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March Mania

Fielding Questions: Cutting back geraniums, a rough year for rabbit damage on trees and moving rhubarb

A reader asks Don if this geranium should be cut down again in March. Special to The Forum1 / 2
Don Kinzler, Growing Together and Fielding Questions columnist. The Forum2 / 2

Q: I’ve had the geranium in the photo since 2008. It grows outside in the summer, and I bring it in to a south bay window over winter. In the fall I cut it down to 3 or 4 inches, which I usually do, and it came back nicely. It’s blooming beautifully, and I know we’re supposed to cut them down now so they’re nice and bushy when it's time to put outside, but is that for plants that weren’t cut back last fall? Should I cut it down again now? Last year I didn’t do the March cutback, and although I placed it outside gradually, the leaves either got too cold or got sunscald, and the entire plant did not do well. — Tracy Price, Reile’s Acres, N.D.

A: Great question. Geraniums that winter indoors benefit from cutting back twice: once in the fall when brought inside, and again in early March to prepare them for the upcoming outdoor season.

Geraniums bloom most profusely on stems that are young and vigorous, rather than stems that become old and woody. Cutting geraniums back to 3 inches above soil stimulates fresh new growth that blooms better and prevents stems from growing old and woody.

The cutback is especially important in March. If a large, unpruned geranium, with all its winter growth, is moved outdoors, they usually don’t perform as well. If pruned in March, geraniums will branch nicely and be ready to move outdoors in mid-May. This is also the time to begin fertilizing and repot, if needed. Transition them outdoors first in wind-free shade or filtered shade for five to seven days. If exposed to outdoor sun too quickly, even for short periods, the leaves tend to burn until they gradually become accustomed to outdoor light and air.

Q: Rabbits have girdled my 3-year-old apple tree with the high snow levels. The area of missing bark is about 12 inches wide. Is there any way to save the tree, or should we just get rid of it? — Tammy Jasperse, Moorhead.

A: Rabbit damage has been severe this year, as snow levels have given them easy access. Whether a tree can survive depends on how far around the trunk the damage extends.

If the chewed portion circles all the way around the trunk of the tree, or a majority, then the tree likely will die. If the damage is vertically 12 inches, but extends only a little bit in circumference, then the tree might survive and heal. Unfortunately, there’s no treatment that allows chewed trunk tissue to recover.

Q: When spring finally arrives, I’d like to move my rhubarb plant to a different location. In the past, I’ve always divided rhubarb in the fall. Can it be moved in the spring? — T. Anderson, Bismarck.

A: There are two successful times to move rhubarb plants. The time-honored month is September, similar to peonies, after one or two light fall frosts. The next best time is early spring, just as the new growth is barely peeking out of the ground. The least favorable time to disturb rhubarb is from mid-May through August, when the plant is actively growing.

If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler at All questions will be answered, and those with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.