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Country Gardens: Overwintering geraniums

    Geraniums are one of longest growing annuals that we have in the United States. If you have brought them in for the winter and are not sure what to do with them here are some tips for keeping them over until next spring. Gardeners who plant large numbers of geraniums can reduce their gardening expenses by overwintering geraniums indoors. To store garden geraniums over the winter dig them up before the first frost. Shake all of the soil away from the roots. Now you have a couple of choices. The first choice is to cut the stems down to about 3 inches. Place them upsidedown in a paper bag and hang from the ceiling or place in a cardboard box somewhere cool, dry and dark. The second choice is to hang the entire plant somewhere cool, dry and dark. Ideally in the 45 to mid-50s degree range. Third, you can try to keep them in the same pot, and put them in a sunny window, keep them trimmed down and not give any fertilizer during the winter. If you are keeping them upsidedown or hanging you will need to check them once a month to make sure the stems are not getting too shriveled. If they seem to be, then take them out of their bags and soak the roots in warmish water for 1-2 hours. In March, remove all of the dead branches from the ones you hung up whole and pot them up. The ones you pretrimmed should be showing signs of growth. Remove all shriveled, dead plant material. Healthy stems will be firm and solid. After pruning, pot up the plants with a good potting soil and water thoroughly. The paper sack method is much cleaner than the hanging method because of the excess dirt that still may fall. Those of you living in newer homes with heated basements might have a problem here.  You may have to take the heat off in one room and keep the door closed if you can.  If you’re lucky enough to have a root cellar that will work too. Crawlspace maybe? As long as the temperature is right. If it is too warm then you should consider the stem cutting method. Using a sharp knife, take 3 to 4-inch stem cuttings from the terminal ends of the shoots. Pinch off the lower leaves, and then dip the base of each cutting in a rooting hormone. Stick the cuttings in a rooting medium of coarse sand or a mixture of coarse sand and sphagnum peat moss or perlite. Clay or plastic pots with drainage holes in the bottom are suitable rooting containers. Insert the cuttings into the medium just far enough to be self-supporting. After all the cuttings are inserted, water the cuttings and medium thoroughly. Make sure you have a saucer on the bottom to catch any drips. After the medium is allowed to drain, place a clear plastic bag over the cuttings and container to prevent wilting of the cuttings. Then place the cuttings in bright light, but not direct sunlight. The cuttings should root in six to eight weeks. When the cuttings have good root systems, remove them from the rooting medium, and plant each rooted cutting in its own pot. I use plastic cups after the roots are ready to plant and keep them on the window sills all winter. Pinch back as needed. The third option of keeping geraniums in pots is fairly easy and keeps material for cuttings when you need them. They will get somewhat leggy but keep nipping off the growing tips to induce branching instead. They will need less water, too, than outside. They will flower inside but only every once in a while. They will get fairly large over the years. There are so many wonderful types of geraniums that one has to try some different varieties. From scented to cactus flowered to the dwarf, fancy leafed, unusual stemmed, ivy and cascading types one can have many geraniums to admire during the growing season.

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