Sunday, January 9, 2011

Overwintering the pelargonium geraniums

In the garden I've planted various perennial hardy geraniums (cranesbills); I have two scented geraniums in large pots (Pelargonium quercifolium "Royal oak" and Pelargonium capitatum "Attar of roses"); and in both the garden and at home on our balconies I have a number of the traditional balcony pelargonium geraniums.

Each of these members of the Geraniaceae family needs different treatment to survive the winter in the latitude where we live.

Hardy geraniums are, as the name implies, perennials in Central Europe and can just stay put through the winter, although some of mine made it through their first winter better than others.

Pelargonium geraniums cannot survive outside, and up till now I've just let them die and replaced them in the spring. The city of Mannheim sponsors a geranium market each spring in the city's central square, and we enjoy purchasing new petunias and geraniums for our balconies there each year.

This year, however, I really liked some of my pelargoniums, both the brilliant red ones on the balconies and a small bed of variegated ones in the potager (sorry no photos), and felt bad about just disposing of them on the compost heap. Secondly, a dear elderly gardening friend of mine was very keen on imparting her knowledge of overwintering geraniums to me. So I consented and here's the method she taught me:

The first step was to remove the plants from their pots/beds before frost set in and place them in cardboard boxes indoors. There they were to remain until the earth on the roots dried completely and the plants themselves became limp and "floppy". This took a couple weeks.

The next step was to shake all the earth out of the roots, clip off any overly long roots, break off all the blossoms and strip off any dead or wilted foliage. The result looks like this:

This makes rather a mess, and a pile of earth and foliage is leftover, so be sure you do this on newspaper!

After this, the plants are carefully packed in several layers of newspaper, and then sealed with packing tape. 

Thus prepared, they can be stored in the cellar or even, in my case, in the unheated garden cottage in a cupboard, until spring. They need no water or light until then. In the spring they are replanted in their pots or in the ground whenever it's reliably warm. Here that's the end of April or after the "frost saints" in mid-May.

Scented geraniums also cannot survive the winter outdoors and are simply left in their pots and placed indoors in a cool, frost-free place and watered very sparsely until spring. Because of the consistency of their roots, the "packing" method doesn't work with them. This is unfortunate, as it takes up much more space to store them. I was able to store 15 "packed" geraniums on a small shelf.

I know from browsing and books that there are other methods for overwintering geraniums, but my gardening mentor has been using her method successfully for over 60 years, and that inspires absolute confidence! 

I am looking forward to having the rose-scented geranium next to the swing again next summer,

and to having the oak-scented geranium next to the birdbath in the potager (the oak-scented one didn't bloom much, but the foliage was very strongly scented). I had it there in hopes that it would discourage mosquitos from using the birdbath, although changing the water every day was certainly more effective.

I'd love to hear about the methods anyone else uses for overwintering their various kinds of geraniums.


  1. I am just way too lazy. I have geraniums in pots and I keep them in the basement, still in the pots under fluorescent lights. They get a bit leggy but I just hack them every few weeks. I can also use some of those prunings to propagate new babies, if I am feeling ambitious.
    I like the idea of the newspaper method. I will have to try that too.

  2. Hi Rosey, my problem is that we don't really have an appropriate basement for storing pots of things, so I was glad of the newspaper method. Sometimes it's possible to split the plants at the roots before storing them, that's evident when it's the case.

    1. Hello Barbara, hope you're still there, gardening and blogging in Germany. I found your beguiling 'saving pelargoniums in newspaper parcels' post from 2011 last autumn when looking for a practical way to store some white pelargoniums that had been so spectacular in window boxes at the front of my house in London that I couldn't bear to just throw them away - normally I'd treat them as annuals. I followed your instructions, stowed the sealed packets in the tiny outdoor shed where the garden chairs live and forgot about them. Until today, when beautiful early spring weather tempted me outside to start tidying my little back garden and spread bagfuls of organic top dressing on the borders, The strawberries, also from last year's window boxes, had survived in a corner where I'd planted them any-old-how in a couple of big plastic pots, so they are now individually potted up in fresh compost ready to go back in the window boxes next month. Then I found my pelargonium parcels. It's too early to start coaxing them back into growth outdoors, but I'll be doing it sometime in the next month anyway. If it works I'll be thrilled, if it doesn't, well, it cost nothing and took little effort. Just wanted you to know your blog is appreciated!

  3. Hi Barbara. I love the photos and instructions on over wintering pelargoniums. I have some I like to keep each year also. I have even hung them by the roots in the basement and leaving them dormant in pots there also with some good results.They are often forgiving of my attempts to keep them. LOL! I have never tried your method of packaging them up in newspaper but I will next year for certain.Pelargoniums are a summer favorite of mine for planters and containers. Thanks!

  4. So etwas ähnliches habe ich auch schon mal versucht, genau aus denselben Gründen wie du.Ich hatte Pelargonien mit dreifarbigen Laubblättern, die ich sehr hübsch fand. Allerdings habe ich dabei nur die Wurzeln in Plastiktüten gepackt, leider sind sie dann vertrocknet, vermutlich war wohl der Raum, in dem ich sie überwintert hatte, doch zu warm. Aber die Variante mit dem Zeitungspapier kannte ich noch nicht, das ist einen Versuch wert, zumal so ein Rat einer erfahrenen Gärtnerin immer sehr hilfreich ist!

  5. Dear Barbara, This is such an interesting post! I did not know of this method of storing Pelargoniums. I simply put the pots on my windowsills. I do not have so many as you however. Good luck with all of yours!

  6. I will try this idea next Fall for sure. I did bring in my favorite, trimmed it back and now it is blooming in my sunny window. I'll post about it on Gardeners Bloom day January 15th. Thanks for the great idea.

  7. Now you make me wonder ... I prune my scented pelargoniums and leave the bits as mulch. Lying on the ground? And those bits bloom and grow. There is enough moisture stored in the stem. Feel as if they are laughing at me! Would be worth at least trying your newspaper method. If they are cool and breathable they can hibernate.

  8. Dear Barbara, I always intend to store my pelagoniums over the winter - I don't have a suitable sunny window - but always leave it too late and the frost gets them. I have copied your method and put it in my clip file. I would like to try this next year. Thanks. P x

  9. Like you, I have always leave my pelargoniums to die with the first hard winter freeze. I am excited to try your newspaper method to save them next fall. Thank you for this!

    Each spring, I search our nurseries for the beautiful, red cascading geraniums that I remember from when I lived in Heidelberg in the 1970's. None of the ones here live up to my memory of Germany ... though I try every year to find something. Upright, zonal geraniums are most popular and available here. How wonderful it would be to attend the Mannheim market!

  10. I really enjoyed your post, Barbara. Since I've started garden-blogging I've learned so much, but this is the first time I've seen this suggestion. I usually keep them on my deck until they are struck down by frost and have to be thrown on the compost pile. I thought about bringing a couple indoors for the winter & seeing how they'd do in their pots, but I just didn't get to it in time. It would be a fun experiment to try this next year, just to see how it works out. And in the case of a very favorite pelargonium, it is quite a miracle! Thanks for sharing your friend's tried-and-true method!

  11. Barbara, thank you for the information on storing the pelargoniums. Definitely I will try that.

    My aunt used to stop watering her geraniums, left them in the pots, cut them back partially and then stored them in a cool unused bedroom for the winter. Early spring she would begin watering a little...

    A happy and healthy New Year to you Barbara and may it be filled with many blessings.

  12. Dear Barbara, it's a very useful post. I see, on my blog, that many people try to find info how to overwinter pelargoniums. They will find your article very helpful. My own method is very similar. I don't use newspapers. When we had a basement, I hung plants (they looked like yours) upside down on wire hangers. Now, I just store them in a basket in the garage. I also keep several plants in their pots in the garage, watering just several times during winter season. Not all the plants survive through the winter. Your friend's method could be more reliable. Thanks again!

  13. We've usually left our pelargoniums in the pots too - then come spring they are cut right back and if the tops are OK cuttings are taken. Must admit I don't mind too much if they don't survive as I like to have a change.

    I do want some hardy geranimums for the front of the house - preferrably colourful, not too tall and flower for a long time any variety suggestion?

  14. Dear readers, thank you for all your comments, which I really appreciate and enjoy.

    Tatyana: The newspaper method is ideal, I think, for people with little garage/basement space and/or lots of geraniums.

    Di: It was fun doing the packing project with my old friend and making a social event of it.

    Jan: Yes, I finally made the effort partly because I had some favorites this year.

    Hartwood Roses: Thanks so much for your comment and your memories of the hanging geraniums in Germany. I think Germany is the geranium capital of the world, with Alsace being a close second - and of course Alsace is a pretty Germanic place.

    Pam: I hope the method works for you. I'll report on my success in the spring.

    Diana: Wow, I didn't know it was that easy to propagate pelargoniums, will try. Yes, I think breathable is the advantage of newspaper.

    Green Lane: I haven't been very happy with my hardy geraniums and am on the lookout myself for some recommendations. At least slugs leave them alone.

    Meredehuit: I'll be watching for your Bloom Day post.

    Carol: So glad I could report on something even experienced gardeners like you didn't know about!

    Sisah: Bisher hat alles gestimmt und funktioniert, was diese Gartenfreundin mir gezeigt hat. Das sind die wertvollsten Tips, da hast Du Recht.

    Hocking Hills: I've also heard of the hanging method, but don't have the right space. Some of my pelargoniums were planted directly in the ground, so just putting the pots indoors wouldn't work.

  15. Do you think this method would work on dragon wing begonias as well? I have a begonia that I've been overwintering in my sun room each year but it's gotten so large that I barely have room for it now.
    I'm definitely going to try the newspaper method with my pelargoniums next fall!

  16. Great tips Barbara, I've never tried overwintering Geraniums, but it looks quite straightforward!

  17. This just amazing me. I have seen similar ways to overwinter geraniums....found you through blotanical.

  18. Here we don't have to worry about winter damage to plants. We worry about the monsoon and rainy season. So glad to see your beautiful garden and your are always full of great ideas.

  19. Or when night frost happens earlier get it inside.

    Then its overwintering in the window-sill.

    In december - January, Ill cut them untill the stems are about 10 cm, and ill water it once a month when i think about it. :o It will grow again when the spring is nearing and the light returns.

    I tried this for the first time in the winter of 2009-2010 and i got a huge geranium of half a metre wide and high in summer.

    This year i am trying it again with the same plant.

  20. Here in Southern California we just leave them in their pots or in the ground as our winters are so mild. I think this is such and interesting idea though and will keep a copy of this just in case I move to a colder climate. I really enjoy reading your blog.

  21. Liebe Barbara, sehr hilfreich Dein post! Ich sollte es vielleicht auch mal ausprobieren mit dem Überwintern der Geranien, denn immerhin kosten sie inzwischen doch eine kleine Stange Geld, wenn man viel von ihnen braucht. Zu Deiner Frage im letzten post - ja, es ist ein Storch. Eineige von ihnen überwintern bei uns, da die Futterlage ganz gut ist. Warum soll man da noch nach Afrika fliegen?! Herzliche Grüße von Luzia.