To Cherish or Perish

By Julie Barnes

As we start to wind down our gardening year it can be difficult to say goodbye to cherished plants that brought us so much joy. Carrying them in and treating them as houseplants can take up a lot of room and possibly infest indoor plants with unwanted pests. Yet, plants we know as "annuals" can be over wintered for years in a small amount of space. This works for plants that are actually tender perennials and not for true annuals such as zinnias or marigolds that flower, set seed, and die each year. Now is the time to decide whether there are plants you want to preserve for the next gardening season. I offer ideas, and, if you experience success, the outcome can be very rewarding. Before the first frost, dig up the particular plant you want to keep. Pot it up in fresh potting mix, water well, cutting the stems back by half. Then, bring the plant inside, and place it a cool, dry, low light location where it is to remain for the winter; a place that does not freeze and temperatures climb no higher than 58 degrees –a cool spare room or basement. Gradually taper off watering in order to force the plant into semi-dormancy. Here, most of the leaves will drop. Water only occasionally and make sure that the soil does not dry out completely in the winter. When the weather starts to warm in spring to about 60-65 degrees, start to acclimated the plant by moving it outside in the shade. If temperatures become too cold at night be sure to bring it in. Be vigilant until the weather becomes consistently warm. Fertilize and remove dead growth. Below are plant examples that should respond well to this:

And, for those of us who want to bring back beloved Pelargoniums or geraniums, the above approach works, but, you can also try an alternate means:

This process is considered to be a bare root type of storage common to those who had root cellars in the past. It entailed digging up geraniums in the fall, shaking off dirt and storing them in the winter by hanging them upside down in a consistently cool environment. The goal was to keep the plants from becoming too warm or frozen. Then these tough plants would be restarted the following spring.

Before the first frost, unearth the geraniums that are growing spectacularly now. Shake the soil from their roots and dry them for a few days in a shady area to avoid mold or mildew during storage. Remove dead material and leave healthy leaves attached to the plant as you place them with their roots pointed upward in a cardboard box or paper bag. Loosely close the top to allow for good air circulation. The supposed logic behind this is that it forces moisture downward into the stems. Keep them in a cool, dry location at about 50 degrees. Check on the geraniums at least once a month. Cut off mildewed or moldy areas from the stems and remove fallen leaves from the box or bag. Make sure the stems are firm. If the stems start to become withered, soak the plant roots in tepid water for a short time, air dry, then place them back in the bag or box. Around 6-8 weeks before the last frost date, remove the plants, snip back the long roots and cut back the stems to healthy green growth. In a container with pre-moistened plant mix place the stem where two leaf nodes are below the mix. This is where new roots will emerge.

So, are you up for the challenge?