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Pelargoniums Need a Rest to Prepare for Winter

Pelargoniums are spectacular plans with beautiful flowers, but for best bloom, they really need a bit of a rest in fall and winter.

By Helen Wilson

Pelargoniums (Pelargonium spp, once called geraniums) that spend thet ball summers outside under the open sky naturally react to the coming of cold weather. It slowly begins to prepare for winter on its own. So, if you keep yours indoors all year, it may need a little help with this. What steps should you take to ensure that this tender perennial has a nice rest through the winter and blooms again the following year?

What to Do When a Pelargonium Starts to Shed Leaves

Red ivy geranium on a balcony railing.
Ivy pelargoniums are charming in the summer with their trailing stems and abundant blooms. Photo: cukugede, depositphotos

Pelargoniums have a long flowering period. Throughout September, the ivy pelargonium (Pelargonium peltatum) continues to decorate the pot with its blossoms. And the zonal pelargonium (P. × hortorum) delights with its blooms even in October. It’s a wonderful plant that, in mild climates, can still bloom outside down to about 50°F (10°C), despite the fact that the leaves have already wilted and withered.

Don’t rush the plant, though. Allow it to bloom. And after that, start preparing the plants for their winter dormancy period. Yes, they’ll still have a bit of one indoors.

When the leaves begin to turn yellow, dry out, and fall off, some people become worried. You don’t have to. It’s a natural occurrence. The plant has detected shortening days, normally linked to approaching cold weather, and is shedding its old leaves. Simply remove the wilted ones to give the still blooming plant a more attractive look. However, this is not the time of year to carry out fertilizations, treatments for suspected illnesses, increased waterings or any other activity with the objective of pushing it to resume the development of fresh green leaves. Pelargoniums simply require a period of rest at that time of year, indoors or out.

Pelargonium Pruning Before Winter

Flower box of red zonal pelargoniums on a sunny windowsill.
Give your pelargoniums all the sun you can… but don’t be afraid to prune them, Photo: manera, depositphotos

Many gardeners are afraid of pruning their houseplants. Or feel guilty about doing so. Don’t feel bad about pruning pelargoniums, though. Pruning will help them stay alive and well during the winter and rejuvenate in the spring.

What happens if you don’t prune your pelargonium? Well, it’s not going to die. However, the plant will begin to stretch due to a lack of light and heat under short daylight conditions. This makes it weaker. As a result, it will have fewer flower stalks, and blossoming will be limited. In February, when days are longer, you might try to correct the problem by fertilizing . . . but not in the fall or early winter.

Instead, it’s preferable to start well before that and use scissors or secateurs to complete the terrifying, yet necessary, procedure of pruning.

How Low to Cut, What to Remove, and What to Leave

Pruning can begin as early as the month of October. The deadline for pelargonium pruning is November.

Examine your pelargonium before cutting it. If it’s already a few years old, the differences between the shoots from different years will be obvious. Old woody shoots will be dark in color. This year’s fresh shoots are delicate and green. Shoots that are 2–3 years old are just starting to turn a dark green color with a brown tint. They are slowly becoming woody.

To thin out and rejuvenate the bush, cut off old shoots completely. Prune back younger ones to a height where three buds remain on each stem.

But don’t throw away pelargonium tops after cutting off early green shoots if you want to propagate the plant. This is a good part of a plant to root for cuttings.

In addition, if the plant is old and heavily branched, do some thinning as you go. To do so, cut off any older, weaker shoots that are preventing younger ones from growing and developing.

Pruning Young Pelargoniums

Young pelargonium with light pink flowers. Small pruners nearby.
Younger plants just need a bit of pinching. Photo:, depositphotos

Treat young plants differently.

Clip two-year-old pelargoniums at the height of two buds. Don’t prune very young and low plants yet. However, when they bloom and their shoots begin to stretch considerably, it is critical not to lose this opportunity. Because the time has come to pinch the tops.

Pinching will bring growth from the point of the plant to a halt. It will also stop it from expanding upwards. Instead, as the temperature rises, the shoot will branch out on all sides, forming a tidy spherical shape.

Other Seasonal Care

Leaving the subject of pruning pelargoniums for a second, remember to decrease watering in the fall and winter. It isn’t necessary to water as often at that season, as the plant won’t be growing as actively. Still, it’s important to keep an eye on the soil during the winter. Allow the ground to dry out thoroughly, then water well.

As for fertilizer, put that aside until abundant new grow in late February or March indicates it’s starting a new season. Then apply a phosphorus-potassium fertilizer.

This care should help you have stunning pelargoniums!

About the Author

Helen Wilson is a professional content writer at Essaypay where provides a “write my paper for cheap” service for students. Her main spheres of specialization are health, productivity, and self-development. Helen spends her free time in the garden, where she takes care of her favorite plants. Also, the garden is a place of inspiration for Helen.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

6 comments on “Pelargoniums Need a Rest to Prepare for Winter

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  5. A little late for me for this season, but have added pruning tips, etc. to my fall calendar. What do you mean by “root ball out” when talking about winter watering? Thanks.

  6. Re pinching tops. Where do you pinch? End of stem, where the flower is? Or base of stem?

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