Q: I kept last summer's geranium plants in the house for the winter, and they still look beautiful. What do I do before putting them back outdoors, and when do I put them out?
A: First the quick answer. They should not go outside permanently until Memorial Day, and even then it will pay to keep weather patterns in mind. Should a cold front arrive, a night or two indoors could save them from frost. The weather to watch for is a chilly, cloudy day with the sky clearing in late afternoon or evening. That means temperatures will drop rapidly all night long.
Between now and then you have time to prepare the geraniums for bright sun. On any pleasant day, take the plants outdoors for the warmest hours. Put them where they will be shaded all day, because the light is brighter in outdoor shade than in indoor sun. You might want to post a large sign, reminding yourself to bring the plants in before night.
After the geraniums have had at least five shady days, they are ready for the next move, to a place with morning sun and afternoon shade. Following an equal time there, they are ready for full sun. If leaves turn red, they are sunburned and need more gradual exposure.
Now would be a good time to cut all the stems to half their length. Left alone, they will be six foot giants by August, and the stems will break easily in the wind. Cut the stems just above a leaf to avoid creating ugly stubs. Don't be at all distressed if you cut off flowers. The geraniums will promptly make new ones.
You can increase your geranium supply from the cut off stems. Cut a piece four to six inches long. Remove the leaves from the bottom half. If there are any flowers, pinch them off so that the cutting can concentrate on roots. Fill a small pot with potting soil and stick in the bottom of the cutting, burying an inch or more. If you have rooting hormone, use it. If not, don't worry. Rooting will just take longer.
Put the cutting in your sunniest window and keep it well watered. Do not give it a plastic cover, as you would with most cuttings, because geraniums rot easily. Before summer arrives, the small geranium should be well on its way to seasonal glory.
Q: My cherry tree had worms in nearly all the cherries last year. Is there any way to have a cherry crop again, or must I cut down the tree? I will not spray insecticides because of its location.
A: With only one tree you have a good chance of getting rid of the problem, but it will be two or three years to victory. You can break the worm cycle in two places, by catching the adult females of the western cherry fruit fly, and by making homeless the maggots which want to live under your tree.
First the maggots, the immature flies. They will be adults now, ready to emerge from the ground. Keep the area around your tree planted with a ground cover, and add an inch of mulch. That will make it harder for flies to emerge. Commercial orchards in California are successfully preventing the emergence of flies by covering the area under the trees with landscape cloth.
Second, the adult females. Catch them on yellow sticky traps. Hang the traps soon, because the first flies emerge as early as May 1. They do not hatch all at once, and they do not fly far. Probably all of them will stay with your tree. Hang the traps at head height or higher, and clear the leaves from a few inches around each trap. Pay special attention to the south side; the fruit flies like it best. You may be amazed at how many flies (and some other insects) get caught on the yellow cards.
Third, dispose of the maggots that manage to get into cherries this summer. Do this by picking up all the fallen cherries every day, from the time that the first one falls until no cherries remain on the tree. Clearing the ground every day prevents maggots from coming out of cherries and burrowing underground until next year. If you are faithful with these three techniques, you will win the war. The best news is that, because the flies seldom travel more than 100 feet, a new batch probably will not find your tree.
Q: Is it time to prune the ground cover roses?
A: Yes, but they do not always need pruning more than dead and broken branches. If any plants are too big, cut them off near the ground. Cut tall stems and tangled ones as short as you like.
Master gardener Molly Hackett, whose motto is “Never trust a gardener with clean fingernails,” welcomes your questions. Send them to 1384 Meridian Road, Victor, MT 59875; call 961-4614; or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include a garden-related subject line in emails.