Even after statewide frost warnings, our garden, while looking dry and exhausted in many areas, continues to perform, offering raspberries and blueberries, peppers, a few lingering squashes and cucumbers. Beans and tomatoes have been pulled and consigned to the compost, onions and potatoes put away, and it’s time – make that past time — to move outdoor plants inside. Ideally, if you were looking to save herbs and geraniums, they’d be toast by now, but it’s been so warm that it was only a week ago that I decided to invite them inside.

I wasn’t planning to save any herb plants, but they saved themselves. A few weeks ago I had trimmed up some leggy basil plants and stuck the stems in a Mason jar of water on the kitchen windowsill where they’d be handy. The stems immediately began to put out roots, just begging to be potted up, so I obliged them. Earlier this summer I’d wisely tucked away a big bag of potting soil in the corner of the porch where my basket of garden tools resides, along with an assortment of pots, so it was no work at all to step out the door, fill some pots and tuck a few basil stems in each before returning them to the windowsill as the start of an indoor herb garden. Since the pots and soil were already there, there was no excuse to not bring in a clump of chives as well. If you have an established chive plant, pick a dry day and dig a clump with a garden fork, shaking off as much soil as possible. As chives are made up of clumps of elongated bulbs, use your hands or the fork to pry off a few of these to pot up, then replant the remainder of the clusters of bulbs back into the garden to die back and rest over winter. Place the smaller sections into your pots of soil, cut back the existing tired foliage and water well. Put them next to your basil on that sunny windowsill, water them occasionally and you’ll find that they’ll soon sprout new leaves. Once the new shoots are around 4 inches tall, start harvesting and keep doing this to ensure a continuous supply.

Last year I didn’t save any of my geranium plants, which was pure foolishness, as it’s so simple and economical to bring them back, rather than replace them each year. Like having money in the bank, as they say. A week ago, I brought a couple of already-potted plants onto the porch. I hosed them down and trimmed them back by a third or so, and set them in a cool room where they’ll get direct sun. You can also dig up healthy plants, cut them back, and transplant them into containers. Usually by February geraniums begin to bloom again and, since they tend to grow a bit leggy, the shoot tips of all these plants may need pinching once or twice during the winter to promote branching and prevent weak growth. Before planting them outside in spring, fertilize lightly. Plants that you’ve saved and kept in containers over the winter are typically larger than most geraniums sold in the spring. This also gives you a head start on blooms for next year’s garden.

If you don’t want to fuss with shorn geraniums during winter, you can store them in the same way you’d store tender bulbs and tubers such as dahlias and gladiolas, as all of these plants need to be stored under similar conditions. Geraniums, unlike many annual flowers, have the ability to survive for most of the winter without soil. If properly stored, they can resist extended dry periods due to their thick, succulent-like stems. To overwinter geraniums in dormant storage, dig up the entire plant before frost and gently shake the soil from the roots. Place the plants inside open paper bags or hang them upside-down from the rafters in a cool, dark location for the winter. Ideally, the temperature should be between 45 and 50 degrees. Two or three times during the winter, take the plants out of the bags or down from the rafters and soak the roots in water for a couple hours. At this time, inspect the stems. While most of the leaves will have died and fallen off, the stems should remain firm and solid. Discard any shriveled stems, since those plants will most likely die. Pot up the remaining healthy dormant geraniums in containers in late March or early April. Water plants thoroughly and cut back the dead stem tips. Place potted plants in a sunny window to initiate new growth. It often takes several weeks for plants to initiate growth after dormant storage.