Right light important in winterizing geraniums

I had several geraniums that I usually toss, but decided to save through the winter and try to replant next spring. I have them on a table in a room with a large window and lots of indirect sunshine. How should I care for them? Do I water them monthly or just when dry? Do they ever bloom over the winter? If they do bloom during the winter, will they also bloom next spring?

— Phyllis

The biggest challenge to wintering over geraniums is providing enough light for them.

It’s surprising how much less light there is in a brightly lit room indoors compared to even a shady spot outside. That’s more evident in the winter when the sun’s angle is lower and less light gets through the atmosphere.

You lose some light through the glass of the window plus you don’t get all the reflected light a plant gets sitting in the open outside. Geraniums really need a lot of light.

Contrary to the advice I usually give people about growing houseplants, you probably want these guys in the direct sun for a good part of the day.

Even though a geranium is a perennial plant (but not cold hardy for us), it will go through a semi-dormancy during the winter. It will keep its leaves, but it may lose a few and slow its growth down a lot. You may get some bloom, but it is usually sparse and sporadic (your geraniums will bloom just fine next spring).

You will need to modify how you water them. Indoors, you’ll have to water them a lot less often than you needed to outside. Part of that is because of the dormancy of the plant, but it’s also from the change in environment. Temperatures are more moderate in the house than outside, and humidity can be greater. This adds up to watering them deeply and thoroughly, just not nearly as often.

Poke your finger into the potting soil around the plants and check for some dryness before soaking them again. Fertilize them once or maybe twice a month with a good soluble houseplant type fertilizer as well.

Even doing all this right, you’ll often end up with leggy, spindly plants toward the end of winter. Providing them the light and the care they need will help a lot in this, but you’ll want to pinch back the plants (or even cut them back) three or four weeks before you plan on putting them back outside. This will encourage the plant to push out new sprouts, thickening the plant and giving it a running start.

We are trying to find out if paulownia trees work well in the Grand Valley. We live in Fruita with fairly hard clay soil.

— Velvet

Paulownia or Empress Tree isn’t common around here. I would consider them a bit marginal on the cold tolerance end of things, but I have seen some nice big trees in Fruita, so maybe I’m just being overly cautious. This tree grows extremely fast.

Empress Tree has beautiful flowers early in the spring. They’re a bright lavender purple and borne at the tips of the branches. Unfortunately, they often fail to bloom well because they set their flower buds the prior year and those buds can be killed by our cold winter weather.

Even without the flowers, I think the tree is worth considering. It has huge, fuzzy, heart-shaped leaves that lend a tropical feel to the yard.

Some people don’t train it as a tree in the yard but instead cut the plant down to the ground every year to re-sprout into a 10-foot tall shrub. It will never bloom if handled this way, but the leaves will become especially large, often 2 feet across.

This tree can be difficult to find at times, so call around or start with a small one you can get online.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, bookcliff
gardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or email info@
bookcliffgardens.com.


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