A Gardener’s Diary: Geraniums can thrive indoors

It's time for the annual fall clean-up for Okanagan gardeners and Jocelyne Sewell offers a few tips

Growth has been slowing down a lot now that the days are much shorter and the nights much colder. One night last week, it went just above freezing in the back yard. Nothing was damaged but it means that it is time now to do clean-up. I am sure that we will have more nice days but every year I get caught having to rush to finish chores.

I have yet to finish planting my tulips, garlic and spraying my plants with insecticidal soap before bringing them in the house. Most of my geraniums are in the greenhouse and I should do that on the next sunny day.

If you have gladiolus bulbs in your garden, allow foliage to die off naturally in the fall and dig up before the first frost. Cut off stems within one inch (2.5cm) of the bulb and allow bulbs to dry in the sun. Store in a cool, dry place over winter. Replant in spring. I put my bulbs in mesh onion bags and hang them under the stairs in the basement.

I had more phone calls about overwintering geraniums. I dealt with that subject last year in my column of Oct. 3. Here is a repeat of what I wrote:

Geraniums actually make decent houseplants, if you can provide them with lots of bright light. They like a cool temperature. A bright west or south facing window or grow lights are crucial. Just don’t keep the plants too close to a window that gets a draft.

Bring your plants indoors before the first frost. Check your geraniums closely for signs of insects or disease. Dig and pot up healthy plants and prune them back by about 1/3. Give them a good dose of water when you first bring them in, then allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Geraniums seem to like a little drought stress; it keeps them blooming more frequently.

Keep an eye out for the usual indoor pests like aphids, spider mites and fungus gnats. If your geranium is happy, it will continue to grow and bloom, although not as well as it does outdoors in summer. If it looks like it’s struggling to stay alive, consider letting it go dormant until spring. A cool, unheated basement is ideal for storing dormant geraniums. And this is one time when a slightly damp basement is a plus. You want a storage spot where the geraniums will stay cold, but above freezing, where they’ll remain in the dark and where they won’t dry out completely. There are two approaches, potted or bare root:

Potted Storage: Pot up your geraniums and allow the soil to dry out. Cut the plants back by about half. Top each plant with an overturned paper bag. Store in a cool, dry location. Check every few weeks to make sure the plants are not shrivelling or drying out completely. If they are, spray them with water or slightly water the root area. Allow the plant to dry off before replacing the paper bag.

Bare Root Storage: Dig your geraniums before the first frost. Cut the plants back by about half. Shake off as much soil as you can from the roots. Either hang the plants in a cool, dark room or place them in paper bags. If you opt for the bags, don’t seal them tightly. You want some air to circulate. If you opt to hang your geraniums, make sure there is enough space between plants for air to circulate around them.

For more information: 250-558-4556.

Jocelyne Sewell is an organic gardening enthusiast in the North Okanagan and a member of Okanagan Gardens & Roses Club. Her column appears in The Morning Star every other Wednesday.