KENNEWICK -- We waited so long for our growing season to start and now many of us are anxious to bid it adieu.
Months of watering and grooming annual plants becomes tedious as the production of flowers begins to wane.
It's easy to say goodbye to many of the annuals. They will be relatively inexpensive to replace next year, but garden geraniums are a costlier item.
Frugal gardeners have found several ways to "recycle" or overwinter their geraniums for growing again next year.
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One way is by taking cuttings of the desirable plants and starting new ones. Use a clean, sharp knife to take stem tip cuttings that are 4 to 5 inches long. Remove the leaves on the lower half of the stem and then dip that end into rooting hormone. Rooting hormone products stimulate rooting and can be purchased at garden stores. Stick the treated end of the cutting into pots filled with moist perlite.
These should be placed where the humidity can be kept fairly high. You can use one of those little plastic "greenhouses" sold for growing transplants from seed or just use a zippered plastic bag as a "greenhouse."
Check your greenhouse periodically to make sure the perlite is still moist and that none of the cuttings are rotting. Remove any rotten cuttings. Place the greenhouse where it will get lots of light, but no direct sunlight. If heavy condensation builds up inside, open it up a bit to air it out and then close it again.
If all goes well, the cuttings should root in about five to eight weeks. Once the roots are at least an inch or so long, remove them from the greenhouse and plant them in individual small pots with a quality potting mix. These should be placed where they can get as much sun as possible. As they get larger, pinch out the growing tips to encourage branching.
Another way to overwinter potted geraniums is to cut the tops back to a height of six inches. Place the pots in a box, cover the plants with sawdust, and then store the box in a cool (40 to 45 degrees) area. The soil should be slightly moist, not wet, when you box up the plants. Periodically check them and add water if needed to keep them from shriveling.
One method I don't recommend involves digging up the geranium plants, shaking the soil from the roots, and hanging them upside in a cool basement. This can work if you have a cool, humid (80 percent humidity) basement, but this situation is seldom found in most homes today, especially in our region.
An alternative to this method is digging the plants, gently shaking the soil from the roots and placing them individually in large paper grocery bags. (Recycle!) Store the bags in a cool (45 to 55 degrees), dry location such as an unheated bedroom. Once a month take the plants out and soak them in water for a couple of hours. Let them dry off before returning them to their bags.
In early spring (March or April) these bare-root plants can be potted up after shriveled stems and dead leaves are removed. Place the pots in a sunny spot to encourage new growth. After danger of frost has passed, they can be planted outdoors.
If you have garden geraniums you just don't want to part with or you want to save some money next season, why not try recycling your geraniums this fall? Make sure you get this done before the plants are damaged by frost.
* Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for the Washington State University Benton County Extension Office.