Scented geraniums are rooted deep in the culture of herbal tradition, finding their prominence in 17th century homes freshening hallways and masking body odors. Think of them like Old Spice with flowers.
Their varied smell and relative growing flexibility make them a favorite amongst herb enthusiasts, and not only is their aroma inviting, but many types can be used to flavor your home and your food. For those especially interested in herb gardening, scented geraniums, or more accurately pelargoniums, were the 2006 Herb of the Year.
You may have heard someone speak of a plant as being a “tender perennial.” This means that that particular plant is likely to overwinter well, either by bringing it indoors as a houseplant or sitting it in a cool, sunny window in a garage to rest for the winter.
Geraniums can even be dug up or removed from their pots, shaken free of soil and hung upside down in a cool, humid place to encourage plant dormancy over the winter – but this can be a fairly difficult process to master, and you’d have to be willing to take the risk. Every few weeks, the roots should be soaked for a few moments in water.
Having said that, it’s important to note that most geraniums grown originally outside will do only moderately well inside your home. But with a little bit of determination and a couple bits of advice, you can enjoy these beautiful aromatic plants all winter long.
1. The single most important thing you must do when you transition outdoor plants indoors is to thoroughly wash them. When a plant is outdoors, even if it is infected with insects, it’s likely the pests will be kept in check by natural predators.
When you bring a plant indoors, you create a dry and warm environment ideal to most household plant pests especially aphids and spidermites, which are very likely to hitch a ride on your plants and pots. So use an insecticidal soap not only on the top and undersides of all your leaves and stems, but also on the soil surface and the pot itself.
2. If your geranium is planted in the ground, uproot it and plant it in a very normal potting soil, but one that doesn’t boast any kind of amazing fertilizer power, because you want your plant to have nutrients, but not be overfertilized. In most cases, you’ll fertilize your plants half as much in the winter as in the summer, because plants will naturally go into a dormant phase and fertilizer is more or less unnecessary.
Most potted plants will also need to be transplanted as they have depleted the nutrients in the potting soil you used at the beginning of the growing season. However, in neither case should you use garden soil.
3. For the winter, most geraniums will like a cooler temperature with ample humidity and plenty of light, so placing a tray of pebbles filled with water under your planter will help keep the moisture consistent. Make sure, however, that your pot is not sitting in the water, but rather elevated above it. To do this, you can fill a large saucer with pebbles and water, turn over smaller terra-cotta saucer, and set your pot and its saucer on top.
Or, if you have a sunny bathroom window, that would be an ideal spot to raise your geranium.
4. Finally, cut the geranium back to 1/3 its original size and plant in a pot an inch or two larger than the rootball to allow the roots to spread. If you do not cut it back, leaves, stems and flowers are likely to become spindly and make for a homely-looking plant.
While most will be successful using these tips, it’s important to understand that gardening is often just a gamble, and results will be impossible to predict. Do not be discouraged if at first you don’t succeed – just try, try again.