When my mother lived in Vienna, Virginia, she grew red geraniums in large whisky barrels by the front door. Every fall she would pull the plants out of the containers, knock off the excess soil, and place the plants on a shelf in the basement. There was one small window allowing very little light, but these plants would come back to life the following summer. She did this because her mother, who lived in Wisconsin, also saved geraniums in the fall. However, her mother had a sunny foyer so she would cut her plants back, repot in smaller containers, and treat them as small indoor plants in the foyer during the winter. Both methods worked well. Geraniums can take quite a bit of dryness which is what makes them ideal for overwintering.
This year, I grew a geranium plant that bloomed all summer in a large container, in full sun. I added a slow-release fertilizer when I originally planted it in May, but I have not needed to water it, the rain is enough. Every time I see this pretty plant I think of my mother and grandmother and how gardening wisdom passes down from generation to generation. Before winter hits, I want to save my geranium too. Since I do not have a brightly lit room in my house, I will try my mother’s technique.
Soon this month, before frost, I will lift the plant out of the container, shake the soil off and cut off or back diseased parts and the flowers. Then I will let it dry for a few days in the shade on the deck for excess moisture to be evaporated. I will then place the plant in a large paper grocery bag, upside down, and close with a binder clip. I will store my bag in the coolest place in the basement, which will be around 50 degrees.
Periodically, I will check the plant to see if it is getting too dry or, conversely, moldy. If moldy, I would just cut and throw away those parts. If too dry, I would soak the roots in water for a few hours and then dry and put back in the bag. Of course, the foliage will die off eventually but that is okay. In the beginning of April, I will put the root structure in a small container with drainage holes. I am assuming the plant will look like dead stumps but I have no doubt it will come back to life. I will water and place the container in the living room where it is warmer and lighter than the basement. This will trigger the plant to leaf out again. After the average last frost date (Mother’s Day here), I will put the container on the deck in shade at first which actually will provide more light than the living room. Gradually, I will move the container to a sunny location, and probably in late May, the plant will go back into its large container with another dose of fertilizer.
If you have geraniums, now is the time to think about saving them so you can enjoy them again next summer.
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