basement) in a bright, cool room I’m converting to a half-assed greenhouse. Like you, I long for a real greenhouse.

  8. Can’t wait to read about the indoor greenhouse in the bedroom, maybe I’ll try that if it works. Thanks for all the advice with this.

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