By Julie Martens Forney
One of my favorite winter gardening projects starts in early fall: taking cuttings of scented geraniums. I’ve practiced saving geraniums over winter for years. My favorites are the scented geraniums. Growing these fragrant plants gives my indoor winter garden a fresh blast of summer. Brushing these plants and savoring the scent is a real pick-me-up on snowy days.
I’ve been taking cuttings of this citrus-scented geranium for easily 10 years. The plant I bought never had a tag. I chose it for the scent and pretty leaves. When I save geraniums I use a simple method that works with all types.
Take Stem Cuttings
Starting stem cuttings is a space-conserving way to tackle saving geraniums over winter. Instead of trying to save a huge plant, I root stem sections into 4-in pots. Select a stem section that’s not woody and not too young. This type of stem is called half-hard—harder than new growth and sturdy enough to stick into soil. Take cuttings several inches long with a few leaves, cutting just above a leaf. Snip more cuttings than you need in case some don’t make it.
Remove lower leaves and pinch out the tiniest new leaf. To allow cut ends to harden, let cuttings sit exposed to air overnight or in a closed plastic bag. These actions prepare the cutting to direct all growth toward new roots.
Stick in Soil
Fill 4-in pots with a soilless planting mix that’s thoroughly moistened. With a screwdriver make three holes in the planting mix, and slip one stem into each hole, firming soil around each stem. If you have rooting hormone, dip stem ends into it before planting. I’ve found that rooting hormone helps most when you don’t have a root zone heat mat to warm soil while stems root.
Grow ’Em Bright
Place cuttings in the brightest light you can. Keep soil moist but not overly wet. I’ve rooted geraniums on a cool basement windowsill, by a room-temperature patio door, and in a sunroom. Higher light produces the fastest rooting, as does providing bottom heat—setting pots on a root zone heat mat.
A root zone heat mat gently warms soil and, for me, always yields the fastest results. It’s my guarantee for saving geraniums that are notoriously hard to root such as peppermint-scented geranium. How do you know when cuttings are rooted? Some people dig up a cutting or tug on the stem to see whether there’s resistance underground. I watch for new leaves to appear. That’s the surest sign rooting is underway.
Once cuttings are fully rooted, they push out new leaves, which brings bright color and scent to my indoor winter gardening. As spring arrives, growth really takes off. Transplant cuttings into a larger pot—or not. I rarely do.
My geranium-saving efforts pay off in mid-May, when I tuck young plants into a 14-in pot. I shorten stems by half to two-thirds at planting time, removing any leggy growth. Three weeks after planting, plants look gorgeous. By the end of summer this potted citrus-scented geranium grows 3 feet high and almost as wide. It’s one geranium worth saving each winter.