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March Mania

Removing geranium blossoms, keeping cut flowers fresh and rabbit troubles

Don Kinzler, Growing Together and Fielding Questions columnist. The Forum1 / 2
A reader asks if they should remove the flowers from these geraniums. Special to The Forum2 / 2

Q: I’m overwintering my geraniums by my south-facing window. However, they are flowering like crazy. Should I leave the flowers, or remove them? — Ann Riley, Fargo.

A: Growing geraniums in a sunny window is a great way to winter them until they’re ready for the outdoor gardening season once again. Or they can be kept growing under fluorescent lights, as we do in our basement. It’s like having springtime in winter. Geraniums can also be kept in cool basements, where they have the ability to go semi-dormant.

To encourage geranium plants to become well-branched and stocky during winter, removing the flowers helps direct energy into sprouts, stems and leaves. But if the plants are bushy and vigorous, enjoying the flowers in winter is fine. On March 1, cut the geraniums back to 4 to 6 inches above soil level, and begin fertilizing every two weeks. Keep all flower buds removed as they appear, until at least late April. That helps force out fresh new growth as days become longer and light levels increase, making fresh, robust plants.

Rotate the plants regularly so they don't become one-sided or stretch toward the light. You might wish to raise the window shades all the way, as geraniums love the winter sun. By mid-May, the geraniums should be well-branched and blooming nicely for moving outdoors when danger of frost is less likely.

Q: Each year, my husband buys me cut flowers for Valentine’s Day. I always use the packet of preservative that comes with the flowers. When I need to add more water to the vase, I’ve heard you can add a little 7UP or sugar to the water used to refill the vase. Is that a good idea? — Judy M., Casselton, N.D.

A: The preservative that florists supply is specially formulated to help cut flowers last longer by increasing water uptake and reducing growth of harmful organisms that might block cut stem surfaces. Although 7UP might reduce the growth of organisms, and sugar might supply some saplike energy, the wrong proportions can do more harm than good.

Although homemade recipes can be found, using the florist’s preservative is the safer alternative for success. Before initially putting cut flowers in a vase, giving each stem a fresh cut can promote better water uptake and longer life.

Q: Rabbits are totally destroying my young arborvitae evergreen. There’s hardly any greenery left, and they’ve gnawed off the twigs back to stubs. Will it come back in the spring from the part that is left? — C. Hansen, Fargo.

A: Unfortunately, most evergreens, including arborvitae, don’t regenerate foliage on branches that have been chewed as severely as you describe. Last winter, rabbits chewed six of our young arborvitae, consuming branches on the way up as the snow depth increased, then finished the job on the way down, as snow melted. The shrubs required replacement.

Deciduous (leafy) shrubs have an advantage, because most have the ability to branch freely from the base if rabbits consume the upper twigs, or gnaw the bark. Damaged portions of lilac, dogwood, spirea, rose, hydrangea and other favorite rabbit edibles can be pruned back quite drastically in early spring, and most rebound fine, often better than before.

If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at or call 701-241-5707. Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.