Growing flowering Pelargoniums and geraniums in Alaska
Even though one of my favorite flowers, Pelargonium, is a zone 9-10, does not mean I am not going to grow them. Since we are a zone 2, 3 or 4 (depending on your location and elevation in the Eagle River-Chugiak area), you can grow them in pots or transplant them in the garden and dig them up and bring them in the garage over the winter until next season. A friend of mine, Verna Pratt, got me started on these beauties with a single cutting encouraging me that it would grow. Verna would be proud of how that one plant cutting she gave me became eight as they were furthered propagated and shared.
Originally from South Africa, Pelargoniums produce umbels of flowers in many colors. They are divided into several major groups including: Angel, ivy-leaved, regal, shrubby-leaved, unique, zonal and scented.
The angel pelargonium (P.crispum), is very floriferous and a strikingly beautiful evergreen tender perennial with small rounded leaves and pansy-like single flowers. This geranium is similar to the regal types but more compact. Leaves are sometimes scented.
Ivy-leaved or cascading geraniums (P. peltatum), are compact, trailing evergreen perennials with fleshy, green, ivy-shaped leaves on long lax stems. Single flowers have five petals and are perfect for hanging baskets where it can create a waterfall effect.
Zonal (P.hortorum), have round leaves with frequently a dark band or zone. This geranium has flowers of showy, spherical clusters that stem up about the foliage. The flowers can be bi-colored.
Regal or Martha Washington (P. domesticum), have large flowers that resemble azalea flowers in single or double. The foliage is light green.
Pelargoniums are usually grown as annuals, but can be wintered over if you want to keep them. Some are wonderfully fragrant and can exude aromas of rose, lemon, nutmeg and a peppermint scent. These plants should be deadheaded to help them to produce more flowers.
Not being able to let my geraniums die in the ground this past fall, I dug them up and repotted them and placed them in the garage for the winter. So far so good, this first-time science experiment worked well and they are greened out and ready to be planted outside again.
The experts say to cut them back one third and only water them once or twice per month — in other words, way less than you would normally. If you have a window in your garage, that would be helpful, otherwise you can provide them with artificial light. We keep our garage heated to only 45 degrees and this seems to work well. My geraniums got very little light and did just fine.
Another way to overwinter geraniums is to dig them up, brush the clumps of dirt off them and treat them like a bulb. Hang the geraniums upside down in a cool dry place and spray the roots twice a month. Evidently this method is a little trickier than potting them up. Let me know if you have had success with this method, I am very curious if this would work in Alaska because of our dryness.
To propagate more geraniums, you can take cuttings from the tips of your larger plant when it becomes too leggy and plant the cuttings into a pot and water thoroughly. Make sure the pot has good drainage to help reduce rot. Place this plant in a bright location.
Most of all, it is fun to make more plants and keep our beautiful plants alive in the fall because we can. It is nice that the ones placed inside will also keep blooming by an inside sunny location.
My daughters give me hanging baskets every Mother’s Day and at the end of the season these beautiful pink geraniums in the center of the baskets were potted up and placed in the house in the light and have literary tripled in size compared to the cold garage versions.
Now is the time to harden our Pelargoniums outside on these cloudy warmer days to enjoy another season. Good luck and enjoy your Pelargoniums, as they can be more than just annuals in Alaska if you give this overwintering trick a try.
Chris Wood is a certified master gardener from Eagle River. Write to her at [email protected].