Q: I have four huge geraniums that cost me $10-15 each last spring. They’re doing really well and I would hate to see them killed off by the winter. I read about overwintering the roots. Here is my situation: I have a very warm house — basement is developed and the walls are insulated concrete. There is no cold room. My garage is detached and not heated. Things get very cold in there.
I contemplated saving the root ball in the fridge, but I am afraid it will take up too much room. I also thought about keeping the root ball in the van (which I park in the garage) but it gets driven around daily so it would warm up a little. How would you recommend I overwinter them?
A: Geraniums can do well as houseplants if you can provide them with a cooler location and lots of light. Try putting them in a bright room with the heat turned down. Cut them back as you do normally when you first bring them in and pot them in potting soil.
Geranium overwintering tips (for plants overwintered in pots):
– If you are growing the plants as houseplants ensure that they have bright light conditions.
– If the plants are getting leggy don’t be afraid to pinch them back into a desirable shape. Try to increase the light, either by placing them in a bright window or through artificial light.
– Apply about a half teaspoon of a general garden fertilizer, such as 5-10-10, every six weeks to each six-inch pot or one-quarter teaspoon of 20-20-20. If you use a liquid fertilizer or any other than described above, follow the manufacturer’s directions. Apply more than this rate in the summer and less in the winter.
– The best plants are produced in well-drained soils supplied with adequate amounts of water. A common misconception in geranium culture is to withhold water. This can result in stunted plants with poor production of flowers.
– Plants are best grown in containers with bottom drains. Water should be applied until it runs out the bottom of the container. Always water plants thoroughly and do not repeat the process until the soil feels dry to the touch.
Q: Another infamous husband and wife conundrum for you, since I know how much you love these. We live on a 40-acre parcel and have several birch trees that are dying. They are bushy with leaves on the bottom and some of them are actually suckering out with baby birches. The fact that the trees are dying is not in dispute.
One tree in particular is the source of contention. It is very tall and is probably not something we could take down ourselves. One of us wants to hire an arborist to do the job and the other wants to leave the tree as is, since it is like a beautiful piece of white sculpture amidst a sea of green. We would appreciate your thoughts.
A: I actually really enjoy these questions and get a kick out of reading them. Many years ago I wrote a column on leaving dead perennials uncut during the winter. The snow and ice hanging on the dead plants looked very aesthetically appealing in the garden setting. I don’t see any difference with your question and situation.
I do like the look of white birch and it can be pleasing to the eye even without the leaves. Now, having said this, if the tree is very tall and is close to where it could fall and hurt someone then the opinion would be to take it down. If it is in a safe location I would leave it up. How’s that for sitting on the fence?
One final comment: Birch are notorious for having shallow root systems. If you are losing so many of them the chances are very good that they were not getting enough water. You might want to think about getting more moisture to them somehow. Good luck and happy gardening!
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