Spalding Guardian Gardening 18 August 2011
I had a press release recently from a leading pelargonium nursery regarding overwintering bedding geraniums (or zonal pelargoniums, to be strictly accurate). Well, as this year is fast disappearing, I guess it wonít be long before weíre ripping up our summer bedding and sticking in the pansies and wallflowers again. I also guess that there arenít many of us who are keen enough on their pelargoniums to want to keep them from year to year, as every season new and often more interesting varieties are introduced, and itís perhaps cheaper to discard them in the autumn, rather than keep the greenhouse (if you have one) frost-free for up to seven months of the year.
I tend to keep mine for a couple of years Ė the first in pots in the greenhouse; the second, when they are much better developed, in various containers in the garden, where they make an almost instantaneous impact. Then they go the way of all my bedding plants. But Iím not a pelargonium buff.
At Stamford High School, our caretaker lovingly tended a collection of boring, spindly, scruffy, red geraniums over the coat hooks on the high-up window sills of the Lower and Upper Foursí cloakroom. During the summer, they were watered regularly and copiously (in winter less often but nonetheless just as copiously), which meant that our sports kit was constantly sodden when we came to wear it. It may be this, or it may be this tenuous connection between this and physical exercise, which wasnít my favourite subject at the time, that has rather put me off red geraniums ever since, unless they are fat and bushy, with heads the size of a manís fist and pretty patterns on the leaves.
It was the condemnation of Ďold gardenersí ways of getting pelargoniums through the winter in the press release that niggled me a bit, however. The writer was deriding such time-honoured methods as putting your geraniums in boxes and keeping them in the garage, wrapping them in newspaper and putting them under the hedge, or bunching them together and hanging them upside down in the attic.
Well, since I started my gardening career, Iíve worked for a good many people, many of whom using one or more of these ways of preserving their geraniums from year to year. The garage method, I have seen, works quite well if the area is well ventilated and a little just-damp soil remains on the roots. The under-hedge method is equally successful unless we have a winter like last year, and the bunching technique will ensure the survival of up to 70 per cent of plants if they are two years old or more Ė although the lady I knew who did this hung them in a semi-basement rather than an attic.
So, with only another eight weeks or so before you need to make a decision on what to do with your geraniums, time is of the essence. However, unless you have a massive area to fill or a sentimental attachment for your plants, it all seems rather a waste of time to me, when new plants are widely and inexpensively available in the spring, particularly plug plants for growing on, which, in the case of pelargoniums, often need no extra heat once potted up. After all, part of the fun of gardening is trying something new every year; it is for me, anyway.
This piece originally appeared in the Spalding Guardian