Your Grandmother Never Taught You About Overwintering Geraniums Properly

Overwintering geraniums is a fairly simple and straightforward gardening situation.

Carefully dig up each plant and replant into a six to eight-inch pot.

You'll likely have to do a bit of root pruning to fit them into the pot but this is fine. The plant won't mind this.

Gently Cut Roots Back

I would recommend that you cut the roots back so there is space around the edges of the rootball for some new potting soil. This means cutting the roots back to fit into a five-inch pot and then planting it into an eight-inch pot instead. That ring of new soil around the edges will improve the drainage and ensure your overwintering geranium stays happy.

You may be wondering the effect chopping the roots back will have on the top of the plant in this winter care of geraniums scenario.

The quick answer is, "not much". The reason for this is because you're about to really chop back the top. Cut the tops back by one-third to one-half of their original height. Whack 'em back!

But before you do that, carefully break off the remaining excellent blooms and put them in a vase; geranium flowers are excellent cut flowers.

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Geraniums in a Potty Chair - one way to grow a container plant :-)

Successfully Overwintering Geraniums

With a reduced root system now balanced by a reduced upper leaf area, your plant is ready to overwinter successfully.

The best thing you can now do is put the overwintering geranium pot in a sunny windowsill (or under grow lights) and keep at 65F day temperatures and 55F night temperatures.

Cool Is Good

Cool is good for overwintering geraniums. This cool temperature and high lighting will stop the plant from growing long and spindly - something they'll do if you keep them warm and poorly lit.

When the growing shoots reach four to six inches long (and the plant will throw new shoots slowly over the next few months) pinch out the growing tips. This will force the plant to stay a little bushier than if you let it get tall and leggy.

And a bushy plant will not only look better but will give you many more cuttings next spring when you need to repopulate your garden.

Upside Down

And yes, I know that your grandmother was overwintering geraniums in the basement by hanging them upside down on a wire. However, your basement is probably heated and very dry. If you allow the roots of this geranium to dry out; it will die. If you keep it damp and cool, it will live. Remember granny's basement was cool and damp without that huge furnace cooking everything.

Overwintering geraniums can be accomplished by potting them up and sticking them in a basement without a lot of light if you water them regularly. Yes, they'll look really ugly and pale white by the end of the winter. Yes, they'll recover and turn green again. You'll have to prune them very hard in the early spring to remove all the spindly growth and force them into good solid thick growth (otherwise, the spindly growth on the bottom won't support the new heavy growth produced outside and the plants won't stand up straight) but it can be done.

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Another Option

There is another trick I have just learned about but have not tried myself. Dig your geraniums and carefully knock all the soil from the roots. Put the plants in paper bags and store in a cool (45-50F) place. It has to be cool to stop the plant from wanting to grow but light is irrelevant seeing as the plants are inside a paper bag.

Once a month, take the plants out of the bag and put in a sink full of warmish water for an hour or two. Most of the leaves will fall off but as long as the stems stay hard, the plant is alive. And you can dump the leaves out of the bag easily so this method doesn't create very much mess.

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Remove all shriveled stems or dead leaves every time you take the plant out of the bag. In mid-March, cut back each plant by half leaving only healthy, hard, green stems. Pot up in a large flower pot in good potting soil and put in a sunny windowsill or under artificial lights. You'll find these hard stems will quickly produce new shoots and you'll have healthy plants by May to put outdoors.

And that's the latest word on overwintering geraniums. These tricks also work well on the tender scented-leaf pelargoniums from the herb garden.

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