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Native Geraniums Grow as Far North As Dawson
by John Harmon
September 29, 2002

With the snow moving steadily down the local mountains and below freezing temperatures at night the only things that are doing well outdoors in the garden these days are the blackflies! The miserable little %$*&^$#*'s make any work outside a blood letting experience. Lifting bulbs or any other work is twice as hard trying to avoid these nasty little bugs.

I've had a number of requests for information about saving geraniums over the winter. Some varieties of Cranesbill geraniums are native to the Yukon. Three to be exact, the most common of which is Geranium bicknellii. This variety is an annual and found from Newfoundland to Eastern Alaska as far south as the Northern U.S. and as far north as Dawson. The other two, Geranium erianthum and Geranium richardsonii, are perennials and considered rare even though some can be found around Mayo. These geraniums won't need any help wintering over. There are some imported varieties of perennial Cranesbill geraniums that will also survive the Yukon winter with some mulch or some other protection but any of the others will need to be wintered over indoors.

Here’s some information about methods of wintering over geraniums from the Cooperative Extension of Indiana, Purdue University, and U.S. Department of Agriculture, provided by Michael N Dana.

Geraniums and a number of tuberous flowering plants will not survive winter temperatures. However, they can be lifted from the garden and stored indoors, or, in the case of geraniums, carried over as actively growing plants indoors. For actively growing plants use artificial light.

Geraniums form no resting structures (i.e. bulb, corm). Thus, they must be carried over winter as stem and leaf tissue which is either actively growing or dormant. This is so despite the recent development of geranium cultivars which come “true” from seed. Certain cultivars, notably most of those with double flowers or variegated foliage, must still be carried over the winter.

Cuttings: The cutting method requires taking tip cuttings or slips before frost or from your container plants. Select the desired number of 3- to 4-inch shoot tips and strip off the lower leaves. Dip the cut end in a 1:1 mixture of rooting hormone and captan wettable powder. Geranium cuttings should be taken well before frost when the plant is still actively growing. Use a clean sharp knife and remove lower leaves prior to sticking in rooting medium.

Stick the cutting in a rooting medium of coarse sand or a mixture of coarse sand and sphagnum peat moss (1:1 by volume). A flower pot or wooden container which holds 3-4 inches of rooting medium and has drainage holes is sufficient. To allow air movement and prevent the rapid spread of disease, separate the cuttings so they do not touch. Water the cuttings thoroughly.

Cover the container with a plastic bag and place in a north or east window out of direct sunlight until rooted, which should take 3-4 weeks. Apply a protective fungicide spray (captan or benomyl) prior to covering. It is better to keep the cuttings and rooting medium somewhat dry to decrease the chance of disease. If rot of cuttings appears, drench rooting medium with Terraclor plus captan. Apply according to label directions.

After the cuttings have rooted, place each in a separate pot and set in a well-lighted spot. preferably a south window. For flowering, geraniums need at least 4 hours of direct sunlight every day. If you're not interested in flowering, less brightly lighted locations are satisfactory to maintain growth or use florescent lighting.

Dormant Plants (Hanging Method): Prior to frost, dig geraniums or remove from containers and carefully shake all the soil from the roots without damaging the roots. Hang the plants upside down in a cool dark place where the temperature is 45- 50 degrees F and the humidity is low. Cool, dry basements are ideal.

During winter, take the plants down monthly, soak the roots in water for 1-2 hours, and apply a protective fungicide spray of zineb or benomyl. This helps to keep the roots from drying out and to prevent disease. Most of the leaves will dry and fall during the winter. After frost danger in the spring, cut the plants back to about 1/3 of their original height and plant in the garden or containers. Water and fertilize as for other bedding plants.

If you can stand the blackflies it's time to mulch plants in for the long dark and don't forget to give any outdoor plants a good soaking with water just before it freezes up to help protect the roots. With a little luck your plants will survive and send up new shoots eight months or so form now.

John Harmon owns and operates Tropicals North. Write to John at The Real Dirt, c\o 211 Wood St., Whitehorse, YT., Y1A 2E4 or e-mail


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