We all did it, didn't we: emptied out our pots, or dug up our Tulips, and put the bulbs away in the shed or the garage to dry.
And did you forget about them? Yes, me too... just last week I noticed that my drying rack was full of trays, and there were all the bulbs, waiting to be cleaned. And then today, at work, I noticed that my Client had also forgotten about the trays of wilting foliage lying around on his garage floor.
So here's a quick reminder of what we do, and why.
Many of us plant up pots with bulbs in autumn, to make a good display the following spring. But once the flowers are gone, we don't want the pots sitting empty for the rest of the year, so most of us turn them out, and put the bulbs aside to dry, to be planted out again in autumn.
It's also a good chance to freshen up the compost, ready for greedy summer bedding!
So what happens to the bulbs? We spread them out on trays and leave them to dry: and now it's time to clean them up and store them neatly.
Start by removing all the deal foliage, shake off any dirt, pull off any wiry roots, and gently rub off the outer skins. Some bulbs have an inner, light brown skin or tunic: leave this in place to protect the bulb. How do you know whether to take it off or not? If it comes off when you rub it, then it's ok to remove it. If you have to use your fingernails to pick it off, then leave it alone!
You should be left with smooth, plump, bulbs. Throw out any that are damaged, mouldy, or the least bit squishy: there's no point storing them, they will only rot and spread the infection through all the other bulbs.
Having done all this, if any of them feel damp, or cold, in your hands, then they are not quite dry yet, so spread the cleaned bulbs out again in a tray, and leave them for another week or so. I found that my Client had piled them up in his trays, instead of spreading them out, such that the top layer were nice and dry, but the bottom ones were still quite damp. All is not lost: I threw out the few that had gone mouldy, and spread the rest out for a bit of extra drying time.
You will probably find that, as well as the original big fat bulbs, you now have a lot of little tiny ones. This is a good thing, as it shows that your bulbs were well fed and healthy, and able to produce offspring. I usually discard any really teeny tiny ones, but I keep all the mid-sized ones to “grow on” for a year or two: that means planting them out in autumn in a small pot of their own, duly labelled: they are unlikely to flower next year, but the year after you might be lucky, and they won't have cost you anything!
Put the clean, dry bulbs into open containers, label them (even “2017: Tulip” is better than nothing!) and put them aside until the autumn, when they can be planted out once again.
There you go - simple! And a good opportunity to clean up that wobbly pile of pots and trays, while you are at it!