Save Your Geraniums for Next Year

Red geraniums in a large container in May

When my mother lived in Vienna, Virginia, she grew red geraniums in large containers 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. Every fall, she would cut her plants back, repot them in smaller containers, and treat them as small indoor plants in the foyer. Both methods worked well. Geraniums can take quite a bit of dryness which is what makes them ideal for overwintering.

This year, I received a geranium from All-America Selections. Calliope is a 2017 AAS ornamental vegetative winner (not grown from seed) with red flowers. It has bloomed all summer in a large container, in full sun. I added Osmocote when I originally planted it in May but I have not needed to water it. The rain has been 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.

Calliope in October, ready to be overwintered

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 so that excess moisture will evaporate. I will then place the plant in a large paper grocery bag, upside down, and close with a binder clip.  I will store the 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 a dead stump 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. It will be in shade at first which actually will be more light than the living room. Gradually, I will move the container to a sunny location and probably in late May, I will plant it back into its large container with another dose of Osmocote.

If you have geraniums, now is the time to think about saving them so you can enjoy them again next summer. This method should enable you to enjoy your geraniums for many years to come.

Pink and red geraniums in the landscape in August

5 responses to “Save Your Geraniums for Next Year

  1. Modern cultivars are not nearly as resilient as the old traditional types! Even where we can leave them in the garden through the year, they do not last long. We can only perpetuate them by growing copies from cuttings to replace the originals, and even that is not as easy as it is with the old types. If they get pulled out, they should be planted deeper than they were when they grew the previous year. That is almost like sticking them as cuttings, but with roots attached to give them a head start. In fact, they can be buried with only the tops of the stems sticking out. When they get pulled the following year, they can be stored intact, but can be divided into a few copies when planted in the spring.
    In our climate, I leave geranium through the winter, even though they look tired. The tired old growth shelters the roots from frost, which sometimes kills the tops. I cut them to a knuckle just above the ground just before they start growing late in winter. (Some start early. Some are doing it right now.) Because the knuckles do not last forever, I plug some of the stems back as cuttings. Since there are so many stems, I just take a few terminal cuttins, and plug them with just the top few leaves and terminal but sticking out of the ground, with three to five inches of stem in the ground. Because this gets done late in winter, they get plugged while the weather is still rainy for a while, so they have time to start to root before the rain runs out. I actually did this just recently because a particular group of geraniums needed to e pruned down. For us, it is actually better to do it in autumn, but only because we are not too concerned about frost killing the cuttings, and because the knuckles start to produce new growth about now.

    • That is interesting, I have never heard of “knuckles” before!

      • ‘Knuckle’ refers to the distended burl that develops at the ends of pollarded limbs, or on coppiced stumps. I sort of think of the knuckles of geraniums as small coppiced stumps.

  2. Thanks for a great article. Yes, I remember old timers saving dry zonal geraniums from year to year.

    Does this method work with scenteds, at least the tougher large ones like lemon rose, peppermint or grey Lady Plymouth?

    Although tonytomeo grows his geraniums in northern California, and scenteds are supposedly zone 10-11 plants, I have seen rose geranium survive winter in the ground in Ohio (Cleveland city greenhouse grounds, zone 6 near Lake Erie). This was really unusual, although Cleveland area plants often survive out of hardiness zone due to the consistent snow cover in northern Ohio. I wonder whether any DMV gardeners have experimented with keeping plants in the ground over the winter… maybe well mulched. Perhaps the moisture would be worse for them than the cold alone.

    Usually when hard frost threatens (or hits), I bring whole planters inside onto a frost free enclosed porch. I’ll trim them then mostly ignore them in low light until around February. Perhaps watering once or twice. In February I’ll see new growth and that’s my cue to water and groom plants for spring. This works much better than attempting to overwinter plants under grow lights; the bugs (incl. whitefly) eat them up. Cool location, low to moderate light, and low water are the best.

    • I have a scented geranium as well and I brought it indoors, giving it as much light as I could. I am sure mine would die if I left it outside.

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