Most of our houseplants have been outside all summer and now many are too big to bring in, or someone wants to give us a start from theirs, or there are plants we want to keep and/or share, or we don’t care about. Also we are concerned because the first frost day is coming.

          The plant most people call “Geranium” is really a Pelargonium. The true “Geranium” is the Cranesbill, a shade loving short plant that is used as a groundcover for some people.  This very popular house or bedding plants is actually a tender perennial or sub shrub for us in Nebraska.  Most of the 230 species comes from South Africa.  Usually we see the plants advertised as either seed or zonals.

          Fall and frost is soon to come, and if you’d like to save that plant for next year, there are actually a number of ways this can be done.  It will depend somewhat on how many you want to save.  If it’s just one or two you can dig the plant and put it in a pot in early fall so it can adjust to home life. They adjust easily to being cut back, even quite drastically.  I like to put the pot in a semi-shady spot outside for a week or two before bringing in the house as its root system has been badly damaged. Another easy way is to take cuttings.  Choose a short branch without flowers or remove any buds. Many cuttings will root if just placed in water but I prefer not to do that. When you remove it from the water all the roots will collapse together.  The roots are also “water roots” and a new set will need to grow in soil.

          So I dip the cutting in water and then in a root hormone powder. They also have a liquid now but I haven’t tried it. I then use a pencil or rod to make a hole in the potting soil. I don’t jam my cuttings down into the potting soil as most of the hormone will be pushed off if I did. Use a pencil or a rod.

          There shouldn’t be a lot of leaves on your cutting as they will demand water with no roots to supply them. There should be a section of the stem in the soil that had leaves that were removed, as the reproductive cells are in the V formed by the leaf attachment.  If the leaves that are left are large, I cut them in half.  To aid the process, I make a tent of a plastic bag supported on sticks to preserve humidity until roots form.  Put the pot, the plant, and the tent in a semi-shady place. 

          If you have a number of “Geraniums” and you want to save them all and they are in pots, just put pot and all in a cool place such as an unheated basement room or garage.  The plants will dry and drop their leaves.  Do not let the soil become desert dry. Water a few times during winter but don’t water so much that the plant starts to grow again.  When spring arrives, cut your plants back, repot in fresh soil, water and put in a light area.  You will be surprised at how many come back to life. George’s wife has hers in pots in a South window by the walkout basement door. She keeps them watered and they grow all winter. Some even bloom from time to time. Be careful that a cold wind does not blow on them.

          Another way that works for some people is to dig the plants, shake the dirt off the roots, put in paper bags, and tie together at the top.  Store them during the winter in an unheated room in the basement.  They may need to be spritzed once or twice during the winter. In early spring they are cut back, potted and watered. One person hangs them upside down in the grocery bags and another has them right side up.  Let me know what works for you.

          My favorite way is to buy seeds so it is a surprise what I will have in summer.  They are slow to germinate and grow slowly at first so plan on starting them early and have a warm, well lighted spot for them to grow. Remember, it is very easy to drown their roots!

          My plants such as Calla Lilies and Pineapple Lilies can not freeze, so I pull the pots into the insulated garage.  The soil around them will keep them warmer and from drying out. Then early in the spring I scoop the top soil off as far as I can without hurting the bulbs, and give them new soil. There is also a fairly new product called Garden-tone and another called Plant-tone that are made to rejuvenate potting soil and saves you from buying new soil. Some years in either fall or spring, and I have a spare empty pot the same size as the one I really want to rejuvenate.  I move all the old soil into the empty pot. Now the soil is “upside down” from how it was. Then some years I just use compost.

          I prefer doing this in the fall so it has time to settle.  I also add a long lasting fertilizer such as a slow release 10-10-10- or 12-12-12 or Osmocote and stir it in before replanting. This process works even in special soil for Cactus that is very coarse and rocky and has good drainage. Cactus does not use much fertilizer.

          Bringing in insects is a major problem in the fall as you usually don’t bring in their natural enemies at the same time. Inside where it is warm, one or two can reproduce swiftly. Putting a systemic insecticide on the soil and watering it in works well for me.  White flies and Mealy Bugs are the worst ones for me. As a result I have stopped bringing Hibiscus in as white flies love Hibiscus. Another way around the insect problem is to take cuttings, as its easier to inspect them and besides you save room. 

          Using soil from your garden is dangerous as it may contain fungous spores, insect eggs, and/or mold. The clay in the garden soil also shrinks from the sides of pots and let’s water run out the bottom. You think you are giving the plant plenty of water, but it is running down the inside of the pot and out the bottom while the main root ball is drying out.

Copyright 2011.