Zap! Pow! Bam! Mother Nature has been showing off her power lately by freezing the life out of tender annuals in the yard. This also is a sign to plant some bulbs for spring.
One of the easiest ways to plant bulbs involves using a cordless drill to bore holes in the flower bed. Use a three or four-inch paddle bit to drill a hole at least three times as deep as the bulb's height. Plop the bulb into the hole with the root side down, sprinkle in some bone meal, and cover the bulb with soil.
For areas that need protection from digging animals, prepare a large, shallow hole for the bulbs. If the bulbs are tulips, the hole might have to be six to eight inches deep. Line the hole with chicken wire on the bottom, then set the bulbs on top of the chicken wire. Carefully add enough soil to cover the bulbs except for the tops. Place a second layer of chicken wire on top of the partially buried bulbs, then finish filling the hole with soil. This will prevent little critters from digging up the bulbs but will let the bulbs' foliage grow through the holes in the chicken wire.
Dahlias, callas, cannas, gladiolus, and begonias need to come in for the winter. I've seen Mother Nature zap a beautiful patch of tall cannas into a slumping black mess overnight. Once their foliage dies, it's time to tuck them away until next year. Our friends at the Toledo Zoo and Owens Community College plant thousands of these summer beauties every year and they have come up with an organized storage plan.
The first step is to dig them up. You might think they are like the bulbs you just planted, but they aren't bulbs at all.
Dahlias grow thick roots called tubers. Cannas' and callas' thick roots are called rhizomes. They look like the rhizomes at the bases of irises. Gladiolus grow from roots called corms. These are round, rough-skinned roots that sprout new plants from cormels.
No matter what type of root stock you have, you can store the plants the same way. Sort plants while their foliage is still visible, and keep plants with matching colors together. Cut off most of the stems, leaving short stubs at the top of the roots. This will make tubers less likely to rot while in storage.
Remove as much soil as possible and cut off any damaged or diseased areas. If any roots are soft or smell unusual, toss them on the compost pile. Let them dry on newspapers for a few days. Once the roots are dry, you may store the good ones in paper bags half-filled with sawdust or light peat moss. Corms may be stored in onion bags. Mark the outside of the bags with the plants' names, flower colors, foliage colors, and heights. Then staple the bag closed.
If you have a lot of plants, you may put them in boxes, but be sure not to let the tubers touch. They are a lot like those potatoes you might have in the bag under your sink. If they rest on top of each other for too long, moisture could build up and eventually cause them to rot before you can get them back into the ground next spring.
While you are at it, grab a few clumps of mums on sale now and get them in the ground before it freezes. Cut the blossoms back once they fade and give them a thick blanket of mulch. They will green up for you in the spring, but don't forget to give them another haircut in the middle of summer for showy clumps of color in the fall.