Geraniums are wonderful, easy-to-grow plants that bloom on and on in the garden all summer. Their blooms just seem to last forever. And as the weather cools, they usually put on a great show, so it's no wonder many gardeners want to bring them indoors during the winter and save them for spring. Of all your outdoor summer bloomers, geraniums will probably make the transition indoors the most successfully. There are several methods for over wintering geraniums.
What Kind Of Geraniums Can I Save?
There are several types of geraniums grown successfully in our area and some are better suited to over wintering than others. Perennial geraniums (genus Geranium) simply stay out in the garden with all the other perennials. Another common name for perennial geraniums is Cranesbill. These are also called true geraniums. All the rest of the geraniums we grow in our area are in the genus Pelargonium. This grouping includes the traditional zonal (cutting) geraniums as well as Ivy, Scented, Seed and Regals (a.k.a. Martha Washington). Zonal, Scented, Seed and Ivy geraniums are the most likely to winter successfully indoors. Regal (Martha Washington) geraniums are difficult to work with. They really should be considered just a pot crop that provides a breathtaking display of bloom for several weeks.
Storing Them Dormant
Often you will read or hear about storing geraniums bare root and dormant in the basement over winter The success of this method will depend on the place you have to store them. When people had cold cellars or pump rooms, it worked quite well. The temperatures were cool but it was humid. Most modern basements are much too dry and too warm. To try this method, dig the plants up before a killing frost in the fall. Cut the branches back about half way. Remove as much of the dirt from the roots as possible. You will have to do this carefully, because geraniums are rather brittle. At this point, they were traditionally hung from the rafters until spring. If you don't have rafters, you can bag them separately in paper grocery sacks. Leave the sacks open for ventilation. Check on your plants every month of so to see if they are getting too dry and shriveling. If necessary, spray them with water. If they get so dry the stems begin to shrivel, take them out and soak them for an hour or two in tepid water. Remove them from the water and allow their surfaces to dry before putting them back in the paper bags. Plants that have been over wintered in this manner may take several weeks to begin growing again in the spring. Soak the geraniums, roots and all, in water overnight before planting. To get an early start, they can be potted up indoors several weeks before the last frost and transferred into the ground later. When planting directly outdoors, be sure to wait until after all danger of frost.
Keeping Them Growing
Geraniums do well as house plants if you can provide them with a cool location and lots of light. Dig them up and pot them just before frost and cut them back. Check the plants over carefully to make sure they are free of insects or disease. Wintering indoors is stressful, so only take indoors plants that are in good condition. Water the plant thoroughly when you first bring them in. Geraniums prefer to stay relatively dry compared to most plants.
It is possible to take cuttings instead of bringing in whole plants. A cutting is simply a piece of the mother plant. For the best success rate, use tip cuttings. Tip cuttings are made by cutting off the last 3-5 inches of a branch. Try to avoid branches that are blooming. Remove the leaves from the lower half of the cutting and dip the cut end into a rooting hormone. Place the cuttings around two inches deep into a loose potting soil or vermiculite. For the first few weeks, keep the cuttings in good light, but out of the direct sun. The potting material should stay evenly moist. After 3-4 weeks, the cuttings will have developed several strong roots. Cuttings can be rooted in individual pots or several cuttings can be rooted in one container. After they have begun to root, they will need to be individually potted. When you begin to see new growth, move them to a cool, sunny location and feed monthly with a water soluble fertilizer such as Bachman's Excel Gro 15-35-15. If you don't have adequate light indoors, geraniums do very well under fluorescent or incandescent plant lights. Given enough light, geraniums will develop into well-branched, strong plants by spring. If light is not adequate, they may tend to grow rather tall and spindly. Remember, geraniums like it on the dry side.
Geraniums that have been over wintered can make very satisfactory plants the next season. Those brought through as cuttings will be completely new, productive young plants, just like those you might buy in spring. The geraniums you over winter actively growing should be larger plants with heavier stems. They will bloom almost as much as a young plant. Geraniums that have been over wintered dormant take several weeks to recover in the spring and often need to be cut back to improve their shape and productivity. No matter how you over winter your plant, be sure to wait until after danger of a killing frost before putting them back outdoors.
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