Garden Blogger’s Foliage Day: Pelargoniums

A basket of ivy leaved Pelargoniums, which overwintered in our garage.  It is finally ready to begin blooming again.

A basket of ivy leaved Pelargoniums, which overwintered in our garage. It is finally ready to begin blooming again.

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Christina, who gardens in the Hesperides, sponsors a day on the 22nd of each month to focus on the foliage in our gardens.

I’ve wanted to join her theme for many months now, and have finally been home with time to pull a post together, and interesting leaves to photograph, today.  Christina posts to Cathy’s In A Vase On Monday theme, and I always admire her lovely flowers.

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Zonal Pelargonium

Zonal Pelargonium are so named because of the “zones” of color in their leaves.

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What a treat to enjoy the wide angles of her Mediterranean garden filled with herbs in her post today!  What a fabulous garden she keeps!

I love plants with interesting leaves.  And I love interesting leaves which happen to also be distasteful to the deer who continue to sneak into our garden.

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May 25, 2015 foliage 053~

Perhaps that is why I’ve become so enamored of Pelargoniums in the past few years.  I’ve never been particularly fond of the flowers these plants produce.  There are so many other more beautiful flowers.  But I grow as many varieties as I can for their lovely foliage.

My favorites are the scented Pelargoniums, which have been particularly difficult to source this season.  The ones I hoped would survive our winter did not.  Marginally hardy here, some winters they make it, and others are cold enough that they die before the weather sufficiently warms in spring.

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This rose scented Pelargonium grew in our garden last summer.  I still haven't been able to source this variety this year, and the roots apparently didn't make it through this past winter.

This rose scented Pelargonium grew in our garden last summer. I still haven’t been able to source this variety this year, and the roots apparently didn’t make it through this past winter.

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I kept many pots of various Pelargoniums going through the winter in our garage, and these are leafing out now.

Most of our scented ones had grown into shrubs by autumn, and I didn’t make cuttings, believing I could purchase fresh plants this year.  Although I’ve found a few at The Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond, Virginia; our local nurseries have little to offer beyond the ubiquitous P. “Citronella.”

I love the soft, fragrant leaves of these useful plants, mostly native to South Africa.  Like other herbs, they are edible and may be used in cooking.  Their fragrance helps repel flying insects, and they remain utterly distasteful to deer.  Drought tolerant, they thrive in full sun.

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This little scented plant came home with me on Saturday from my excursion to The Great Big Greenhouse.

This little scented plant came home with me on Saturday from my excursion to The Great Big Greenhouse.  The leaves are so beautifully textured, and they are edible.

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(Christina, had you considered a large and lovely pot filled with Pelargoniums to fill the empty spot where your Buxus once grew?  It will turn loss into beauty while you plan a more permanent fix.)

As much as I enjoy the scented varieties, I’ve gained a new respect for other Pelargoniums as well.  I’m growing a selection of Ivy leaved cultivars  in pots and baskets this year in many areas of the garden.  I love how these drape in a hanging basket.

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An ivy leaved Pelargonium I have growing in a sunny area near our kitchen door.

An ivy leaved Pelargonium growing in a sunny area near our kitchen door.

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They have deep glossy foliage, in the shape of ivy leaves, and produce an abundance of sturdy bright flowers through the entire season.  Hummingbirds love the flowers, which grow well in full sun and can stand getting a little dry without drooping.

I’ve also been purchasing Zonal Pelargoniums with variegated leaves.  These beautiful variegated Zonals have been widely available in our area, and I have been collecting them to use in planters at the street and on our front patio.

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May 26, 2015 vase 001~

I’m not so concerned with the color of their flowers, as I am with the beautiful patterns on their leaves.  These blend well with other plants grown primarily for their foliage to make a living tapestry of texture and color in summer displays.  They can take full sun or partial shade, withstand drought, and aren’t bothered by pests or disease.

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August 2, 2014 014

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Pelargoniums, though tender perennials, generally get treated as annuals by modern gardeners.  Most remain so common and inexpensive that we give them little thought.  In fact, many American gardeners see them as cliched; often overlooking them for newer hybrids of other flowering annuals.

I experimented with keeping as many of our plants as I could in the garage over winter with mixed results.  A little more than half survived, kept in slightly moist soil.  Had our winter been shorter, they might all have made it.  Many of these plants kept green leaves all winter, even if they did grow very scraggly by February.

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These Pelargoniums overwintered in their container in our garage, and are just leafing out again for the new season.  These tender perennials can grow quite large when kept from year to year.

These Pelargoniums overwintered in their container in our garage, and are just leafing out again for the new season. These tender perennials can grow quite large when kept from year to year.

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It seems that European gardeners are much more likely to grow Pelargoniums than are American gardeners. Many Europeans fill window boxes and hanging planters with these sturdy plants season after season.  Many have perfected techniques for keeping their plants alive from one summer to the next.

I’ve been reading The Passion For Pelargoniums: How They Found Their Place In the Garden by Anne Wilkinson.  9780752496061_p0_v1_s260x420

Anne traces the history of this genus from the native plants found growing in South Africa and South America by European explorers in the Seventeenth Century, up to the present day.  She talks about the important European growers who developed countless hybrid cultivars of the various species of Pelargoniums, and what traits were valued at different points in their history.  In fact, in the mid-Nineteenth Century, at the time of the American Civil War, British nurserymen were in stiff competition with one another to develop the many Zonals with variegated leaves that we enjoy so much today.

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October 28, 2014 fall color 006

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This extremely detailed and meticulously researched book will be of interest both to gardeners who enjoy growing Pelargoniums, and to anyone interested in the history of commercial horticulture.  The story is filled with fascinating characters, drama, intrigue, and previously untold history.

If you are wondering why I’m not simply calling these plants “Geraniums,” as most of us normally do, it is to avoid confusion with the true, perennial Geraniums.  We are growing quite a few varieties of these in the garden this year, too.  They are native to many areas of Europe, and have nothing to do with the tender Pelargoniums native to the Southern Hemisphere.

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Perennial hardy Geranium

Perennial hardy Geraniums have flowers with five, equally spaced petals.

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Many of the plants we grow  are chosen strictly for their leaves.  Beyond the Pelargoniums, I’ve also been watching for the Bonefish series of Coleus, and I’ve been nurturing a wide variety of Begonias.  Both offer inconspicuous flowers but outrageous foliage!

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An Angelwing Begonia finally making its new leaves for summer.

An Angelwing Begonia finally making its new leaves for summer.

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For those waiting for the wide shot of our May garden, I’ll include one to show the progress of the Canna lilies and Colocasia which finally have begun to grow.  These overwintered in the ground.  It appears that we lost some of the dark leaved  Colocasia, a huge disappointment; but at least two of our cultivars survived winter and are bulking up now that the heat has finally arrived in our garden.

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May 25, 2015 foliage 042~

Do you select plants primarily for their flowers or for their foliage?  Everyone has their own preference for the balance between leaves and foliage, bright color and restful green.

As much as we love that rush of May Iris and roses, our focus remains on the foliage which lasts through the season.

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May 25, 2015 foliage 023

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I plan to focus on a different genus each month, sharing some of our favorite foliage plants growing  in our garden this summer, as I join Christina in her monthly GBFD post.

Do you have favorite foliage plants?  Do you include tropical foliage plants in your garden?

If you’ve not grown Pelargoniums for a while, I hope you will give them another look on your next trip to the garden center.

We stopped by our little McDonald’s Garden Center satellite store today, and were delighted to find a wonderful selection at 40% off.  These tough little plants prove a true bargain, because they keep performing well through the entire season with minimal attention.  Give them bright sunlight, steady moisture, and a monthly feeding to keep them growing (and blooming) until frost.

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May 25, 2015 foliage 004

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Woodland Gnome 2015

 

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The Connie Hansen Garden Conservancy

April 30, 2015 Oregon in April 650

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Were you a botanist, and an horticultural artist, would you choose to move to a new home and garden in a notoriously difficult environment?  Connie Hansen moved from Oakland CA, where she was a respected botanist on faculty at the University of California, to a small plot of land only blocks off of the beach in Lincoln City, Oregon, in 1973.

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She bought a small home and a little over an acre of swampy land with a creek running through, in a residential neighborhood close enough to the beach to hear the ocean, in the shade of huge evergreen trees.  What confidence and spunk this gifted gardener had! 

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in April 575

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Lincoln City, in Zone 8, endures near hurricane force winds from the southwest through much of the winter.  These winds off of the Pacific bring torrents of rain.  There is occasional ice and snow, but mostly cold rain and fog.  Summer days might reach into the 80’s for a few hours, but only rarely.  Salty fog settles over the area for some part of most days, and the rocky soil remains salty far inland.

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in April 665

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Walk a few blocks down 33rd street from Connie’s garden and you find yourself at the edge of a steep cliff overlooking the ocean.  The Cascade Mountains come right up to the coast here, and many creeks and streams flow from the cliffs directly onto the beach.

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in April 573

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But Connie loved the home, previously owned by a painter, and chose to establish her garden in this challenging spot.  She saw potential to grow the Rhododendrons, Japanese Iris, ferns and primroses she loved so much in this damp garden, now home to several small ponds.

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in April 299

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Connie spent the next 20 years, until her passing in 1993, constructing her gardens.  And as Connie created and tended her gardens, she also built community.  She networked with other gardeners not only in her neighborhood, but all over the Pacific Northwest.  She hosted many visiting groups and opened her garden to guests of all sorts.  She ran “Orphaned Plant Sales” with divisions and extras from her garden, which continue today.

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Divisions from the garden are offered for sale by volunteers to help raise funds for the garden's support.

Divisions from the garden are offered for sale by volunteers to help raise funds for the garden’s support.

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In fact, Connie had such a loving and supportive network of gardening friends that when she passed, they kept coming to tend the garden for her.  The property was converted to a Conservancy and operates now as a free community garden staffed and tended by volunteers.

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in April 670

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The garden still hosts visitors every day of the year.  The garden is supported wholly by donations and has no other financial support.

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in April 281

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Connie’s former home at 1931 NW 33rd Street may be rented for special events.  It is open two days a week to visitors.  But one may simply wander in any time from dawn to dusk to enjoy the peaceful beauty of this special place.

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And this is a teaching garden.  Visitors learn what will thrive in this peculiar climate, and how to nurture it.  There are no “off-limits” areas so far as I could see.  The huge compost bins are right there for everyone to examine, and many of the plants are labeled for the curious.

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in April 303

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Compost is most obviously the key to this garden’s vibrant abundance.  The native soil wouldn’t support a garden this densely planted.  Copious quantities of compost are added on top of the various beds, which was evident as I walked through.

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in April 345

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While Connie has included many native plants in the design, she also established her own extensive collection of exotic and hybrid plants here.  I saw a vividly blue Azalea in bloom; Skunk Cabbage growing in a path; a giant ornamental Rhubarb; many varieties of Iris; Horsetail ferns, Equisetum, everywhere; and huge old Rhododendrons in the most wondrous and unusual colors.

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Ornamental Rhubarb, Rheum rhabarbarum

Ornamental Rhubarb, Rheum rhabarbarum

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As the brochure states, this is truly a botanist’s paradise.

One may learn by simply sitting on one of the many benches and contemplating the surroundings.  Connie’s plant choices and associations are simply brilliant, even at the very opening of the season in April before many of the perennials have come into their own for the season.

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in April 317

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If the climate and wet soil weren’t enough to contend with, the garden also hosts families of deer, believe it or not.

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in April 557

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I had been told that deer remain a problem in the communities of Lincoln City, but saw them grazing on one of my late evening visits.  They appeared silently while I was wandering around capturing photos in the soft evening light, and had no fear of my presence there.  When they moved on, I couldn’t see any damage from their grazing.  What might they be eating, other than grass?

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Connie also tended a collection of geraniums. This was the only one I saw on my visits, obviously overwintered and now growing new leaves.

Connie also tended a collection of geraniums. This was the only one I saw on my visits, obviously overwintered and now growing new leaves.

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One of the many informational pamphlets offered by the volunteers is an exhaustive list of deer resistant plants suited to this peculiar coastal climate.  Other pamphlets offer suggestions for shade gardens and list plants which can grow so near the beach.  What an invaluable resource for local gardeners!

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Japanese Iris, which need boggy soil, were very special to Connie Hansen. Many were moved after her passing to create the current off-street parking area.

Japanese Iris, which need boggy soil, were very special to Connie Hansen. Many were moved after her passing to create the current off-street parking area.

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This beautiful garden remains a gift of love from Connie Hansen to her community.  She worked in it every day she was able for twenty years, and used it to connect with her neighbors and with horticulturists all over the world.

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in April 363

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Her mission to delight and educate has been taken up by others now, but it continues.  When you visit the garden’s website you will find a rich schedule of events on offer for those who may be interested in learning more.

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in April 645

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I appreciate volunteer Lisa Bain, who greeted me on Saturday morning, and invited me to explore the garden with my little granddaughter.   She was warm and friendly and answered every question I could think to ask.

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Horsetail ferns, a new plant I learned about by talking with Lisa. These look like pine seedlings to me, but she assured me they are naturalized ferns.

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She presided over a tantalizing offering of plants for sale, which I would have happily adopted had there not been the small matter of the jet taking me home to Virginia in a few days…    The plant sale  helps to support the operation of the garden.

If all of the volunteers are as enthusiastic and welcoming as Lisa, I know this beautiful garden will continue to thrive indefinitely in this little coastal town in Oregon.

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in April 638~

Woodland Gnome 2015

With special appreciation to Rickii at Sprig to Twig, who first told me about the Connie Hansen Garden.

Rickii gardens in Portland, Oregon, and suggested that I visit this beautiful garden during my visit to the coast. 

Thank you, Rickii!

 

Additional photos taken at the Connie Hansen Garden were published in “Back to My Garden.”

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in April 295

Let It Live

Pelargonium x hortorum "Mrs. Pollock" can't be found in garden centers ever spring, and is worth saving over the winter.

Pelargonium x hortorum “Mrs. Pollock” can’t be found in garden centers every spring, and is worth saving over the winter.

 

Geraniums, likes so many plants we purchase as annuals each spring, are actually  tender perennials.  This means they  will live indefinitely.

A true annual lives only to produce its seeds.

Once it has fulfilled its purpose in life, the plant, like a fragile moth, will only decline and die.   Think of cornstalks after the harvest and you will understand.

Have you ever seen a corn stalk put out a second round of flowers and ears of corn?  Of course not.

But many of our favorite ornamental plants, like geraniums, may live on for many years, if simply kept from freezing over the winter.

Like a Bougainvillaea in Southern  California, it will grow and bloom so long as it has light, warmth, and moisture.

This variegated geranium is also worth saving.  It has bloomed all summer under tough conditions.

This variegated geranium is also worth saving. It has bloomed all summer under tough conditions.

A  scented geranium; zonal or bedding  geranium, Pelargonium x hortorum; or an ivy leaf geranium, Pelargonium peltatum, will grow large and strong over time, giving many flowers.

We often don’t see an individual geranium plant reach its potential, because we discard our maturing plants each autumn with the first frost, and begin a new with little seedlings or cuttings each spring.

This rose scented geranium has grown into a massive shrub over the summer.  These sometimes overwinter in the ground for us here in Williamsburg.  These root easily in soil, and cuttings may be the best way to overwinter a plant this large.

This rose scented geranium has grown into a massive shrub over the summer. These sometimes overwinter in the ground for us here in Williamsburg. These root easily in soil, and so cuttings may be the best way to overwinter a plant this large.

 

It is surprising  to compare what our  one year old and our two or more year old geranium plants look like this November.

The plants I found space for in the garage last autumn looked positively bedraggled by spring.   Yet, when watered, fed, and set back  outside; they all bounced back to beauty within a month.

 

This massive basket spent last winter in the garage. We brought it back inside on Friday evening before the weekend storm.

This massive basket spent last winter in the garage. We brought it back inside on Friday evening before the weekend storm.

Those overwintered  plants have been covered in flowers non-stop this summer.

The plants I purchased in little 4″ pots this past spring grew and bloomed.  None of them died.  But none of them ever grew to “spectacular,” either.

They kind of limped along.  Now I understand that like many other perennials, geraniums will grow more vigorously and bloom more generously as they age.

This is a hard time of year for gardeners. 

We’ve been busy and attentive to our gardens all summer.  And now as the days grow shorter and cooler, some of us are looking forward to a brief break and a rest from the endless round of watering, trimming, feeding, weeding, mowing, and general involvement of the last several months.

Many of us feel a bit overwhelmed at the sheer volume of potted plants we might want to overwinter, and wonder how to possibly take care of them all inside for the next several months.  While we hate to see them die, it is hard to figure out what to do with them all.

August 7, 2014 garden 023

But there easy, no-cost ways to keep tender geraniums through the winter. 

There are basically three ways to overwinter a mature geranium plant.  (A fourth strategy would be to take and overwinter cuttings, discarding the parents.)

Which method you’ll choose must be based in how much space you have, how much winter sun light you have inside your home, and how much “fussing” you’re willing to do to over winter your plants.

Purchased in late April in tiny pots, these geraniums can be dug out of the large pot which has been there home this summer, and brought insid for winter storage.

Purchased in late April in tiny pots, these geraniums can be dug out of the large pot which has been their home this summer, then  brought inside for winter storage.

 

The first, easiest way, is to clean up your currently outdoor potted geranium plant, trim it back a bit where needed, and set  it inside your  warm, sunny, living space.

Keep it watered all winter and let it survive inside.  You may or may not get blossoms, depending on how much light you can provide.  I’ve seen geraniums blooming in January when kept in a sun  room.

The second way is to bring the whole potted plant inside to a partially lighted garage or bright basement.

So long as there is some light, and temperatures stay above freezing, the plant can survive with minimal moisture.

Geraniums can go into a “dormant” state,  with little or no new growth, and remain alive for many weeks.  Although the leaves may drop off, life remains in the roots and stems.

Break the dormancy in early spring with water, more warmth, and brighter light.  It is wise to cut the plant back by 1/2 to 2/3 when bringing it inside for this sort of storage.

 

July 7, 2014 opening flowers 011

The third method is one I’ve never tried.

It again relies on the plants’ ability to go dormant for a while without actually dieing.  This is the method if you don’t have space for pots inside.

Dig your geraniums before the first frost, and shake the roots free of soil.  Trim back long roots and long stems.  Keep the bare root geranium in a garage or basement over the winter.

Most instructions for this sort of storage suggest hanging the plant, upside down with twine, in your basement.  Of course the leaves will shrivel and drop away.  Some of the stems may even die.

An ivy leafed and a scented geranium share this pot with a eucalyptus

An ivy leafed and a scented geranium share this pot with an Eucalyptus

 

Take the plants down about once each month and soak them in water for an hour or so, to keep the plant from drying out completely.

Rehang the plants after each soaking,  until early spring.  Re-pot each plant in fresh potting mix and place it in light and warmth to break dormancy.

The plant should respond and begin growing again within a few weeks.

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Why go to such trouble to overwinter geraniums?  I can think of at least three good reasons to make the effort:

1.  Geraniums are better plants in their second, and subsequent years.  You’ll have a bigger, brighter, more floriferous plant next year if you keep it this winter.

2.  Your special cultivar may not be on the market next year.  Plants come and go in fashion.  I get frustrated each spring looking and looking for plants which simply are not offered locally.  Finding it in 2014 in no way guarantees the shops will have it in 2015.

3.  These plants add up in expense.  A single geranium plant may cost $5.00 in a 4″ pot.  However, how many do you plan to purchase?  This adds up very quickly.

Overwintered plants may be easily harvested in early spring for cuttings.  A little effort adds up to considerable savings over replacing all of your geraniums each spring.

June 19 garden 010

Now that we’re down to the brass tacks of November, and imminent frost anytime now in Williamsburg; I’ll be tending to my geraniums.

These were last on the list of plants to bring in because they truly don’t mind cool weather.  It is frost and freezing temperatures which kill them… not the low 40s and upper 30s we’ve had thus far.
And the more I think of it, the more I want to try to save.  Is it compassion, thrift or greed? 

June 19 garden 012

 

Hard to pin it down.  But, I’ll bring in as many as we can find a spot to keep over the winter.

Woodland Gnome 2014

 

June 19 garden 011

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