Friday, July 31, 2015

Keep Potted Geraniums Through the Winter

Geraniums are a popular and old fashioned container plant, decorating porches and front steps during the summer. They are not expensive, but if you want to be thrifty and save the plant for next year, geraniums can be overwintered in a cool spot. These cheerful plants are not annuals, though we treat them as such, but tender perennials that don't stand up to cold temperatures. The first frost will kill them. 

Native to South Africa, English botantists introduced them to Europe hundreds of years ago. The plant we usually call Geranium are actually Pelargoniums. They thrive in full sun and grow in tidy mounds reaching two feet tall and wide.

Here is a picture of my red geranium when I brought it in last Fall. The flowers look a bit skimpy as I had stopped feeding the plant as the weather cooled. Planning on winter storage, I did not want to encourage new growth by using any kind of fertilizer

Geranium in container

I brought the container indoors when the weather turned cold and a frost was predicted for the evening. Setting it in a sunny window to introduce it to the indoors, I soon decided to move it to a cooler location so the plant would go dormant for the winter. Though some of the following pictures show a pretty sad little plant, the geranium came back beautifully by the following May.

Remove any flowers as well as flower buds. 

Cut back one third.

Set the plant on a basement window sill by an East facing window. The plant does need some light. Temperatures in our basement are quite cool in winter. When heat vents are closed, the temperature feels close to the mid 50's Fahrenheit.

Water sparingly, maybe only once a month at best. 

When Spring returns and evening temperatures rise to the mid fifties, return the geranium outdoors. 

The geranium looked pretty sad and I did not have a lot of confidence in its return. You can see that most of the leaves were brown and shriveled. A few healthy leaves reached toward the light.

Mostly dormant Geranium looks pretty sad.

                                 Cut back all the dead leaves.  Now it doesn't look so bad.

Geranium - cut back dead leaves

 Water thoroughly and place in a sunny location. Begin to lightly feed with your favorite fertilizer. I like to sprinkle some bone meal on the soil to encourage blooms. 

By June, the overwintered geranium had perked up quite nicely, producing leaves and beautiful red blossoms.

Geranium in Full Bloom

 There are other methods of keeping a geranium indoors over the winter months. Some people like to store it bare root. Lift the plant from the container and shake off soil. Trim off flowers and most of the foliage. Enclose in a paper bag and hand upside down in a cool, dark place. Once a month, remove from bag and mist lightly. 

I have not tried this as sometimes my basement feels a bit damp in winter. Dampness can cause the growth of mold or mildew. I have not been successful in storing tender plants bare root. But the method I have suggested worked very well, as you can see!

Though geraniums are not expensive and this will not save you a lot of money, it's nice to keep your old friend over the winter. Of course, if you have several, saving them over the cold months is a thrifty practice.


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