Geraniums, unlike marigolds, zinnias and other garden annuals are actually tender perennials. But, because they do not survive our harsh winters, they are treated as annuals. In frost-free climates, geraniums live outdoors year after year. So it seems unfortunate that, in this part of the country, we just let them freeze up and die. In fact, there are some ways geraniums can be saved and carried through the winter. According to Robson, it is foolish to try to save diseased plants, but healthy and vigorous plants do have a good chance of surviving the winter with some care.
Geraniums can be overwintered either as actively growing plants or as dormant plants. As actively living plants, geraniums can be simply lifted from the garden, potted up and cared for as house plants. They need bright light and moderate 60-70° temperatures. Insufficient light or high temperature causes spindly, yellowish plants.
Cuttings can be taken from plants in the garden this fall, rooted indoors, and grown as house plants until spring. The cuttings can be rooted in peatmoss, sand or one of the commercial artificial soil mixes such as Jiffy-mix, Pro-mix or a similar product. Dip or dust the cuttings with one of the rooting hormones available from garden centers to hasten rooting.
Routinely, in grandmother's day, geraniums were overwintered as dormant plants. The thick fleshy stems are able to survive adverse conditions without leaves. Potted geranium plants can be moved into a cool, dark place or in a heated garage and simply allowed to dry up. Keep them in the dormant state until they begin to shrivel up during the winter, add a little moisture, but not enough to cause sprouting.
The time honored way, but the toughest way on the plants, is to dig the plants, shake all the soil from the roots, cut stems back to about 13" and hang each plant upside down in a brown paper bag. Place these bags in a cool, dry place. Remove the plants from the bags, cut back dead parts and set out in the garden when danger of frost is past.
Geraniums really don't like to go dormant, but with luck you can get them to survive until spring. Just for fun, try keeping your plants over the winter. If all else fails, your local garden center will have a good supply of vigorous young geraniums again next spring.
Sheryl Hodges is the County Extension Director for the University of Illinois Extension, DeWitt County. She can be reached by calling 935-5764 or stopping at the office at
RR 3 Clinton.
Pull date: November 2, 2006