How to tell if my Geranium is dead?

kelly_indiana(z5 IL)December 11, 2005

Hi all! I really hope you can help - I am desperate!

Here is a photo of what I'm dealing with:

NOTE: this is dead ringer for my plant - except mine has no mulch and is in a 12" plastic pot. You would never believe was a SUPER healthy giant-sized geranium/pelargonium only 2 months ago!


I bought this *gorgeous* pink hanging geranium from a supermarket 1.5 years ago (label just said "geranium" - sorry not sure if this is exactly correct) did GREAT hanging outside on porch in NW Indiana over the summer, it did GREAT with moving to a hot sunny loft in Chicago where it spent 10 months hanging near the heater and in front of sunny window, a few months after that it did GREAT moving with me to L.A. where it sat on a hot sunny deck all this past summer. Now it is Fall and we moved back to NW Indiana (South Bend, IN to be specific).

Starting October 1, Miss Geranium had to leave her sunny hot deck in L.A. and sit in a moving truck for a week - sit in storage unit another week (all in darkness) - then came out and we put her near a sunny window and began OVERWATERING her to make up for our "abuse". I know - that was dumb now.

In Oct, she seemed weak but ok. But come November she began looking VERY spindly, all her leaves began falling off, it was NOT pretty. Now it is VERY VERY DARK here in Indiana in November, compared to being outside in L.A. all summer - would this why she changed like this? Is it just a very bad reaction to this huge change and lack of hot sunshine?

Couple weeks ago, I read that sitting her on a pebble tray with water would help her condition by "adding needed humidity" - so I did that and she got worse (yes, I shoulda come to this forum first!!).

Yesterday, sitting on her pebble tray and looking quite pathetic, she had 3 spindly sick looking leaves left...I removed those very sadly along with some dead looking branches. I have finally learned to stop watering her (as of just last week). I drained all excess water out, no more pebble tray, moved her next to my giant Jade plant in a sunny window (or what passes for a "sunny window" here in very dark & wintry Indiana!)- and will only water her monthly like I do the Jade.

The soil is still REALLY moist tho (typical potting soil) - and is NOT succulent type soil at all. Should I repot with sand?? With succulent soil? Shouldnt she be kept dry like succulents?

Heres the REALLY bad news: some tiny black flying insects seem to be coming out of her pot! This started last week or so I think. They look like tiny black sewer flies. I've only seen a couple but I'm really scared that this may be "the end" for this beautiful plant.


Have I killed her? Is she dead? Is she rotting & in need of proper burial? Or is there still a CHANCE now that I've moved her to a sunny window and stopped watering the heck out of her? Some say that after doing this, they got back their geraniums within a few months.

Please give me hope! I moved this plant SO far and she has been SO great - I'd really love for her to make it SO much! Many thanks guys!!


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Kelly, with all what you did to the plant, I would not doubt the plant has suffered. But, strange things happen..and plants can adapt to hardship.....and without going into too much detail about how you cared for the plant, you might nick the stem...or a branch and see if there is any sign of moisture remaining.

Now....let's assume there is something there....and you are right, the light levels of Indiana and most of the United States, is at their lowest. The winter solstace begins on Wednesday...the 21st....and then the sun begins its long voyage back til June 21st

If you have a coldcellar, or a place in your basement...or an old unused refrigerator that you can set the temperature to about 40 - 50 degrees....then your plant can be looked on as one that wqill come back to how you saw it a couple months ago.

If you have such a place where your plant can go...and remain...untouched by human hands, your plant WILL COME BACK.
But, you must not water it, you must not give it any light, you must not give it any increased temperatures.

The plant will dry out.....completely. You might think to sprinkle it....DONT....the coming back can only be done if you leave the plant the coolness and in the dark.

Round about mid February to mid March, you then bring the plant back out into the light, clean it up, tear the roots apart, cut it back (yours wont need much if any), into a clean pot (clay is nice), with some fresh potting soil....
(have something in the pot to keep the soil up away from the drainage hole...shards, or stones ...whatever...
make a hole in the soil, put your plant in, firm it up...and water. Water it til drainage is seen in the saucer below. Allow full drainage. Then take it to the best sun you have....but north will not do...and do not water again until new leaves form.
When the leaves begin to show, you can begin to feed your plant...1/4 rate 20/20/20...every 3rd or 4th watering.
When you water, always water until drainage is seen...and dump the excess. Never leave your plant sitting in that drainage water.
As the leaves come on, you can increase fertilizer.
Depending on the amount of available light, the plant will begin to produce flower buds....and you should not be alarmed if they are slow in coming.....even to the day you put it outside. Bloom will come.

That's all there is to it....but it depends on you not pushing it to do something until mid February.

The other way is to treat your plant like a houseplant...pot it up...(make sure it drains well), water til it drains and give it the best sun...west or south.
No other exposure will do....not at this time of year.

Wait until new leaves form before watering again...and feed as above. This method can work for a plant in good health...yours may not have sufficient energy to do anything....and I suggest you seriously consider doing the "dry" method. It is safe, and it works.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2005 at 6:15PM
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kelly_indiana(z5 IL)

Thanks SO much DianeKaryl! And everyone!!
When I nick it I do see some light green-tannish color inside and moisture. I do have a storage room which is near the heater. It is outdoors but never totally freezes (probably is 40's to 30's in there most winter long) due to being located right next to the house furnace. Woudl this do as a place to "overwinter" it? This is sometimes called the "paperbag method" correct?
Yes now it is in West window indoors but doing absolutely nothing. I've been watering it right along but apparently I should not do that anymore so will stop.
Should I REMOVE the soil from roots before placing it in the bag (bare roots only)? Or shoudl I just take the plant, soil, plastic container and all, and put a bag round the whole thing and store it?
Your idea makes a ton of sense and is so much better than losing a gorgeous plant like this to my own neglect. I do really appreciate your help!!
Thanks again,
Kelly (aka Brown Thumb)

    Bookmark   December 18, 2005 at 8:20PM
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Kelly, no need to remove the soil at this time, that can be done in February or March when you decide to do the task of bringing the plant back after its winter sleep.

The bag method is a safe way of storage if you can ensure the plant never is touched by temperatures that could cause it harm. The bag must remain circulate air.

The inside wall of your storage room sounds like it just might do...the plant must not freeze. So to that, consider putting the bag into a large box and surrounding the bag with ...the name of the material escapes me...its bubble wrap...the stuff that surrounds electronic equipment when you purchase it...its light but does not attract heat or cold. This you can insulate the box with. Pour it in and surround the plant and cover it...put some even into the bag with the plant....but leave the bag open. Then a further wrap of packing material or burlap can be further added.

This should be enough...but if you still feel you wish to bring the temperature up from .....say the low 30' can put a light bulb...a bare light bulb above the box...close enough to give to the box some heat...but not too close. Incandescent light bulbs do get know that when you try to remove a bulb from the socket with your fingers....burny, burny.
But the light may just add a little to make the difference.
The light might used only when conditions warrant or possibly just during nighttime hours.

It does seem to be a lot of bother for a plant that maybe you could replace for a couple of bucks...I know that....but, like you, I have many geranium plants that I would not want to see harmed...and I go to extremes myself to keep them safe. Let's hope yours can be protected too.

As a matter of fact, I have suggested my approach to wintering over geranium to a friend who lives in southern Indiana...French Lick is the name of the town...and she suggested she will try it. She's always just bought new plants in the spring. We just sent out a Christmas card to her...85 cents to mail to U.S. We pay 50 cents within Canada...the number of cards does seem to dwindle each year the post office tries to make a profit at our expense.
Oh well...

Have a nice safe Christmas and a prosperous
New Year.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2005 at 3:16PM
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I know it's an awfully old thread but...

I have a geranium that is important to me. It used to be very spindly so I cut it back. The piece I cut off I tried to root with no luck. Now the remaining little plant's leaves which were just at the ends of 2 short stems have dried and shriveled and it might be too late. It's September in Ny just south of Lake Ontario. Is there anything I can do? Is it the right time of year to attempt the above post? I've attached a photo.
Thanks for any suggestions,

    Bookmark   September 15, 2013 at 12:54PM
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Sorry, but that plant looks very dead :-(

I'm not sure I can tell you why just from that photo, but geraniums (pelargoniums) are very low care plants. Perhaps you just babied a bit too much? It also looks like it is indoors. While these types of geraniums can be overwintered indoors like any other houseplant, they would prefer to be outside during the growing season/summer months. They are also extremely easy to strike from cuttings.

What kind of potting soil are you using and how did you care for the plant? More detailed information might provide more insight.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2013 at 2:22PM
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The potting soil is miracle grow. It's been a couple weeks since it's been watered and a few months since repotting. It never seemed to take off after getting a new home. The soil is not moist. I'm a little concerned about watering at this point due to not having any real green leaves. Could it have just died of thirst? This plant is over 5 years old and has spent most of its life indoors.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2013 at 2:55PM
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kelly_indiana(z5 IL)

Update here from my the OP - that original plant didn't make it but I DID discover the 'magic formula' for the common geranium that I've had for a few years ow, at least I think so. Hope this helps someone.

Remembering that I saw TONS of Geraniums blooming madly on outdoor balconie and stairs across Italy one summer reminds me they want: ITALIAN STYLE HEAT, ITALIAN STYLE SUNSHINE (real or faux!), a bit of balmy BREEZE, and let the rain take care of the rest - with only a bit of 'topping up' watering by me as needed.

Following your advice, we basically treat them now like our orchids....lots of bright direct sun from the south facing windows, never water unless they are BONE dry, a humidifer, fan and big CFL lights shining on them during the dark months of Nov-Mar. Then all summer, the orchids and geranium enjoy sitting on the front and back porches "drinking in" the sunshine and putting out crazy amounts of healthy leaves, big new branches, and beautiful blooms. This has helped me hugely in keeping Miss Geranium II alive this time aorund - I hope she'll have a long and happy live thanks to you all!

    Bookmark   September 16, 2013 at 11:21AM
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MiracleGro is about the worst potting soil you can use - doesn't drain well and far too moisture retentive. I really wouldn't be worried about watering now......unfortunately, I think your geranium is well beyond any watering help at this stage of the game :-(

I'm not really sure how living all of its life indoors affected the plant but it may have had an influence. Anything other than tropical plants need some periods of rest or dormancy to kind of recharge their batteries for another growing season. And that dormancy period generally coincides with cold weather or winter in the northern hemisphere. Keeping it indoors year round deprives the plant of that dormant period and this can have the effect of weakening the plant over time. Keep this up long enough and the plant will decline and eventually die. This is why even bonsai growers move their stock outdoors during the summer months - it is enough of a temperature swing from the uniformity of indoor temps to create at least a pseudo-dormancy.

FWIW, these are very inexpensive plants and easily replaced annually. In fact, they are almost always sold as seasonal color because wintering them over is almost more trouble than its worth to just repurchase as needed. Unless you are a plant geek or working on a very tight budget. Even then, they sell seed geranium starts in spring for less than a dollar!!

    Bookmark   September 17, 2013 at 4:42PM
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geranium is one of the plants that, while an annual, it can come back --as good as...or maybe better than, it once was.
With a healthy plant that can be put at a window that gives southern sun and treated as a houseplant and will serve very nicely.
Where the question of whether the plant is viable I think the best approach is to think spring......

put the what's left of it...into a cool basement where it can be put on a shelf...and LEFT ALONE....NO WATER....NO LIGHT...NO FOOD....just left alone......where temperatures are above 40 should never be allowed to freeze.
then round about the ides of February or is brought out, cut back to good tissue...about 4" high...given a clean pot with fresh potting soil--NOT GARDEN SOIL---put something between the drainage holes and the soil---so it drains well, place in a sunny window and turned every other day. It should, within a couple weeks, begin to form new leaves. Keep the soil on the damp side...never wet.
Its important to not let it be hit by air currents that change the temperatures too quickly.
Do not feed it...until it begins to grow...and then only as it requires it.
It will, within a month...six weeks, put on enough foliage to ensure its survival.
When its warm enough put it outside in the sunshine during daylight hours....back indoors at night....and repeat this until it has been acclimated to outside temperatures when it can go out....and stay out.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2013 at 2:49PM
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