Canna Storage Suggestions

canna2growOctober 21, 2004

Canna rhizome winter storage has many possibilities but one must understand that some cultivars (varieties) store much easier than others. Most cultivars will survive winter storage if the following is kept in mind. Cold and wet is not acceptable. Hot (warm) and dry is also very harmful. Ideally cannas should not be lifted for storage until after a light killing frost or even a moderate freeze. This allows the rhizomes to begin the normal semi-dormant cycle. Cannas dug for prolonged storage during the warm (hot) growing season are most susceptible to serious disease problems. Canna rhizomes are unlike many flower bulbs that complete their life cycle after producing a new Âbulb which usually goes through a dormant cycle. The rhizome that produced this yearÂs growing stalks will ultimately die and rot, but new rhizome growth is continually produced from the old mature rhizome in the growing season. Rhizomes will continue to maintain cellular activity based on temperature. As the temperature declines, the cellular activity is greatly reduced which makes winter storage possible for many who must lift the rhizomes to prevent freezing. The usually accepted storage temperature is between 45 F and 55 F with a relative humidity of about 75% to 90%. It is necessary to prevent Âexcessive rhizome dehydration (water loss) and to keep the temperature low enough to prevent or stimulate new growth. Try not to bruise or injure the rhizome when digging. Injuries allow disease to easily enter the tuber (rhizome). It is not necessary to remove the feeder roots attached to the rhizome although the digging process will surely prune many and none will be viable after extended storage. If it is necessary to divide the rhizome for storage, it is much better to Âbreak the tuber as opposed to cutting. The break injury will seal and heal quickly if allowed to dry for a day. Remember that the semi-dormant rhizome is a living organism needing limited air exchange. Do not store in small sealed containers for extended time periods. The ideal storage area would be the long forgotten "root-cellar". Lift the clumps and store in the cellar - cover with a little mulch. It does not matter if the soil is removed or washed away just so the temperature is slightly above freezing and the rhizomes do not dry out or begin to grow. Regards, Kent Kelly

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catson4(z8 Wa.)

Thank you very much. I came on this forum tonight to find out what to do with the Canna rhizomes that are still in the ground now.
This is the first posting I came to. Very good info.

I still have some more questions about Cannas that I will put in a seperate post.

Happy pondering in the garden.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2004 at 10:43PM
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I live in CT. Are my tubes better off in the basement or the garage?

My basement is warmer than most basements since thats where the furnace is and its small (condo sized basement). I would guess its frequently 55-60 degrees down there in the winter.

Which of the two extreams is worse -- cold or warmth?

    Bookmark   October 23, 2004 at 2:44PM
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Which of the two extremes is worse -- cold or warmth?
If one has to choose between the two, I suggest you choose the ÂcoldÂ. Remember that cannas in many zones are mulched and left in the ground. Providing the soil is reasonably well drained and the mulch is heavy enough to prevent freezing the canna tubers generally survive very well even if the soil temperature approaches freezing for extended periods of time. Cold temperatures allow certain bacterial diseases to infect the rhizomes to a greater degree but the same is true for the higher temperature storage areas. You are simply fighting a different bacterium.
If one has removed the soil from the canna clump, I would definitely prefer the cold side of storage. If the soil is not removed from the clump or only partially removed it will tolerate the warm area. It is important to remember when storing canna tubers in the warmer areas to prevent excessive dehydration of the tuber. This is why most individuals recommend using Âslightly moist peat or other filler agent when storing the tubers. Leaving the canna clumps as large a possible is very beneficial. Divisions can be made just prior to planting.
If you must store in a slightly elevated temperature area, you might want to choose the coolest part of that area and place the tubers directly on the floor with a insulating cover over them. If you have a large Âpile of cannas for storage you need to be aware to the fact that they will create heat within the center of the pile. Not a fire hazard, but you often get a heat build-up and this will cause premature sprouting and growth. You may need to check the Âpile from time to time and rearrange the clumps. Regards, Kent

    Bookmark   October 24, 2004 at 8:17PM
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birdgardner(NJ/ 6b)

I got some cannas in a trade before frost. Slender rhizomes, without the reserves of big fat varieties. I had them outside in a box for a week and actually had some softening and mold start.

I cut away the soft part, sprayed with lime-sulfur, air-dried in my hot basement, and then sprayed with wilt-pruf (anti-dessicant, gives them a waxy coating.) Now they are in individual paper bags, filled with peat moss, in an unheated room. Will see how it goes.

I have observed in the past that pine duff (the stuff between the ground and the whole needles) seems to have anti-microbial properties, it might be worth a try as a storage medium.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2004 at 11:09AM
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I do not have a very cool storage area. I live in a townhouse apt however my downstairs bathroom is the coolest place in the house. No shower there so moisture is limited to handwashes and toilet flushes. Can I store my rhizomes there as I got 2 from trade that I don't want to lose


    Bookmark   November 6, 2004 at 1:12PM
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lcdesign(6 SEPA)

Thank you for your very informative post. We are expecting our first freeze tomorrow night in SE PA. I was thinking about going out to lift my Futurity Reds, which really didn't seem right to me as some of them are still blooming, but now I will hold off. I was planning to put the rhizomes in peat in wooden wine boxes with open tops in the cellar. Is this a good idea? What about mice, etc.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2004 at 10:36AM
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Cassie: If the bath is the coolest location you have, that will be your best possibility. I am somewhat concerned about the size of the rhizomes you are trying to store. If they are somewhat small and you have only two, you may choose to actually place them in a small pot and fill it with slightly moist potting soil or peat mix. Because the temperature is going to be somewhat elevated you may get some sprouting but if it becomes a problem simply cut the growth back. Individuals who receive rhizomes in the fall often have difficulty with storage. It is better to pot the tuber and allow slow growth rather than trying to store the tuber and risk rotting or dehydration.
Leslie: I see nothing wrong with the wooden wine boxes but you may choose to place a piece of burlap or similar cover over the box. I have never seen mice actually eat the rhizomes, but they will sometimes Ânest in the containers. You might try putting some mothballs under the box cover. I have never done this but it is a thought. Regards, Kent

    Bookmark   November 8, 2004 at 9:49PM
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Hi Kent, Great suggestions.

Last year, I put my canna rhizomes in my attic, in plastic containers with a little bit of soil/peat to cover. I covered them with plastic bags, with holes poked in them for ventilation. When I looked at them in the early spring, there was a bit of mold, and at some point they started sprouting, from a couple of warm days in a row.

How can I avoid the mold? I have dug up my rhizomes, and want to put them in the attic again, since my basement is too warm. I have an outside shed, but I would assume that would be too cold.

Also...I want to send a clump to a friend, across the U.S. and want to know if I should keep it moist or just let it be in transit.

Bayla, Bklyn

    Bookmark   November 11, 2004 at 6:00PM
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Bayla in Bklyn: Your outside shed would likely be much to cold in NY. The mold is a fungal problem due to a number of sources but usually attacks either the old decaying stem or an open wound on the rhizome. If you have removed the soil, I would consider dipping the rhizomes in a 5-10% solution of Clorox/water. Allow the rhizomes to dry and place in storage. If the soil has not been removed, take a spray bottle of the same solution and wet the exposed stems, roots, etc. Spraying with another fungicide after the plants have dried would not hurt. This is not a cure all, but will certainly delay the conditions. Do not overdue the spray. Clorox can be somewhat caustic to tender plant tissue and will cause a burn but is a very good short-term disinfectant. Before shipping to your friend, please be sure they do not live in an area that prohibits the importation of some plant material. You may choose to store for them and ship closer to their planting time. I would remove all soil and place in a container of Âslightly moist peat or at least wrap in newspaper. Depending on the time of year and location, pack to prevent freezing in transit. Regards, Kent

    Bookmark   November 13, 2004 at 1:21AM
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Thank you for answering ALL of our questions as I see you are getting a lot. Some of my tubers are small and some are large. Last year I stored my tubers in my downstairs closet in a paper bag. They all were fine this spring and I lost only one but I don't want to take a chance with these as they are ones I have been looking for for a long time. I will plant those 2 and try the others in the bathroom as they are common and I can find anywhere. Thank you again for answering all our questions


    Bookmark   November 14, 2004 at 9:20AM
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desperationfalls(z5 MA)

Why don't you look at the 'Remove from pot...'
thread just down the list from this one.
Especially check out 'Boca Joe's methods and his
collection of pictures.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2004 at 2:06PM
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Debbie_R(z5 OH)

This summer, a Canna started growing in my yard  of its own volition. I suspect a stray seed took root.
I didnÂt get big enough to bloom, but IÂm hoping to find out what type it is, next spring.

IÂve never grown Cannas before so IÂm not sure what to do.
I just dug it up today.

IÂve read the info on storing Cannas for the winter, but I have a problem.
My garage is totally unheated.
My basement is heated and dry.

Can I store my Canna in a refrigerator? Is there some special way to wrap it if I do?

    Bookmark   November 15, 2004 at 6:00PM
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Debbie: As a general rule, cannas stored in refrigeration systems have a very poor survival rate for most people. I might point out that assuming your canna arose from a hybrid seedling you will only have an unnamed canna seedling that will likely be inferior to its parent. You Âmay be going to a lot of trouble for your reward. With that said, I can understand your need to "know". You do not say what you have actually done to the dug rhizome. Is the soil attached or has it been removed, how large is the rhizome, and etc? My first suggestion is to store in your basement and take your chances. If you are really, really determined to try to save your canna I suggest you create a heated storage container to be used in your unheated garage. You are going to spend more than you can actually purchase a few cannas for but; First you will need a short thermostat controlled heat tape (used to insulate water pipes) and a few feet of common house batt insulation (has a paper or vinyl backing). Place your canna in a container with peat and wrap all sides with the insulation. Now wrap the heat tape abound the outside of the insulation leaving the cord and thermostat dangling (DO NOT allow the heat tape to cross itself  may cause a short) and tape or tie the insulation loosely. Now rewrap the entire mess once again with the insulation leaving the thermostat and plug exposed. Plug in the heat tape and the thermostat will only heat at near freezing temperatures. Practical  no, workable  sometimes. Regards, Kent

    Bookmark   November 15, 2004 at 11:55PM
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Debbie_R(z5 OH)

Thanks Kent. It does seem like a lot of effort for an unknown plant... It is pretty big about - a 7-8 inch clump (considering it started growing mid-summer). Since I didn't know what to do - it still has some soil attached.

Assuming I'm willing to risk the fridge - should I remove the soil? What should I wrap it in?

It is curretnly in an open supermarket plastic bag. I honestly had no idea what to do with it : )

    Bookmark   November 16, 2004 at 10:20PM
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Debbie if you wish to try the refrigerator I think I would remove all soil but leave any remaining feeder roots attached. Do not divide the clump unless absolutely necessary. After soil is removed, soak the clump in a 10% Clorox/water solution for about 10 minutes and allow the clump to dry. Either place the clump in Âslightly moist peat, dampened newspaper or paper towel. Place back in the plastic container but do not seal airtight. You can place the plastic bag in a paper sack if needed. Refrigeration tends to dehydrate the plant and the low temperature tends to increase the fungal problems over time. Regards, Kent

    Bookmark   November 19, 2004 at 4:51PM
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david_5311(Z 5b/6a SE Mich)

I have a big potted canna that I would like to overwinter. I am lucky enough to have a cool greenhouse, winter temps 40-60F, where I grow cyclamen, hellebores, camellias, etc. I brought the canna in after the first hard freeze and left it in its pot. I noticed that the frozen cut stems have since developed some fungal growth. I cut them off again and pulled the plant out of the pot. The roots look healthy and I can see lots of pointed buds that are firm and light green.

So my question -- should I leave it as is, or take it out of the pot entirely, cut off the feeder roots, etc? I am a little worried about the cut stem remnants transmitting the fungus into the rhizome. Of course, I would think that canna stems left outside in areas where they are hardy would also rot like this. Advice? Thanks.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2004 at 10:44AM
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David you are correct about the rot occurring in cannas wintered outside or otherwise. I would recommend leaving the canna in its growing container. Commercial pot growers do this on a routine basis. They remove the foliage and place the containers in a dark frost-free area. Since you have already removed the foliage, cover the container and place it in the coolest area possible. You could choose to allow the plant to grow in your cool greenhouse. You apparently have good light and minimum average temperatures. I do not like to grow cannas under the low temperatures you have because of the disease problems sometimes associated with the low temperatures but it is possible. Regards, Kent

    Bookmark   November 29, 2004 at 9:56PM
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kailea(4 WI)

Here in zone 4, I have kept a potted Pink Sunburst in my south window and it keeps putting out new growth. I have had trouble keeping the rhizomes from drying out (dying) if lifted and stored in the past. Question is, if I keep it growing till planting out, will it bloom; or should I cut it back now and put it in the cool basement to go dormant until time to go outside? Is leaving it growing affecting next summer's blooms?

    Bookmark   January 8, 2009 at 12:35PM
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I should have seen this thread before. Someone told me that it doesn't require the leaves to be killed by frost before digging it. Mine was from a pot.

I'll just pray that my rhizomes make it. So far, I don't know after seeing them last night. I'm seeing more brown.

kailea, you're lucky that you are able to keep it in a pot. My cannas in pots are gone. I dug it last week to save it. It was drooping very badly.

Back to my bare rhizomes, they are in a plastic bag with holes and covered with moisted peat moss and laying directly on the cold basement floor. Is that good?

    Bookmark   January 9, 2009 at 2:06PM
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If I may interject here; All would be well advised to follow Kent's advice and suggestions very closely. He is regarded as on of the premier growers and hybridizers in the world. Regardless that the advice is 5 years old.

If you store your rhizomes damp, check them for mold and fungus. Clean and dust as necessary.If you store them dry, check for shriveling. Soak or spray as necessary. If they are still growing in pots, feed them lightly as the rhizome is using stored energy to grow. Lightly is the key word there. Too much fertiliser and you may end up with a leggy terrible looking plant, or one suffering from fertiliser burn. Go light on the water too. Just enough to keep the plant from drying out. Whether the plant blooms or not depends upon local conditions including soil, water, and daylight. Canna bloom on new growth, so encouraging that growth after planting outdoors is best.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2009 at 12:13PM
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I recall that I spoke to my neighbor too. I think that's when I had a problem after trying his advice.

"I just dig them when hard frost kills the leaves. I put the rhizomes in paper bags then onto the basement. Then I forget it. I don't even look at it. I go back in April or May to plant them out."

I was lucky that I looked at it few days ago. It was so so dry. Some are solid black dried. So looks like rhizomes really need to be checked at least 3 or 4 times a month.

Also, can I make a request to everyone? It would be very helpful to newbies like us if we see pictures of how the storage bag with materials like peat moss or newspaper looks like. This way, we'll know how to prepare it.

Thanks fatbaldguy for the advice! I really appreciate it. :)

    Bookmark   January 10, 2009 at 12:55PM
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These are just few of my rhizomes. If you notice, the edges which were purple before are now brown and dried. Some parts are browing and showing some wounds(short straight brown line pattern).

    Bookmark   January 10, 2009 at 1:44PM
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Those are a bit on the smallish side, although I don't know the variety ( whcih could influence what I think of the size). They still look viable though. Monitor their condition a couple of times a month and you should be fine.

I've received smaller rhizomes in trade that still managed to do well.

I store my rhizomes in mesh bags, milk crates and the like in a semi-heated garage. Temps average about 55F throughout the winter. I have had minimal losses over the past few years.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2009 at 7:05PM
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With mesh bags, they can easily dry out right? Do you mist it every week especially your garage's average temp is 55F?

What do you think about this? They were previously on a box with newspaper but no peat. Then I just put a cover again on top with a newspaper. I recently transfered them to a plastic bag with slightly moistened peat moss. Right now, the plastic bag is elevated about 4' from concrete floor in the basement. Should I put it directly on the floor instead?

Taken few minutes ago...

Which step do you think I executed is wrong?

Thanks again! Forgive me since I have so many questions. I really want to save them.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2009 at 12:50AM
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I don't normally check the rhizomes more than once per winter. Perhaps I'll check them today.

There is no wrong way to store rhizomes. There is just what works for each gardener.

I store them in labeled mesh bags (think onion sacks)so that I don't mix varieties. Those bags are then placed in milk crate style stackable crates. These are stacked on the floor of the garage, and then covered with various sheets of cloth to limit light exposure.

Prior to this, the rhizomes are dug and rinsed/washed clean of most soil.

I have not had a great deal of shriveling or rotting with this method.

I have planted rhizomes the size of link sausages that have made good sturdy plants with thick meaty and large rhizomes. Alternatively, I have planted large and meaty rhizomes that simply rotted in the soil.

Remember that canna are heavy feeders. I use lots of compost, organic fertiliser, and a bit of rock phosphate, in my beds. I know some that use Miracle Grow and get good results.

I would suggest that you visit your local library and check out Ian Cooke's book, 'The Gardeners Guide to Growing Canna'. An invalualbe resource. If the book suits you, it can be purchased through Amazon, although I found that the Karchesky Canna people had a better price.

Visit some of these sites, Karchesky Canna, Claines Canna, Horn Canna(don't purchase from here, they are virus ridden as of now, although they are making strides to clean their stock), Kent Kelley's site which is I think, Quality Gladiolus. Follow the links they may have to other growers, look into the cultivation and storage practices of any and all you can.

Take away what works and is possible for you.

I realise that I'm not giving you the answers you wish to hear. Every situation and storage method is different. I would suppose that learning what works best in your situation is the steepest part of the learning curve.


    Bookmark   January 11, 2009 at 8:10AM
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Hi fatbaldguy,

Our library is ordering the Ian Cooke's book. :)

Thanks for the great advice!

    Bookmark   March 5, 2009 at 12:17PM
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abutilon(z6 sw PA)

Hi Kent,
I am zone 6/5. Any dug cannas are stored whole clump in our cooler 50º greenhouse. We place the whole dug clump in a large stretchy black drawstring trash bag not drawn tight, but flopped over. This keeps enough moisture in during storage that we seldom have to add more. My soil is clay based which provides a great insulating factor, too. This would work same in a cool (not cold!) basement or garage. In spring as they begin growing, it is easy to see where to divide. We lose few rhizomes using this method. And it is easy :-)

    Bookmark   March 6, 2009 at 11:59AM
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Well, last nite I went into an unheated closet where I kept my box of Canna lilies. Last year I dug up 6 Cannas out of containers after a good frost, cleaned them off a bit and let them dry out for a day in the sun, put them in a box with newspaper between and put them away in this closet which during the winter is about 55F. Out of six, I had two with 1/2" of new growth, and two which felt fairly firm but no growth. I started them off in some potting soil under lights so I'm very happy. It was funny because I had one very big clump that I thought would be the best however it was very dry and just crumpled in my hand. I guess I should have sprayed at least once during the winter. It's still winter here because just yesterday we had -28C, the day before +4C and tomorrow it's supposed to be -08C. Anyway, thanks all for your advice in this forum because without it I would have been throwing away these lilies like I did in the past. I know that it takes time and patience to answer the questions so it is very much appreciated. Thank You all. Stan

    Bookmark   March 6, 2009 at 3:55PM
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Does anyone have a picture of how they should look like after frost kills them? This way, I'll know next time when to really dig them.


    Bookmark   March 6, 2009 at 4:17PM
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Last fall, due to travel plans and fall weather predictions, I dug mine the last week of September. There had been no frost. I just cut the stems and dug. I did label very carefully though.

While I haven't really looked deeper than the first level of crates, the rhizomes certainly seem firm and the eye's are sending out growth.

As far as I can tell, there are no firm and fast rules about when to dig, or how to store. I would suggest that the only firm rule for planting would be to monitor soil temperatures. When those are steady in the upper 50's and into the 60's and rising, would seem to me to be the optimum time to plant. Although last spring, we had May in April, and April in May and into June. The canna still did rather well, we even had a bit of a dry spell where the furthest beds only got sporadic watering.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2009 at 6:22PM
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Please donÂt get too carried away with the "after frost kills" them. I have made this statement for people to understand the poor practice of harvesting early. The frost does kill the foliage and basically slows or stops productive rhizome growth (not totally). Normally, frost (light freezing) will indicate the soil temperatures have also fallen to a temperature range of ideal storage temperatures. Rhizome metabolism has also adjusted and the sugar to carbohydrate food reservoir is more complete. All these things play some role in successful winter storage.
Frost or light freezing weather will severely "burn" the above ground foliage. Hard freezing weather typically causes the stems (canes) to turn to mush and fall over. This makes for a slimy plant to handle. It might be advisable to cut the mushy canes and remove the refuse from the growing site and allow the plants to stay in place to help dehydrate the canes (dry out) before digging. Sometimes the gardener may choose to leave the plants in place for a more convenient time to dig. DonÂt think that just because you have a frost that you must dig on the next day. Soil temperature and storage temperature should be a major factor; the cooler the temperature the better (within reason) and definitely a few degrees above freezing.
Sometimes people (particularly the pot grower) allow the plants to get bone dry and I think this is a mistake but not necessarily fatal. Excessively dry soil (storage mediums) pulls moisture from the rhizomes; soggy soils (storage mediums) will likely cause storage rot. This is particularly true for extended storage time.
Remember, commercial growers must start their harvest before frost and usually complete their digging after freezing. FBG has good advice, donÂt set dates; follow your best schedule.
Alice, good to hear from you!

    Bookmark   March 6, 2009 at 7:28PM
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Awesome Kent and FBG! Thank you so much! :)

    Bookmark   March 7, 2009 at 10:26AM
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Hello, great thread.

I have several canna bulbs I have been storing in a semi-heated shed (50F). The bulbs weren't cleaned before storage and are mostly encased in a clump of dirt. The clumps are sitting in open trays.

Most clumps seem quite dry and I'm worried that some of the smaller ones have dried out too much. Comparing weights it seems like some are very light like they lost all their moisture. Despite the light weight the bulbs themselves don't look much different than the others. Can I soak these clumps to try and revive these bulbs or are they past that point?

Also it's still too cold here so can I start the plants now indoors in pots?

    Bookmark   March 16, 2009 at 4:58AM
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I bought 4 large pretoria rhizomes 10 days ago. I didn't take it out of the packaging. There were tons of tiny holes in the plastic. Anyways, I put them inside a cooler with the lid tightly close. I looked at it yesterday and it's still the same, yellowish/white.

So looks like next year, I will put them all inside a ziplock with tiny holes and peat moss. Then finally put them inside a huge cooler.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2009 at 1:41AM
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This is a bit off topic but everyone here seems so knowledgeable that I thought I'd ask a related question.

I'm not quite sure what zone I'm in as it tends to shift with altitude here is southern Riverside county (CA). I'm at about 2000' and we do get overnight frosts and sometimes extended cold spells with daytime temperatures staying below freezing as well. I put in a couple of cannas last year and of those that "took" all survived the winter. This year they started sprouting when we had a an early false spring and suffered frost damage again but are now happily putting out new shoots. We also get pretty severe Santa Annas here in the fall which tore up most of the canna foliage long before the first frost.

So, am I better off leaving them in the ground, even though they may sprout too early or should I dig and store them? If I leave them in the ground, when do I want to dig them to divide the clump? They spread so much I think I might need to do that yearly as the bed is small and includes other plants. I think my storage shed always stays above freezing but it can also get rather warm in there if we have a winter heat spell. Is that likely to cause problems with storage?

    Bookmark   March 29, 2009 at 8:41PM
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abutilon(z6 sw PA)

Hi June,
If you mulch them with grass clipping, compost, or other organic material in fall, your's should do best left in ground over any type of out of ground storage. Grass clippings should work very well in your situation. That will help, also, with false alarm springs.
As new growth appears in spring is a good time for dividing.
All best :-)

    Bookmark   March 30, 2009 at 2:30PM
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Thanks, Alice. As this is a sort of low high desert :-) environment we're a bit short on grass but we chip all our trimmings and should have plenty of other mulch.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2009 at 4:54PM
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I have a few boxes full of canna lily bulbs from 3 years ago. They have been in a basement average temp 65, layered by newspaper and have had exposure to air. (the boxes are egg shipping boxes)

Is there ANY hope on saving them?
How long can you store them before you need to toss them?
If they are not dead/rotten, can I start some this late in the year?

Any help would be GREATLY appreciated. Wendy

    Bookmark   July 16, 2009 at 1:25PM
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marquest(z5 PA)

Put them in some moist soil and see what happens. You do not have anything to lose. They probaby would not bloom this year but you would be able to see if they are any good nd if they are all dead you can add them to the compost and free up your storage space.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2009 at 6:30PM
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