How to winter geraniums?

How to overwinter geraniums

Save your geraniums for next year

Annual geraniums (Pelargonium hybrids) are amazing — they grow and bloom beautifully from spring to frost without a lot of fuss. Then you dig them up in fall, put them in a cardboard box or a paper bag to store over winter and these tough little plants will take off and grow again the following spring. Watch our video and read our article below to learn how to save your geraniums over winter so you can enjoy them year after year.

1. Get geraniums out of the ground

Dig geraniums in fall before a hard freeze and shake the soil from the roots — no need to wash the roots or remove every bit of soil. Set the plants in a shady spot and let them dry for a few days. This will help avoid mold or mildew during storage.

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2. Store your geraniums over winter

Storing geraniums for winter is super easy — you just put them in a cardboard box or a paper bag and close the top. Here are some tips to improve their survival:

  • Keep your geraniums in a cool, dry location, at about 50 to 60 degrees F.
  • Check for mold about once a month and remove dried leaves from the bag or box.
  • At the same time do a quick check of the stems — they should be firm. If you find shriveled, dried-out stems, throw them away.
  • Soak the plants in water for a few minutes if you notice that plants are getting super dry and crispy.
  • Dispose of plants or cut off any stems that are black or mildewed looking.

Traditionally, you store geraniums upside down in the bag. No one is quite sure why, but one theory is that it forces the moisture downward into the stems. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t hurt and might help to store them this way.

See more How To Articles

3. Pot up overwintered geraniums in spring

It’s time to pot your geraniums 6 to 8 weeks before the last average frost date in your area. Pull the geraniums out of the bag or box it’s been sitting in for the past few months and tidy up the plants — snip off any extra-long roots, and cut the stems back to healthy green growth, as you see in the inset. This one was only about 4 in. long by the time it had been cleaned up. Then fill a container with premoistened potting mix and tuck the stem deep enough that two leaf nodes are below the mix — that’s where new roots will emerge.

See also Container Recipes

4. Get geraniums growing

After potting up your geraniums, you should see new growth in 7 to 14 days. The real key to making this work is to water cautiously, only when the soil dries out about an inch down. In 4 to 6 weeks, the plants should look like the one above and you can start to harden it off to transplant outside.

See also Plant Guide

Geraniums are one of the most popular annual flowers and one of the easiest to grow. Zonal Geraniums (pelargonium) are big and beautiful and can cost anywhere from $3 – $5 a piece for one 4” plant. If you buy a lot of them, that can really add up. I realize some of us have the budget and are okay with buying new plants every spring. I used to be one of those gardeners, but now I just really like to conserve my gardening budget where and when I can. Plus, I just get a charge out of growing plants and flowers. So, I want to share with you a couple of ways I’ve used to propagate and overwinter geraniums.

A Little Education on Zonal Geraniums

Zonal Geraniums are considered annuals in gardening zones 3 – 8. In gardening zones 9 and 10, they are considered perennials, also referred to as tropical perennials.

The word “Zonal” when referring to Geraniums comes from the stripes on the leaves (or zones).

The difference between seed geraniums and zonal geraniums is:

  • seed geraniums are grown from seed
  • zonal geraniums are propagated from stem cuttings

Seed geraniums are smaller plants than zonal geraniums and they have smaller flowers. I’m fairly certain seed geraniums cannot be overwintered with this method.

And not to confuse anyone, but zonal geraniums (Pelargonium) are altogether different from the perennial geraniums, also known as cranesbill.

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Winter Storage for Geraniums

I have a gardener friend that simply brings her pots of geraniums indoors in the fall and places them in a sunny window for the winter. They get rather leggy and pathetic looking, but it works for her. I just don’t have the room to do this, nor do I want the mess. Plus most of my geraniums are planted in the ground and I would have to pot them up. Anyway, I want to mention it in case you’d like to give it a try.

This is how I overwinter geraniums and it’s been working wonderfully for me several years now, and I’ve had very good success doing it this way.

  • I simply pull the geraniums (before we get a frost), shake as much dirt off the roots as I can and lay them out on a newspaper in the sun to dry a bit. Don’t leave the plants in the sun so long that they shrivel up. We want to leave them in the sun long enough that they are not damp when we store them, so they don’t grow mold.

  • After they’ve dried, I simply gather up a bunch and put them in a paper grocery bag (roots in the bag) and hang the bag in my basement. I recently read where a gardener said she put the plants in the bag with the roots sticking up. I’m thinking perhaps I will try both ways this year and see which way works best.
  • To overwinter geraniums so that they go dormant, they need to be stored in a dark area that stays around 50 – 60 degrees.
  • That is really all there is to it. I don’t check on them during the winter and I don’t spray the roots with water, as I’ve read in other tutorials. The geraniums really just take a nap and go dormant.

To help you remember all the steps to Overwinter Geraniums and bring them out of dormancy, I’ve created a handy checklist. You can print the checklist off and keep it in the paper bag with your geraniums, or you can add it to your Garden Journal. To gain instant access to the Free Printable How to Overwinter Geraniums Checklist and all the other free gardening printables in the Garden Resources Library, simply complete the subscription form below.

How to Bring Overwintered Geraniums Out of Dormancy

  • Somewhere around the middle of March, I pull my bags out of the basement. You can pot your overwintered geraniums up indoors to give them a jumpstart, or if you live in warmer zones, you can pot them up outside.

  • Next, I take the plants out of the paper bag(s) and cut them down to just a couple of inches. I go through the plants and toss out the ones that are totally brown and brittle. You’ll want to look for some with a bit of green in the stem. When the weather cooperates, I like to do this step outside, because it makes quite a mess with all the dried up leaves and such.
  • Then pot up the plants in a good potting mix. I typically will use a potting mix that doesn’t have fertilizer added. Use pots like this that have adequate drainage, with a saucer underneath to catch run off. Or, simply use clean recycled pots with a tray underneath like the picture below.

  • Water your plants well (slow and until you see water draining into the saucer). I use water with just a little all purpose water soluble plant food added to it.
  • Place your plants in a sunny spot or under some grow lights and wait. Honestly, it will look like you’re trying to grow something from a dead stick, but just be patient. Within a few weeks you’ll start to see little bits of green popping out, and, then it will be time to get excited.

  • If you start your overwintered geraniums indoors, be sure to acclimate them to the outdoors before you place them out permanently. That’s called “hardening off” and you can learn how to do that in the Seed Starting post.

How to Propagate Zonal Geraniums from Stem Cuttings

Propagating geraniums from stem cuttings is also a great way to add more geraniums to your collection. It’s another fun way to overwinter geraniums. Actually, stem cuttings can be taken anytime from geraniums and rooted.

First, simply cut a section of stem about 3 or 4 inches long at about a 45 degree angle just below a leaf node. Strip the leaves off of the bottom half of your cut stem.

Prepare small cups (yogurt cartons work great) with drainage holes in the bottom by adding seed starting mix to the cup to about a half inch from the top.

Next, dip the end of the stem in rooting hormone powder and then simply stick your stems in the soil cups. Gently tamping the soil in around the stems.

Water your cuttings slowly so as not to dislodge the cuttings.

Next, you just wait. It can take around 6 weeks for the cuttings to grow roots. In the meantime, make sure to keep the soil moist.

After about 8 weeks, it’s a good idea to transplant your little plants into larger pots and start fertilizing them with weak mix like the one suggested above.

I haven’t propagated new geraniums from cuttings for many years, so I don’t have pictures of the process. Pamela from Flower Patch Farmhouse has a very good tutorial, if you’d like to see pictures.

To remind you how to overwinter geraniums later, here’s a pin you can add to one of your favorite Gardening boards on Pinterest. Any of the pictures in this post can be pinned, and there are more pin collages at the bottom of the page. Thanks for Pinning!

More Fall Gardening Goodness

There’s a whole slew of Fall Gardening Posts on Gingham Gardens. Here are a few I think you’ll enjoy:

Tips on Transitioning Container Gardens to Fall
Planting Bulbs in the Fall For Amazing Spring Flowers
All About Seed Collecting
Quick & Easy Steps for Fall Garden Cleanup
Tips for Keeping Potted Mums Looking Great

What do you think? Are you going to try overwintering your zonal geraniums, or propagate a few from cuttings? I know I’m a gardening geek, but it’s just so gratifying to see those first little bits of green popping out. Also, I have a several geraniums that are a couple of years old now and they seem to get bigger and bigger every year. Give it a try this year and see if it works for you.

Thanks a bunch for stopping by Gingham Gardens today. I hope you enjoyed learning about How to Overwinter Geraniums and my tips for propagating geraniums from cuttings. If you have a question about this tutorial, or other gardening questions, please leave a comment and I will get back to you as soon as I can. I would love to hear from you.

Happy Gardening,
Joanna

Follow Gingham Gardens on Pinterest for lots of great gardening ideas and tons of gardener’s eye candy. Gingham Gardens is also on Facebook – come say “hi.”

Late Summer / Early Fall is a GREAT time to buy tools and garden decor. Many gardening items are cheaper now! A few of my favorite gardening items:

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Cold Damage to Geraniums

Pink geranium image by tara from Fotolia.com

Geraniums (Pelargonium spp.) include any of over 250 different species of succulent, evergreen shrubby plants native to southern Africa. According to the “A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants,” only 20 species are commonly used to create the many varieties planted in gardens. They need ample sunlight, low humidity and a soil with good drainage to survive; prolonged subfreezing temperatures fully kill plants. They survive outdoors year-round only in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 9 and warmer.

Temperature Thresholds

According to Protabase, geraniums grow well in the temperature range of 65 to 95 degrees F during the growing season, and in the winter low temperatures between 40 to 50 degrees F, according to the “A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants.”

Features of Cold Stress

Protabase mentions that temperatures as low as 40 degrees F can cause initial stages of cold stress, such as reddening of leaves that normally are green and producing food. This is especially apparent on lowermost leaves on the plant, according to Ansbrook Zonal Pelargoniums Nursery. Geraniums cease producing flowers when temperatures fail to get above 45 to 55 degrees F.

Effects of Frost

In order to remain perennially evergreen, staying alive with all leaves and stems, geranium plants cannot be exposed to frosts. Frost on foliage will kill them and cause leaf drop. If frost penetrates into the tissues on the stem, it also will be killed back. From a gardener’s perspective, repeated frosts or a prolonged exposure to subfreezing temperatures is not detrimental unless the cold freezes the fleshy underground roots and the crown of the plant right at the soil’s surface. Expect extensive damage or plant death when air temperatures drop and remain below 25 to 28 degrees F.

Response to Cold Damage

If weather conditions rebound after a frost or freeze in the garden, the geranium will retain any unharmed leaves and stems. Depending on temperature, it may resume growth from its stem tip or remain dormant until suitable warmth returns in spring. Frost-killed leaves and stems become blackened and dry, although some rotting of fleshy stem tissue can occur in the area where killed tissues and living wet tissue meets.

Gardener’s Tips

Ansbrook Zonal Pelargonium Nursery recommends only watering plants in the morning so that any water droplets have evaporated well before the night in the coolest months. Droplets can exacerbate cold damage on geranium leaves. It is especially important to have low humidity and drier soil conditions in the winter months as it prevents root rot, too. If frost or a freeze kills back tissues on a geranium, Farmer Fred Online suggests resisting the urge to immediately prune away killed plant parts. In fact, the dead, dried leaves and stems help insulate the lower living stems and the root crown from further exposure to cold. Consider removing stems only if they are rotting and threaten to spread and kill more living stems and leaves. Prune off dead stems later in winter or spring when there is no further expected chance of frost or subfreezing temperatures. New growth can sprout without worry of frosts; you note the extent of the cold damage as the growing season begins and leaves appear.

Sun and Temperature

70 degrees and filtered sun WHOOPEE! watch me grow

For the most part, members of the geranium family are happiest in this environment and grow like weeds. Obviously, there are some varieties that prefer other conditions and will tolerate cold and heat to considerable extremes. Some Hardy Geraniums, for example, are cold hardy to 20 degrees or lower while those same plants can withstand full sun in the central valleys and temperatures ranging upward to 100 to 110 degrees.

As a standard rule, 50% shade cloth secured overhead can provide the proper sun exposure and temperature becomes the only enemy. That’s why greenhouses and air-conditioners were invented. The rule is, don’t put a geranium in a location where you would not be comfortable yourself.
Many of the books, nurseries and magazine articles will state ‘Grow in full sun’ but those were all written from locations which have mild climates and do not apply to the Central Valleys and foothills of California.

Geraniums are just like people

They don’t like too much heat and sun combined and they don ’t care to sit outside on a frosty morning. They all have a different tolerance for sun and temperature extremes just as we do.

Grow your plants in containers so that they may be moved about to locations that offer more suitable micro climates.

I will move my plants to different locations until I notice that the variety has found a happy place. Each variety has a unique tolerance to sun and temperature and finding the right spot in your yard or greenhouse can sometimes be a bit frustrating.

Don’t forget to protect your plants from the frost. I bring mine in the house and let them watch The Garden Channel on TV when I know there is going to be a severe frost, they like that.

Variegated & Yellow/Green Leaves

Variegated plants or those having yellow/ green leaves can not tolerate the heat and sun as well as the ‘green’ leaved varieties and grow best in the cool coastal climates or air conditioned greenhouses.

These plants can be grown in the central valleys and do well from October to mid May during the cool season. the plant will ‘stress’ through the warm season and will show dried edges to the leaves and growth will slow.

Reduce the amount of fertilizer and provide shade throughout the day. The plantsare best kept in containers on the ground where air temperatures are coolest.

DO NOT OVER WATER!

The zonal geraniums (Pelargonium x hortorum) we grow as houseplants and tender bedding plants are complex hybrids of species native to South Africa. I was shocked when I first saw them in Tanzania, East Africa, in the early 1960s. They were grown as woody hedges of about the same height and width as caragana.

To overwinter geraniums, bring them indoors prior to frost. If you are growing them in a tub or container and time is at a premium (as it usually is in fall), simply drag the entire pot indoors where they should keep for a few weeks while you tend to other more pressing garden chores. If grown in beds, dig them up with a bit of soil, put them in a pot, water moderately and they too will be fine for a few weeks until you can deal with them.

My strategy is to not put all of my eggs in one basket, so I attempt to overwinter them both on their original roots in pots and by taking cuttings. Cuttings root best if taken from “juvenile” young growth — removed from a vigorously growing tip that is nearest the outer canopy of the plant.

Geraniums are easily propagated by cuttings 3 to 4 inches long with the lower leaves removed. Stick them in a mixture of half peat and half sharp sand. If in direct sunlight, cover them loosely with clear plastic. (Helen Shook) Saskatoon

The cuttings should be about 3-4 inches long. Make the bottom cut just below a “node” or where the leaves are attached. Remove the bottom few leaves, the scales (tiny leaf-like flaps) on the stem, and flowers or flower buds. Leave at least two leaves on the top. Using rooting hormone has had mixed reviews and is not considered necessary. “Bulb pans,” about 3 inches deep by 7 inches wide, work well as containers and can hold about six cuttings.

Using your finger, a thick pen or a dibble, make holes in a potting mixture of 50 per cent peat and 50 per cent sharp sand. Stick in the cuttings and gently press the soil against them with your fingers. Water them moderately — soggy soil promotes disease and rot. Place the pots in a warm place with indirect light. A heating mat works very well.

New top growth develops once roots have formed. Depending on the variety, light and warmth, rooting takes one to four weeks. If you place them in a south window with direct sunlight, you may want to loosely enclose the pots in a clear plastic bag to prevent them from drying out. If the leaves turn yellow, it is generally from over-watering or too cool a temperature.

Once you have taken cuttings from the plants in their original containers or those you have taken in from your outdoor beds, they will be cut down considerably. Remove dead branches, yellow or brown leaves, and flowers and flower buds. Place them in full light in a warm place and water moderately. Depending on your needs and those of your friends, you may want to take another set of cuttings in late winter or early spring.

While indoors they’ll need at least four hours of direct sunlight at normal room temperature to flourish and flower. Water them moderately while they are actively growing, ensuring that the potting mix is wet throughout but never soggy. Allow the top half-inch of the soil to dry out between waterings. Use a dilute 20-20-20 soluble fertilizer every three to four weeks when there are signs of growth.

I have overwintered ‘Shone Helena’, a lovely salmon pink geranium, in my sunroom for many years and it flowers through much of the winter.

Related

Sara Williams is the author and coauthor of many books including Gardening Naturally with Hugh Skinner, the revised and expanded Creating the Prairie Xeriscape, and with Bob Bors, the recently published Growing Fruit in Northern Gardens. She continues to give workshops on a wide range of gardening topics throughout the prairies.

This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; [email protected] ). Check our website (www.saskperennial.ca) or Facebook page (www.facebook.com/saskperennial) for a list of upcoming gardening events: Oct. 24, 7:30 p.m.: Free SPS Public Education event at Emmanuel Anglican Church, corner of Dufferin and 12th Street, Saskatoon — Alan Weninger will present “Botanizing in the Altai Mountains of Russia and Mongolia”.

Need help with what to do in your garden?

Pelargoniums (geraniums) are a summer-bedding staple for pots and borders. Unfortunately in the Uk they are too tender to grow outdoors all year in most areas. Which? Gardening magazine trialled different methods to find out the best way to overwinter them:

Taking pelargonium cuttings

It’s easy to take cuttings from pelargoniums in summer and then overwinter them in a light, frost-free place. We had an almost 100% success rate and the plants put on an impressive growth spurt when potted on in spring and planted outside once the danger of frost has passed in May or June.

Caption: Pelargonium cuttings don’t take up much space indoors

Other methods we tried:

Overwintering pelargoniums outdoors

Like osteospermums, pelargoniums are South African natives and we wouldn’t expect them to
survive outside in cold and wet conditions. So we weren’t surprised when the plants left outside died before Christmas.

Drying pelargonium plants and storing indoors

We tried the unusual method of drying some of our pelargoniums. The method is best used with woody-stemmed pelargoniums, although we wanted to see if it would work with our bedding geraniums. The plants were lifted out the ground and any remaining soil was shaken off. The plants were then hung from the roof of a shed where it was dry and frost-free. One pelargonium
made it through the winter this way, so while it isn’t a method we’d recommend, it was fun to try and might be worth experimenting with.

Lifting pelargonium plants and overwintering in a greenhouse

Overwintering in the greenhouse was far more successful and our plants thrived. However, you need to care for them all winter and they are susceptible to pest and disease attack. Our plants in Glasgow were attacked by aphids in the spring. The plants were also large and so replanting them would only be sensible for one year unless you cut them back.

Caption: Plants overwintering indoors need to be checked regularly and any dead material removed

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