Make Your Annual Flowers Perennials

There's a freeze warning out tonight in Grumpy's neighborhood, which means his annual flowers are doomed. Or are they? Four years ago, Grumpy's wife bought a one-gallon, coral-pink geranium and planted it in a concrete planter by our front steps. It's still blooming. How can that be?

It's because there are two kinds of "annuals." The first are true annuals, like cosmos, larkspur, bachelor's-button, celosia, and common sunflower. After they flower, they set seed and die. This is genetic programming you can't change. The second are tender perennials we treat like annuals because of our cold winters. Remove the cold, give them winter sun, and they become perennials that you can enjoy for years. This is what we did with our geranium.

Come Inside, My Pretty

Fortunately, our garage has windows to let in sun and it stays about 55-60 degrees in the winter. So the geranium does fine. Oh, it'll shed some leaves because of the dimmer light, but I just pluck them off. Common geranium (Pelargonium x hortorum) has succulent stems that become woody over time. I've seen older specimens pruned into small trees. It needs very little water in winter -- just enough to keep it from wilting -- and zero fertilizer.

Achtung! Very important! (Turn off Hoda and Kathy Lee -- trust me, you won't miss a thing.) Before bringing any plant indoors that's spent the summer outside, closely inspect it for any pests, like aphids, spider mites, scales, mealybugs, or white flies. In close quarters, one infested plant could quickly infest them all. So spray the foliage thoroughly -- both upper and lower leaf surfaces -- with paraffinic horticultural oil or insecticidal soap (both are natural and very safe) to kill hitchhiking pests, their larvae, and eggs. When it dries, bring the plant indoors.

Other Annuals You Can Make Perennial

1. Angelonia 2. Begonia 3. Coleus 4. Common heliotrope 5. Copper leaf 6. Dusty Miller 7. Impatiens 8. Lantana 9. Madagascar periwinkle 10. Pentas 11. Persian shield 12. Polka-dot plant

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