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Don Kinzler, Published August 23 2013

Growing Together: Grow your own geranium plants by root cutting

I’ll make a confession if you promise to keep it just between you and me. I suffer from OCGD, or as I like to call it, Obsessive Compulsive Gardener’s Disorder.

Nowhere are the symptoms more obvious than in my production of 400 geranium plants each year from cuttings started now and grown throughout the winter under lights in our basement.

Needless to say, I think highly of geraniums, which are a colorful staple for pots, planters and window boxes. At $5 each, our geraniums would cost $2,000. My family would never spend that much, but it makes me feel good thinking about the value.

A workable quantity of plants for people more normal than me is a dozen or so geraniums. Late August and early September is the ideal time to root cuttings that will grow into next spring’s geranium plants.

Let me pass along a technique that works well. Cuttings are taken soon from existing plants, kept outside in a protected area until they root, and then potted up and brought indoors before the growing season ends.

Materials needed

Recycled greenhouse plastic cell-packs work well. Other small pots will work, just not too large. Containers should be sterilized with one part bleach to 10 parts water, and then rinsed in plain water. If sanitation isn’t practiced, cuttings are more likely to rot before rooting.

Next we need media. I’m not talking about newspapers, radio or TV. In this case, media is the potting mix. My best success has been with equal parts peat moss and sand, mixed well and moistened.

Taking the cuttings

Depending on the size of your “mother plant” a geranium that has grown outdoors all summer can yield anywhere from 12 to 20 cuttings. The ideal cutting is about 3 inches long and taken from the tips of the geranium branches.

Snap the cuttings off by hand right below a leaf joint. Knives or shears can spread rotting organisms to the cut surface.

Remove any blossoms and flower buds from the cutting. Remove all lower leaves, allowing only the top two or three to remain. At this point, some gardeners let the cuttings sit for a few hours to heal the open end surface. Lightly sprinkle with water to reduce wilting.

Rooting

Add the premoistened peat moss-sand media to your cell-packs or small pots.

“Stick” the cuttings by making a pencil hole in the media, insert the cutting, and gently firm the media around the cutting’s base so it doesn’t wiggle. Insert only about an inch of the cutting into the media.

It’s best not to use rooting powders or hormones with geranium cuttings, though these products are helpful with other species. Geranium tissue can be damaged by these products.

Next, water the cuttings gently and lightly. Then find a good location to keep the cuttings until they root. The natural atmosphere outdoors in late August and early September is very favorable. The perfect location is close to the house in a wind-protected spot receiving a filtered mix of sun and shade. A little morning sun is fine but avoid the hot afternoon sun.

The most difficult part of the process is gaining a “feel” for proper watering of the cuttings during the two weeks that it takes to begin rooting. If the cuttings are overwatered by keeping continually soggy, they can rot. Frequency will depend on location, but cuttings usually need a light sprinkling every other day. Watch the media as it goes from dark and moist to light and dry. It is much better to err on the dry side with geranium cuttings.

Check the cuttings

It will take a week or two for rooting to begin. Avoid the temptation to jerk up on the cuttings to see what’s happening, which can easily destroy new little roots. If you must satisfy your curiosity, use a pencil to gently lift the cutting out of the media and then replant immediately.

When new leaf growth begins rooting has usually occurred. Remove any flower buds as they arise. New cuttings are too young for such activity.

Potting

When the individual cell-packs are filled with fresh white roots, the cuttings are ready to pot up. This usually takes about four weeks from the date you first take the cuttings.

We use Miracle Gro Potting Soil and 4½-inch square plastic pots or 5-inch clay pots. If the pots are too large, the cuttings will be overwhelmed. Water well and move indoors. How to grow geraniums indoors during winter is topic for another day.

By next spring you’ll have beautiful home-grown geraniums. But I must warn you about the gardener’s obsessive disorder I mentioned earlier. It is highly contagious and commonly contracted by reading gardening columns.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler’s Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at forumgrowingtogether@hotmail.com