How I Prepare Geraniums for Winter-Bloom

August 13, 2013

WHEN IT COMES TO OVERWINTERING GERANIUMS, I refuse to be saddled with tired, old, monster-size plants. I want fresh, young geraniums that are eager to grow, and which are small enough to serve decorative duty in the window garden. Do you want what I want? Then let me show you how, exactly, to prepare these popular summer plants for winter-beauty indoors.

Mid-August — or at least 6 weeks before the first expected frost — is a good time to restore and propagate zonal and scented-leaved geraniums.  This gives the plants ample time to recover from root-trauma, and for cut stems to form roots before the big outdoors-to-in transition.

The following restoration and propagation procedures have never failed me:

When you are dealing with a zonal geranium that has grown all summer  (such as ‘Puritan White’, above), the first step is to cut the plant back to within an inch of its life, or to the point where the lowest leaves can be found. Be brutal here.

This is what your plant should look like after removing nearly all of the top growth.

Next, knock the geranium from its pot. To do this in a professional manner, place one hand over the top of the plant, where it can support the soil and top growth. Then invert the pot, and, holding the bottom of the pot with your other hand, bang the rim against a hard surface.

Don’t be delicate here — bang firmly!

The plant will pop right out of its pot, and into your waiting hand.

You will probably discover the plant is horribly root-bound. We’re going to fix this.

Using a serrated knife, slice off two-thirds of the roots. The amount of roots you remove should be in direct proportion to the now-missing foliage.

Toss the severed roots onto the compost pile.

Then, as pictured above, make vertical cuts to slice through soil and roots. The goal is to be able to center the plant in its old pot, but with a one-half or one-inch gap between the existing soil and the walls of the original pot.

I hope that last above sentence made sense to you.

Now take a good look at your geranium. Do you see any dead or rotting stems?  Cut these off. You’ll need only three or four stems which show signs of life.

Place a piece of broken pottery over the old pot’s drainage hole…

Then add fresh potting mixture to come approximately half-way up the sides of the pot.

Now center the plant in its pot. If centering seems impossible,  just cut away more roots and soil to create a rounded shape.

Fill in the gap between roots and pot with fresh potting mixture…

And then firm it down with a paint stick, a Popsicle stick, or a plant label (as above).

Properly potted, there will be a one-inch opening between the soil surface and the top of the pot to allow for water.

Soak the plant thoroughly, until excess moisture escapes through the drainage hole. Rinse off any soil which is clinging to the leaves.

And that’s it! You now have a newly-restored geranium which will give you pleasure all winter and beyond.

Now, what to do with all the stems we cut ? Well, each of these can become a new plant.

Trim the stems to 3 inches in length.

Then set the stems aside for a few hours (or even a few days) to permit their cut end to dry, or “callus.” A callused cut is not likely to rot.

Remove the lower 2 inches of leaves from each stem.

Remove also the stipules, or little flaps along the stem. These can rot in damp soil.

No photo for these next three steps, because I don’t think you need them: Take a 4-inch clay pot, and place a piece of broken pottery over its drainage hole. Then fill the pot with fresh mixture.

Insert a pencil in the center of the soil, to a depth which approximates the length of your cutting.

Place the stem in the pencil-dibbled hole…

And then firmly pack the soil down with your thumbs. Or “thumb,” if you are holding a camera while you work.

If, after pressing down, the soil level drops more than one inch below the top of the pot, just add a little more mixture and re-adjust the stem.

Water the plant thoroughly (until excess drips through the drainage hole). Should signs of wilting occur, simply mist the leaves once or twice each day until roots form. You will know that your cuttings have rooted when new growth becomes evident.

Set the plant in a bright but sunless location outdoors. Once roots have formed, you can give the youngsters a position that receives half-day sun (or full-day sun in a window garden).

And by the way, you can use these same restoring and propagating procedures for scented leaved geraniums. Sadly, these are becoming rare lately, so propagating them is the only way sure way to have them from year to year. Pictured above is my rose-scented ‘Lady Plymouth.’  You can crush the leaves of this variety, and add them to your bath water. You can also steep the leaves in full-fat milk, and then use the milk to make scented icing for cakes and cupcakes.

If you browse the houseplants category on this website, you’ll find pictures of scented-leaved and big-flowered geraniums displayed in my various winter window gardens over the years. In December, 2011, lavender-pink ‘Americana’ made a handsome sight in my Music Room window.

‘America’ looks lovely in my Herb Garden, too. Here, it recently attracted a hummingbird moth.

Indoor Culture: To achieve indoor success, give your geraniums all the direct sunlight an east or south window will afford. Restored plants can bloom as early as December, while plants grown from cuttings usually won’t set buds until the days lengthen in February or March. Pictured above: Zonal, scented-leaved, and fancy-leaved geraniums in my Library/Den window in February, 2008.

No east or south window for you? Place the plants under fluorescent lights. Illuminated for 16 hours per day, I can tell you that zonal geraniums will bloom in winter almost as well as they do in summer.

Once the plants are growing, I encourage bloom with a high-phosphorous, low-nitrogen plant food. The window garden subjects are fed at the rate of one 1/4 teaspoon formula per gallon of water. I increase the food to one 1/2 teaspoon for the window garden plants, because they receive such long hours of light.

Well. I hope this tutorial was useful to you in some small measure. Perhaps you will let me know by leaving a comment. As always, your words are the sunshine of my life.

Don’t miss anything at A Garden for the House…sign up for Kevin’s weekly updates.

Related Posts:
How to Design a Window Garden
How I Propagate Petunias for Winter-Bloom
A Walk in the Early-August Garden

Comments

  1. Sybil Strawser says:

    I may have to try this!! I put my large pot of geraniums in the garage last year over winter…occasionally watering and they came back in spring. Had no idea I could have them blooming in the house in winter. My windows would be facing northwest…guess I will need a light.

  2. myrtle miller says:

    Phosporus is not good for the ocean. If I remember correctly it depletes oxygen. In 1993 a law was passed that banned it’s use in washing powder. I wonder if you use phosporus in a plant if it can be present in the pollen and hurt pollinators like bees. For sure it has a negative impact on the ocean and thus ocean life. Sorry for the gray cloud. No sunshine here…. I think your plants are beautiful and your page has added immeasurable sunshine to my life….

  3. Denise Hayes says:

    this was very useful to me! I have a geranium that was given to me last year when my brother passed and I brought it in for the winter. It survived and is still growing and blooming but not very well. I will definitely be doing this to it soon. Thank you, Kevin.

  4. Tracy says:

    I already have my petunias rooting for winter bloom. (VERY exciting.) And I will now revive some very prolific (but somewhat tired) geraniums, as per your simple, friendly, instructions. I so love this blog.

  5. myrtle miller says:

    This is a good article on the effects of nitrogen and phosphorus on the ocean and ocean life.
    A natural source of nitrogen is rainwater and for gardeners that have gutters there are ways to transport this water to your garden. I’m sure with adequate thought and planning something can be invented that would not only collect rainwater but transport it to a large garden. It’s kind of hard to decide between beautiful plants and ocean life but think dolphins and manatees and this will help. With this I will stop because I respect an individuals’ right to garden without being lectured….

    http://www.tulane.edu/~bfleury/envirobio/enviroweb/DeadZone.htm

  6. Morag says:

    You always come up with projects that are doable in scale and scope, and can be enjoyed over a several-month period. Thank you for all the inspiration.

  7. Tris says:

    Hi, Mr. Kevin! I’ve already got some really good geranium slips going and plan on doing even more this weekend. I tried the petunia cuttings and did everything you said but none of them made it. :( Despite keeping them moist and misting them daily, every single cutting dried up and died on me. The only difference with the petunias vs. the geraniums is that I kept the geraniums outside and brought the tunies inside. Do you think I should try more petunia slips but keep them outside for awhile?

  8. Hi Tris – Yep, let the petunias root outdoors in a bright but sunless location.

  9. Bonnie Strautmann says:

    Excellent! I have several geraniums, some from my mother who passed away in 1995. Every winter I just bring them inside, put them insouth facing windows, and water once a month. They keep blooming, but they get very tall and not so pretty. I will definitely give this a try. Thank you!

  10. Lauren Lawson says:

    Now I know what my poor geraniums need. Thanks!

  11. jeanne says:

    Hi
    I have a zebra plant for about a year it is growing very tall. Once in a while the bottom leaves turn yellow and i cut it off. I have it in front of a window and I water it when it needs it. Why are the leaves drooping? Thankyou

  12. Hello from Washington State,
    I am a avid Geranium lover and would like to find some scented plants to grow. Do you have any suggestions where to purchase them?
    I have in the past suffered with little gnats on my houseplants during winter. Once having to toss all the geraniums and their soil because it was awful. Recently I found a product made by”Hot Shot” that can hang or sit that emits a vapor to kill flying and crawling insects that works great. Thought I would share!
    Enjoy your news letter.

  13. Bev Grosse says:

    Kevin, should I add the phosphorous every time I water?
    I love your newsletters and site. Especially the detailed photo instructions. Thanks so much.

    Bev

  14. Jo-Anne says:

    Good morning , Kevin….I got my 2 shelves cut for my south facing computer room window last week….now i think I will have to go back and get more cut some for the east facing living room for the added geraniums….one can never have enough flowers blooming in the house over the winter….and, of course, that gives us plants ready to go for the next spring………..thank you so much…..love this project…can hardly wait to see how it turns out!
    Jo-Anne
    Vancouver Island

  15. Hi Jeanne – I’ve found the Zebra plant (Aphelandra squarrosa) to be tricky to grow –it demands the high humidity of a jungle! Leaves can wither if the soil is permitted to dry out between waterings. Better to keep the soil consistently moist.

    Hi Sandra from Washington State – The scented-leaved geraniums are becoming increasingly-rare. Consequently if you find one, be sure to propagate it! Many years ago I purchased (via mail-order) apple, nutmeg, lemon, and other scented varieties from Logees in Danielson, CT. You can visit their website: Logees.com

    Hi Bev Grosse – My plants seem to do better when I feed them with every watering.

    Jo-Anne – Congratulations — I’m sure you’ll enjoy your window garden(s)!

  16. Arlene Bice says:

    I’m very excited about this post, but then most of your posts excite me. Each year I do bring in my geraniums and they have gotten straggly over the years. So, your lesson on doing it right makes a big difference. Thank you so much.

  17. Dori says:

    This is very helpful because my geraniums get too stringy in the window in the winter. I have not fertilized. I am also encouraged by JoAnne and Sandra because they live in the same sunless region as I do. (Seattle.) This month I will cut them back and take cuttings, and then I will fertilize. But not enough that will drain off and run into the ocean. I will keep it in the pot.

  18. Margy says:

    In the past I found that if the geraniums bloomed during the winter, they were extremely slow to bloom once I returned them to the garden in the summer. Have you had this problem? Also, I will be bringing in geraniums that have been in the ground. I’m assuming your process works the same as if they have been in pots.

  19. Sara in Indiana says:

    Hi Kevin,

    I have an ivy leaf geranium that I would like to try to propagate over the winter as you describe. I was also wondering, do you pinch the cuttings back as they grow to keep them bushy, or is this not necessary? Thanks for all the great tips and news!

  20. Angela says:

    Hi Kevin-

    great post as always, I would like to try to keep my geraniums for next summer- should I take cuttings now for winter blooming, (I’m now obsessed with the idea of red geraniums on the Christmas table), but then also cut back the mother plants and pinch off any winter blooms to make sure they bloom again next summer?

  21. KimH says:

    Awesome! Thanks so much! Looking forward to doing this your way this year. I’ve been bringing in a giant geranium and a giant leggy scented geranium I’ve had for years.. I love them but they’re such a pain to find homes for in the winter… This should fix that!
    Thanks a mill!

  22. Beverly, zone 6 eastern PA says:

    I want to know about that knife you are using to slice the rootball! It looks enormous. Be careful! The medium sized knife I use in the garden was removed from a parolee arrested by my husband many years ago. This knife had a secret compartment hidden in the handle, presumably to hold contraband of some sort. I have abused this tool at length and it still does the job. I’m going to look for it now to work on my geranium, and don’t get in my way.

  23. Rebecca says:

    I’m lucky. I am in SW Colorado (13,800 ft elevation) and my geraniums are quite happy on the deck from mid-June to mid-September. Then, I take them with me to southern Arizona and they spend the fall and spring there on my patin. During the “winter” months in Arizona, they are either covered well on the patio or join me in the kitchen. I constantly make new plants from these.

    In 2002 my Mom visited us in Colorado and brought me a pink geranium from Ohio. It is still thriving and since she passed away in 2012, it is a nice on-going reminder of her.

    Geraniums were a “welcome” gift when people moved to these Rocky Mountain early mining towns; ladies would take a flowering start to a newcomer. They will bloom all winter if kept in a sunny window.

  24. Maria says:

    Thank you so much! I have always wanted to winter over my geraniums and this year I have a very special one that my Mother loved on. Mom passed away 1 1/2 months ago and while I am so sad, she still inspires me. Thank you for also inspiring me today.

  25. Maria says:

    Oh, my question is, at what point do you bring them indoors for the winter?

  26. Maria – Good news for you. Through propagation efforts, your mother’s geranium will live forever.

    Beverly – I use that big serrated knife for all my “plant surgeries.” But I want the knife that you have. A secret compartment in the handle? Cool.

    Hi Maria – I bring mine indoors at the end of September, and before frost. And please stay tuned — in a week or two, I’ll do a complete post on the garden-to-house transition.

  27. Yael says:

    Great article. I’m going to try this technique. I am wondering if the same procedures might work for bringing potted rosemary and lavender here in Alaska. They are beautiful on my deck, and I have been unsuccessful in transitioning them inside before.

    Thanks!

  28. Jarie says:

    Thanks so much for the steps by step propagation method for geraniums, Kevin. Looking forward to giving it a try.

  29. Thanks for the info to locate scented geraniums, and all the tips on enjoying geraniums all year.

  30. Carol says:

    Thanks Kevin–I will definitely try your method. In the past I’ve overwintered geraniums by uprooting them and keeping them in a paper bag in the garage, then repotting and cutting them back in March, keeping them on a south facing windowsill until last frost. This works fairly well–sometimes–but your method sounds even better. And we get to enjoy them all winter long as well :-) Your blog is a highlight of my week.

  31. LB says:

    Great article. I have tried rooting geraniums in the past with mixed success. Rot was my biggest problem. I never tried letting them get a callus but I will definitely try that this year.

  32. Oriane says:

    Bonjour Kevin,

    This is an excellent tutorial.

    I’d not been able to keep geraniums alive past May here in AZ (probably because of the heat) but will try your method starting in late March/April when the plants are still strong and temperatures below 100.
    I had some beautiful dark pink geraniums that ended up on the compost pile this year.
    Love scented geraniums too but haven’t been successful with those either.

    I’ll share a tip I read in Mother Earth news: if you do not have chards/gravel for the drainage hole on your pots, used coffee filters work well and can be dumped on the compost pile ( I use non bleached filters).

    Lastly, what a beautiful photo of the moth!

    Comme toujours, merci.

  33. Naomi Shelton says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this tutorial, Kevin. I love the “frugality” aspect of it! Free plants for next Spring! All the things you teach and tell us about on your web-site are not always new ideas, but ones that have somehow fallen by the wayside in our hurly-burly, faster-faster culture. I like reviving some of the simple, economical practices of youre. Thanks for your help in doing so. Have a wonderful week. Play as much as possible!

  34. Behold says:

    I’ve been doing this with my geraniums for a few of years now and it’s great to have plants ready to go in the gardens the following Spring. If your plants get a little leggy over the winter, go ahead and take more cuttings and pot them up too. This will help the plants get bushier and give you even more plants.

  35. Sara in Indiana says:

    Thank you, Behold, for sort of answering my question about pinching for bushiness–I guess Kevin did not see my question or did not think it was worthy of a reply (too bad I am not Joan Crawford!). Your idea of rooting what you “pinch” off is even better in that you will end up with more flowers. Thanks!

  36. Sara – So sorry I missed your question! With cuttings, I pinch out the first new growth to encourage branching. As for the ivy-leaved geranium, or Pelargonium peltatum, I’ve overwintered this one many times. Give it the same treatment as described above — remove most of the top growth, and an equal proportion of roots. Then repot in fresh mixture. You can root cuttings of this fine plant, too. Cutting back any of these plants will cause new side-shoots to form.

  37. Sara in Indiana says:

    Thank you, Kevin.

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  39. carol says:

    Hi Kevin

    Thanks for the geranium-rooting tips :-) I’ve become so lazy with my lovelies that I’ve been rooting some of them in yogurt cups full of water–which also makes me a mosquito breeder. Time to clean up my act!

    I’ve purchased lots of different varieties of “smellargonium” online from “Hobbs Farm & Greenery” in Maine via http://www.hobbsfarm.com/. Be sure to have a look-see…

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  41. Susie – Your wish is my command.

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  43. Laura B says:

    I just thought I’d share a few sources of scented pelargoniums (geraniums) I’ve ordered from scentedgeraniumsofne.com in the past with good success. I have recently discovered geraniaceae.com and have read glowing reviews of them. They have an amazing selection of scenteds and other pelargoniums and geraniums, including some really lovely blue varieties. Their plants are said to be suprrisingly large and well-established, sometimes blooming when they arrive. Colonialcreekfarms.com of Georgia also looks like a good source of scenteds.

    I have several scenteds struggling along in their pots. Would mid winter be a bad time to prune them down some?

  44. elaine says:

    Thanks to your helpful tutorial, I now have lovely white geraniums blooming in my windowsill on this dreary January day!! I am going to share some with friends on Valentine’s Day. I took both cuttings and divisions of the plant. I found much more success (and blooms) with the cuttings. Thank you so much for brightening my winter windowsill!!

  45. Laura says:

    Hello Kevin,

    I just found your website! Beautiful layout and clear instructions with gorgeous photos! I was wondering why my overwintering geraniums get yellow leaves at the bottom (usually) of the plants. I just pull them off, not a big deal since the plants always grow more shoots. The blooms are great color and brighten my environment two to four times during the cabin fever months. I have these in pots in an east window and water them once per week. I also have the glass water globes stuck in the soil, one or two per plant depending on its size. Do you think I’m giving them too much water? Or, maybe the window area is too cold during winter-time. We heat our home with electric heat and a wood stove.

    I am excited about reading more on your site. Especially about overwintering petunias, which I had no idea you could do until last year when an acquaintance mentioned to me that she does it every year. My only problem would be space if they need a lot of light. Thanks for the great tips!

    Laura

  46. Hi Kevin,
    Just read through your geranium tutorial. I am looking forward to using these steps mid august. My only question is: once the geranium is cut back etc and re potted in August, do you keep the plants outside, or bring them inside.
    Thanks for clarifying for me.
    You are awesome,
    Susan

  47. Hi Laura – Yellowing leaves can be the result of several factors, including too-low humidity, too much or too little water, not enough light, or a lack of nutrients. In your case, I suspect both desert-dry air and over-watering. Provide moisture only when the top inch of soil looks and feels dry (stick your finger in the soil to be sure). To boost humidity, I’d set the plants on a tray of pebbles and water.

    Hi Susan – Here in (cold) zone 5-b, zonal geraniums are not hardy. Consequently I bring them indoors in mid-September.

  48. Gail Gordon says:

    Thank you for this post. I have four ancient (15+) years old mother geraniums. I have successfully grown many plants by cuttings from these four. I have several rooting right now. However, these four ladies needed to be propagated and I knew there was a method but I had to really search for your site. You described it exactly as I remembered it. Since I live in NM and receive plenty of winter sun, I too overwinter my plants. Thanks for refreshing my memory.

    Gail
    Tijeras, NM

  49. Brandy Hovonick says:

    I have done this several times and it does work. I have geraniums that get super tall and gangly, and cutting them down and repotting them gives me lots of new plants. I have found though that housebound geraniums do not do well being put back outside as they get acclimated to sun exposure and regulated temps. So once I bring them in, in they stay.

  50. Susan L. Golden says:

    A day late and a whole pile of geranium cuttings short! I couldn’t figure out what I had done wrong when my cuttings all rotted, but obviously letting the bottom scab over was a step I didn’t know about! However, I do NOW and I have all sorts of plants I bought this year that will be donating cuttings for attempt #2! I haven’t too much space in the house for larger plants near windows, but I want to use them for next year, rather than start over with all new plants. Minimal flowering is ok as long as the plant lives. As usual, Kevin, you are a life saver for those of us on limited gardening budgets, trying to keep our plants alive (fighting fungus with milk is on this afternoon’s agenda) or create new plants from those we have (I am drowning ~ delightfully ~ in African Violet ‘plantlets’, thanks to your tutorial). I also have a new window shelving unit (copy cat that I am) that I built which has brightened up my blah center dining room window now that it is FULL of blooming African Violets! What would I do without you?! Thanks so much Kevin!

  51. Perveez jamaji says:

    Hi Kevin, your tutorial for the geraniums is really helpfu,I have geraniums that were bought in1988 that still bloom. From the two I bought I made eight new plants. The old ones get leggy and don’t produce many blooms, still I take them indoors in winter, and keep them in a sunny window. This time I am trying your method, cutting the root ball in half and rejuvenating the the old uglies. This year I bought two orange ones that are new, and are beautiful.I shall try propagating more of those much to my husband’s consternation, we live on the outskirts of Montreal, the summers are too short, but I bring in lots of plants indoors, keeps me busy and happy in winter .this year I have caladiums and a big beautiful colius grown from a cutting from my friend’s plant. I do not have a big window garden like yous . By the way it looks lovely andthe plants seem happy, what is that little blue plant on the bottom shelf? I have always wanted blue in my garden, but the blue perrienials are too short lived. Iwant some plant that will bloom all summer long. I guess that’s it. Thanks for your blog, I do enjoy reading it. Please also later on post something about roses. This year was not so good for my roses. Thanks and bye.
    Perveez, Veez for short.

  52. Hi Veez – Blue plant on the left side of the broad sill is hydrangea. Tricky to grow indoors, since it demands water every time you turn around! Good luck with your geraniums!

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  54. Perveez says:

    Hi Kevin so happy to see that you answered my question. Thanks for naming the blue plant. Iwould not have thought it, as it is so blue , almost indigo blue. I must tell you some time about my never blooming ‘endless summer’ hydrangea.bye now.
    Veez.

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