Many gardeners store tender bulbs indoors over the winter: gladiolus, cannas, callas, potatoes, tuberous begonias, etc. At the present time, they’re dormant, so 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 once a month throughout the winter.
Loose bulbs, stored in boxes or bags of peat moss, newspaper, sand, vermiculite, etc., are the easiest to examine. If they appear shriveled, just 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, sometimes with bluish or white mold, 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 on 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 separate from the others, in a different box or bag, just in case.
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 generally you can just leave them be. However, it’s still wise to give them a sniff. If you notice a smell of rot, dig them out and inspect them.
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!