Goodnight, Sweet Geraniums . . .

IMG_3447I did one of my least favorite preparing-the-garden-for-winter chores this week. I cut back my geraniums and put them in the dark for the next 6 months.

The whole process of putting gardens to bed in the fall makes me sad. All those beautiful annuals, which gave so much all summer, go to the compost pile. The perennials, some still doing their best to produce flowers, get cut way back.

I’m not going to tell you how I talk to the plants as I cut them back and consign them to compost. It’s a little embarrassing. But it does make me feel better, to reassure them that they were wonderful.

The geraniums, for me, are the most difficult. They still look so completely fabulous, in the traditional red and this crazy-pretty salmon color.

IMG_1025The only thing that makes me feel better is that, with a little luck, some of these plants will survive the winter and be back, better than ever, next summer.

Most people who really garden know that geraniums can be over-wintered. When we lived in a house with a proper basement, I could count on the geraniums every year. I would just cut them back, including getting all the blooms off, and put them in the basement. It was cool in the basement, but not cold, and they got a little light, but not much. I could throw water on them if I thought they were excessively dry but, mostly, I just said “Hi” when I went down to do laundry. When spring started to come around, I’d start watering and give them more light, and all would be groovy.

But now I live in a house with only a completely lightless crawlspace beneath. It stays pretty warm, it stays pretty damp-ish, and it’s 100% pitch black. We don’t really go down there at all, all winter. I sure wouldn’t want to spend 6 hours down there, let alone 6 months!

When we first moved here and I realized I had no place to properly over-winter the geraniums, I decided I’d just stick them in the crawlspace and see what happened. I figured they would die but they were going to die anyway, if I left them outside. I was sad, of course, especially about the salmon ones because I’d had them for a few years at that point; we were old friends.

When the plants came out of the crawlspace that first May, it was a kind of horrifying sight. They were alive but looked undead, kind of the albino-vampire-zombie version of geraniums.

IMG_2871 IMG_2866The stems were completely white and spindly, very leggy, like they were desperately trying to find some light, any light. I couldn’t imagine these pale pretenders ever looking alive again.

But we’d come this far together so I cut off the dead stuff and the really spindly stuff, I watered them and I put them in a warm, sunny spot.

And, slowly, the most amazing thing happened. The stalks became hot pink and little green leaves sprouted.

IMG_3005Then, they became gorgeous again.

IMG_3446I guess it’s not really all that amazing. We probably all have a story about nature bouncing back against all odds. But these geraniums, and their will to flourish, sort of symbolize what spring is all about to me.

So, in the fall, as I put the geraniums into their lightless prison, I think about spring. And I think about my own winter, hunkered down in my warm, cozy house, with the geraniums sleeping beneath me. I think about how we’ll all keep a low profile for the winter and reappear come spring, very pale, craving the sun, but ready to thrive!

IMG_3439

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31 thoughts on “Goodnight, Sweet Geraniums . . .

  1. I think I know how you feel. I always thank Mother Nature out loud for my beautiful plants and than I try to feel I return the favor by making compost the leftover of the summer abundance. But it is with heavy heart! With so much love for your plants it is no wonder they bloom so gorgeous.

  2. Wonderful post. I especially like the sleeping geraniums beneath your warm cozy home this winter. We are fortunate that we do have a basement. This year I just could not let my geraniums go, so in they came. It is cold down there but should not freeze. Just in case I bought some grow lights for my plants. So sad this morning, temp was 26 and the outside plants were frozen.

    • We haven’t had a hard freeze yet but the outside plants are struggling. I’m glad you have a plan for your geraniums! It’s like keeping a little bit of summer on hand!

  3. I talk to my plants all the time, especially if I have to cut them 🙂 But, your post was fascinating to me because we don’t have to put our geraniums to bed. They die back in the garden and then, come spring, they shoot forth with new leaves and blooms. They are incredibly hardy but, of course, we don’t experience your type of cold. We get frosts and a little snow from time to time. If I did have to winter my plants I would like to think of them tucked cosily underneath my living quarters 🙂

  4. I hear you about closing down the garden, but here is what I do with my geraniums – I don’t cut them back. I bring them in in full flower and keep them in a sunny window all winter. I do as you do about the water, and they bloom for several months before dying back, at which point I do cut them back. So next year, if you have a sunny spot indoors, try it and see what happens. there is nothing prettier than a bright red geranium looking out the window on a winter’s day. Wish I could do that with more of the flowers that are out there blooming like mad. :- )

    • Thanks for your suggestions! One of my issues is that we don’t have a lot of sunny spots and we have a TON of houseplants so I have to make choices. I did keep one geranium, with very pretty bright red and green leaves, out of the cellar, just to enjoy.

  5. I’m amazed how we both are doing similar activities as we prepare for winter. On Saturday I potted a geranium plant and brought into the house. I have vague memories of people keeping geraniums over the winter when I was a child–and I think they would take cuttings from the over-wintered plants in late winter and root them to start new plants. I plan to do a post of this next year if it works; however, the plant doesn’t look very good right now–and I had doubts about whether it will work. This post gives me hope. Thank you!

  6. You hit a note with me. I struggle with saying goodbye to my summer plants but especially the geraniums. Our winters are so harsh here, sometime I feel like I barely survive. I usually bring in the herbs and a few others but pretty soon we end up with no counter space.

    • We have the same problem–not enough space for everything we’d like to save. I have a big table full of cuttings from coleus and a couple other things. I hope my geraniums make it!

  7. We just had our first hard freeze of the year last night (waaay earlier than usual), and I’m sad that all of my pretty flowers are now officially dead or dormant. I didn’t plant geraniums this year, but I have in the past when I didn’t have anywhere to store them during the winter months. Now that I do, you have inspired me to try them again in the spring! 🙂

  8. I never heard about this. My mother loved geraniums. She said they were hardy. I planted a row out front and keep a big pot on my deck where I can see it when I’m at the kitchen sink. Maybe I’ll give this a try and see what happens.

    • Oh, do! If you have a cool space with low light, you will almost certainly be successful. And my experience shows that it can work with a FAR less congenial setting.

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