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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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? 

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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

 

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The Herd

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Our neighbor took these photos of “The Herd,” which hangs around our bit of the neighborhood.

Many of our neighbors enjoy sighting the deer.  Some even feed them.

Our wooded neighborhood hosts several family groups who wander the ravines and gather around the ponds.

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Although the deer are beautiful creatures, they are extremely destructive to our gardens.

And worse, deer roaming through the area bring deer ticks, which harbor Lyme’s disease.

Our neighbor took these photos near our homes, in mid-morning.  Not a bit shy, this group was happy to rest in full view in the middle of the day.

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Other neighborhood friends describe deer who regularly rest in their yards during the day, like a pet dog might.

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We began the conversation, which resulted in the gift of these photos, when my neighbor called to ask what is growing in our new pot on the driveway.

It seems this group was grazing their way down the street, but completely by-passed our new planting.

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Watching the deer leave our  pot  untouched,  our neighbor wanted to know what flowers are so  immune to grazing.  And the answer is, zonal geraniums.

The odor of geraniums is distasteful to deer.  I suspect they don’t care for the thickness and texture of geranium leaves, either.

Zonal geraniums are distasteful to deer both for their odor and the texture of their leaves.  They protect the Coleus, Begonia, and ivy in this pot.  The Caladiums are poisonous.

Zonal geraniums are distasteful to deer both for their odor and the texture of their leaves. They protect the Coleus, Begonia, and ivy in this pot. The Caladiums are poisonous. The Lamium vine  is also distasteful to deer and has not been grazed in other locations in our garden.  It has a purple or blue flower earlier in the spring.

Other plants in this group, like the Coleus, have been grazed other years.  I suspect the geraniums deter interest in the entire pot.

Deer nibble our coleus from time to time, depending on where they find it.  Petunias, in the rear, are distasteful and rarely bothered.

Deer nibble our Coleus from time to time, depending on where they find it. Petunias, in the rear, are distasteful and rarely bothered.

We are growing five different varieties of zonal geraniums this year, in addition to ivy geraniums, and several varieties of scented geraniums (Pelargoniums).

Not only are they left untouched, the deer pass the other plants in pots where they grow.

Ivy geraniums (white flowers) and a rose scented Pelargonium share this pot with Eucalyptus.  Artemisia grows behind the pot.  All are scented and distasteful to deer.

Ivy geraniums (white flowers) and a rose scented Pelargonium share this pot with Eucalyptus. Artemesia grows behind the pot. All are scented and distasteful to deer.

If you live where deer graze frequently, you can still grow beautiful flowers. 

The trick is to know what the deer will leave alone, and only invest in plants which will have a chance to grow.

This Lantana is blooming for its third season here.  It survived our winter.  Here, Lantana, "Miss Huff" which is hardy to Zone 7.

This Lantana is blooming for its third season here on the street. It survived our winter. This is  Lantana, “Miss Huff” which is hardy to Zone 7.

“Deer Resistant” has lost its meaning for me.  I’ve purchased too many “deer resistant” plants which were grazed within the first week.

This same sage, sold in 4 packs this spring, also comes with white flowers.

Our Catnip, with white flowers.

I prefer “poisonous” plants, like Daffodils, Caladiums, and Hellebores; but will settle for “totally distasteful” plants like Geraniums and most herbs.

A perennial sage grows here with Dusty Miller.  Both have gone untouched for several years in our garden.

A perennial sage grows here with Dusty Miller. Both have lived untouched for several years in our garden.

For more information on “deer proofing” your garden, please look back at some of my previous posts:

Deer Resistant Plants for Our Area- Revised Annotated list

Living With A Herd of Deer

Pick Your Poison

Tick Season Is Here

Scented Geraniums

 

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If you just want to bring home something pretty which will survive on your deck or porch through the season, make sure to include some geraniums and herbs in your pot.

I hope your herd of deer will walk right past it, on the way to someone else’s garden.

Deer photos by Denis Orton 2014

Plant photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Situated in full sun at the street, this newest, unprotected pot must tolerate heat, drought, and stand up to our herd of deer.

Situated in full sun at the street, this newest, unprotected pot must tolerate heat, drought, and stand up to our herd of deer.

 

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