It makes me sad to think that after this year’s first real frost, thousands of geraniums, whether in outdoor pots or in the ground, will wither and die. Geraniums (of the Pelargonium family) are perennials in their native region of South Africa but here, where the weather is, let’s just say cooler, they are often treated as annuals.
If you had a great season with your geranium, why not have another? Geraniums, like marigolds, can be used solely as non-stop bloomers or you can plant them with purpose. I like to use a combination of the two to ward off squirrels, mice, and other hungry rodents.
The Overwintering Process
Anyone who has overwintered geraniums before will tell you that there are a few ways to go about it. I will touch upon two of my favourite methods.
The Pot-it-up-and-put-it-in-the-window Method
Did I just give it away with the title? This method is so easy, especially if your plants are already in small pots. You’re really just bringing them indoors like you would any other tropical.
– Trim it to about half its size and give it as much light as you can.
– If your plant is in a pot too large to bring indoors or it’s in the ground, dig it up and repot it into something more manageable.
– Water well and give it ample light indoors. Due to Canada’s lack of winter sunlight and very short days, you will likely find that your geraniums get a bit spindly (or leggy). Don’t fuss too much about this as you can always trim it back in the spring when daylight hours and intensity start to increase.
– Repot or replant in the spring when the threat of frost has passed.
The Bare-Root Method
I like this method for its simplicity as well and I find that it’s pretty much fool-proof.
– Dig up your geraniums (even if they’re in small pots) and gently work the soil from the roots. The more soil you can remove, the better, but be careful not to damage the roots.
– I use a large paper bag and, depending on the size of each plant, place 1 or 2 into the bags. If you have a cellar or another area that won’t freeze over the winter (doesn’t get below 7°C), you can hang the plants upside down. This method is obviously a little more messy but works just as well. For both of these methods, you want to keep the plants in a cool, dry place.
– Every month, place the roots in water for an hour and use this opportunity to clean up and throw out shriveled leaves.
– Repot or replant in the spring. You want to prune the plant fairly heavily, removing the dead leaves and stems. Only replant healthy stems, which will be firm. Those that did not survive will be shriveled and limp.
– Water thoroughly once the plant is back outdoors (only putting it outdoors once the threat of frost has passed).
The bare-root method leaves you with a sad-looking start to the plant in the spring but, trust me on this one, it will spring back to life within a few weeks. I tend to use this method as I find the leggy geraniums to be rather unsightly sitting in my window. It’s really up to you, though.
You have no excuses now. Don’t be one of those geranium-tossers this fall. Get out the pruners and save a life. A plant life, that is.