It was supposed to be “first frost” night in north Texas a couple night ago. Just like kids coming down to see what Santa left them, I rushed outside to check if my uncovered geraniums survived their night of peril. Now that they have proven themselves worthy, I will probably try and stretch their life out a few more days/weeks. My interaction with geraniums was not always this way. When we lived in Ohio, we handled them completely differently.
In Ohio, geraniums seem to really grow! Texas heat has made an exception to “everything is bigger in Texas”. We planted 3 geraniums here. They grew, but they certainly were not full. In Ohio, geraniums were usually planted after the last frost. (Rarely later than 5/15. And, if the weather from 5/5 looked good, we would often plant them earlier. If we committed to covering them if a frosting occurred, we might even plant them a few weeks before the last frost.) We usually planted a few new geraniums. Our little trick (Actually, my grandmother’s trick. She did about what we did, but she wintered hers in a dark corner of her basement.) was pulling geraniums from last year out of the basement and seeing which ones could be reincarnated and brought out of their winter slumber.
It has been a few years, but this is what I remember us doing:
- After providing the geraniums as much time as possible by covering them a few times during the weaker nights of frost, we determined the freeze was coming that could not be survived. (Or, we were going out of town and didn’t want to risk it.)
- I dug each of the geraniums, shook the dirt out, and set them down on a piece of newspaper in the garage. I let them dry out for a few days or weeks OR until I remembered.
- I then hauled them downstairs and let them winter in a dark corner of the basement. If I was a good voodoo practitioner or Dr. Frankenstein, I would mist the roots of my subjects to try and get them to not dry out so much that the roots were brittle. (My grandmother was much more committed to the project. In her dark portion of the basement [almost the size of an entire room w/ no window wells or windows], she had “clothes lines” stretched from one side to the other of the room. She would attach the geraniums to the line w/ the roots side up. She would have already pruned most of the green off of the top of the plant (the bottom when attached to the line). She would periodically mist her roots and play “plant whisperer” with them. [Whose a good full geranium? You are! Who loves the Miracle Gro? You do, don’t you? Who thinks you are the prettiest geranium on the whole street? I do.]
- Somewhere in April or early May, I would find the nasty spiderweb friendly part of the basement where i deposited my precious-es. I would bring them outside and put them in a bucket of warm water. They would soak awhile and hopefully provide some clear clues that they still had life dwelling within them.
The mortality rate was high. If I got over 50% of them coming back, I was happy. Of course, the true mortality rate was not apparent until they were in the ground for a couple of weeks. The biggest did not always survive, and the smallest were often pretty spunky. We did have one of the geraniums that survived multiple years. (maybe 5?) He was wide and had an attitude. Fortunately, he backed it up with beautiful, endless blooms….once he recovered from his amnesia.
When we moved to Texas, our geranium collection did not make the trip with us. I was sorry to see them go. (I didn’t really see them go. It just wasn’t practical considering the many miles and the happy years they gave us. Unfortunately, they likely ended up in a trash can rather than dying in the ground as the full moon beamed down upon them.) Fortunately, although Texas is not fond of geraniums, it does allow amaryllises to stay out all winter long. So, although it is not a completely fair trade, I will enjoy the blooms I am given!