Answer: One way to over-winter geraniums is to take cuttings and root them in early fall. Geranium stem cuttings (slips) should be about 4 inches long. Take the slips from the tips of the healthiest stems. Remove the leaves on the bottom 2 inches of the cuttings. Place the cuttings in coarse sand, perlite, vermiculite or a well-drained potting soil 2 inches deep and water thoroughly. The cuttings will root faster if you dip the ends in rooting hormone powder. Place them in a north or east window or underneath artificial lights until rooted. This generally takes three to four weeks. After the cuttings have rooted, plant them in individual pots and put them in a well-lighted spot. Keep the soil evenly moist and fertilize lightly every four to six weeks once new growth appears.
Another option is to pot your best geraniums and bring them indoors for winter. Cut the plant back to about one-third its original height. Carefully dig up the plant, and pot it into a 6-inch or larger container. Water thoroughly and put it near a sunny window.
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An old method of over-wintering geraniums is to dig up the plants, shake excess soil from their roots, then hang them from your basement rafters. Most basements are too warm and dry now, but some people still have success with this method. If you try this, take the plants down occasionally and place the roots in water for several hours. Then, hang them back up. Do this several times over the winter to prevent them from drying out completely. Pot your geraniums in early spring, and put them in a sunny window until the danger of frost has passed
If you have containers of geraniums, you can bring them in too. Bright light is critical for geraniums — low light results in spindly plants. Put the plants in your brightest window and keep the soil on the dry side. To promote bushier plants, pinch the growing tips of the plants a few times during the winter. Don’t fertilize until you are ready to put them back outside in the spring.
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Dear Master Gardener: How do I protect my new fruit trees and honeyberry bushes during the winter from all the destructive critters with voracious appetites?
Answer: It can be exasperating trying to grow fruit trees and shrubs when you have to spend so much time and effort protecting them all from deer, rabbits, voles, woodchucks, and other hungry mammals. Before the ground freezes, the U of M recommends taking the following measures to protect your fruit plants. To exclude rabbits and other small mammals, use a loop of sturdy small-gauge wire mesh at least 1.5 feet tall. If we get a lot of snow (which we often do) it should be even taller to exclude rabbits that feed atop the snow. The cage should be wider than the tree or shrub inside it, to give the plant growing space. You can hold the bottoms down with three landscape staples. Deer, of course, feed higher than rabbits, so the exclusion material should be taller and the gauge of the wire can be wider. A 5- to 6-foot-tall metal cage is recommended around young fruit plants and it should be sturdy enough that deer cannot trample and get caught in it. Annie Klodd, a U of M Extension educator, uses bendable rebar wire frames called remesh. It comes in sheets or rolls and is sold at home improvement stores. You will need wire cutters to cut it and one metal stake per cage to keep it from blowing over. She recommends using both the short, small mesh and the taller cage to prevent feeding by both squirrels and deer.
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Spend some time over the next couple of weeks emptying your compost bin. Spread finished compost on your gardens, and turn it into your vegetable beds.
If you would like to prolong the season as long as possible, spreadsheets loosely over cold-intolerant plants such as coleus, begonias or impatiens. This will trap the heat stored in the ground overnight and prevent frost damage. Sometimes plants protected for one or two nights will keep growing and blooming for several more weeks.
Plant tulips and daffodils according to package directions. Laying chicken wire across the soil where you planted them will prevent squirrels from digging them up. Use landscape staples or rocks to hold it down. You can cover it with mulch to hide the chicken wire. Remove it in the spring when the bulbs begin to emerge. Don’t add a smelly organic fertilizer such as bone meal because the scent attracts skunks, dogs, cats and squirrels. Flower bulbs already have everything they need to bloom.
Light frost is not harmful to all garden plants. Cabbage, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi develop milder flavor when exposed to frost.
Apples will be OK with a light frost as long as you don’t handle the fruit while they still have frost crystals. It’s a myth that apples need frost to develop good flavor. Pick them as soon as they’re ripe.
Wait to cut back perennials until their foliage is damaged by frost. As long as they’re green and healthy they will continue to photosynthesize and store energy in the roots.
Empty and clean outdoor containers when the plants are no longer attractive. Outdoor freezing and thawing cycles can crack or break almost any type of pot. Add the soil to your compost pile or spread it around your gardens. Once your containers are clean and dry, protect and store them in the garage or basement.
Don’t worry if your evergreen trees and shrubs lose their innermost needles in fall. It’s normal for inner growth to turn yellow or rust-colored, then drop to the ground. These are the oldest needles and new ones will develop at the branch tips next spring.
Before temperatures drop in the 20s and snow covers the ground, cover strawberry plants with clean straw to protect the crowns. Straw insulates better than leaves. Insulate any container-grown strawberries or bring them to a protected area.
Northern hardy roses will benefit from a layer of leaf mulch over the root area — they need nothing more.
Box elder bugs and Asian lady beetles are plentiful this year! Fill a spray bottle with soapy water and spray them as they nap on your south wall on sunny days.
Reduce potential for snow mold next spring by mowing your lawn to a height of 2-1/2 to 3 inches until it goes dormant. Long grass left through winter will fold over under the weight of snow, forming humid pockets that favor the growth of snow mold.
Plant garlic after one or two killing frosts. Separate cloves a day or two before planting and plant them pointed side up in well-drained soil amended with compost.
Pick tomatoes and peppers and bring them inside as soon as frost threatens. Peppers won’t ripen further but they are tasty at any stage of development. Although they aren’t as flavorsome as when they’re vine-ripened, tomatoes will ripen indoors.
To minimize desiccation from dry winter winds, keep watering trees (especially evergreens) and shrubs until the soil freezes.
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You may get your garden questions answered by calling the new Master Gardener Help Line at 218-824-1068 and leaving a message. A master gardener will return your call. Or, emailing me at [email protected] and I will answer you in the column if space allows.
University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners are trained and certified volunteers for the University of Minnesota Extension. Information given in this column is based on university research.