Geraniums are always a good idea

Geranium_PintoRed_Syngenta-cropMy Dad’s mom wasn’t big on gardening. She didn’t dislike it, but she just had other passions. The one flower I’ve always associated with Grandma was geraniums. Nice big, potted red geraniums. That tart, fresh scent still makes me think of her.

Grandma grew Pelargonium or storksbill geraniums. Zonal geraniums are one of the most popular container plants. They are often confused with true geraniums, the perennial cranesbills. The confusion goes all the way beck to botanists arguing over classifications.  All you need to remember is that cranesbill are perennial and will come back year after year and zonal are tropical plants usually grown as annuals. Pelargoniums leaves have a dark zonal pattern on the leaves.

There are several types of Pelargonium:

  • Zonal – This group is loved for its big, attractive flower heads that bloom white, pink, orange, red or purple.
  • Fancy leaved – Some zonal geraniums have fancier leaves, edged or banded by colors such as yellow, white, burgundy or coral.
  • Ivy (Pelargonium peltatum) – This type has ivy-like leaves and a trailing habit, which makes them perfect for window boxes and hanging basket planters. The trailing types also tolerate a fair amount of shade. Flower colors range from white through pastel shades of pink to red and purple.
  • Martha Washington, Angel or Regal (Pelargonium domesticum) – These are full, bushy plants with flowers in unusual colors and patterns. Large frilly flowers make these geraniums very special. They bloom in white and vivid colors such as orange, purple, red and burgundy. Regals thrive in part shade and can grow up to 4 feet tall. Angels are smaller versions of Regals. They tend to be spring bloomers.
  • Scented geraniums (Pelargonium domesticum) – These types that are gown primarily for their aromatic leaves with scents such as lemon, rose, mint, pine, fruits and even chocolate. These plants have smaller, less showy flowers than the other types. Besides their ornamental and fragrant appeal, many can also be used in cooking.
  • Other types of geraniums – There are dwarf types and a group known as stellars, which have star-shaped flowers and notched leaves. The award-winning ‘Vancouver Centennial’ (above) is one of the best known stellars.

 Growing geraniums

Pelargoniums are extremely easy to grow and to propagate. As they are evergreen perennials, they can be kept in flower through the winter months indoors. Geraniums will grow in any soil type. Propagation is by semi ripe cuttings in summer, by seed or by division in autumn or spring.

Their main requirement is a warm, sunny place. Many varieties will tolerate drought conditions for short periods. They are commonly seen in bedding schemes in parks and gardens, but can also be grown indoors as houseplants if given enough light. More compact erect and trailing varieties are ideal for window boxes and hanging baskets. These versatile plants are perfect for any spot that calls for a splash of vibrant color through-out the season.

Plant scented geraniums where you will rub against them; along a walkway or at an entrance. These are great plants for containers, filling out and spilling over the edges. Scented geraniums are especially nice in pots, clustered together. If they become lanky, pinch them back to encourage bushy growth and then use the parts you pinched off as cuttings

Stems and leaves can be used in arrangements or dried for potpourri. Varieties with dense growing small leaves, like Pelargonium crispum, make nice topiary and small standards.

The Japanese beetle, a nasty agricultural insect pest, becomes rapidly paralyzed after consuming flower petals of the garden hybrids known as “zonal geraniums” (P. x hortorum). The phenomenon was first described in 1920, and subsequently confirmed. Research has demonstrated the excitatory amino acid called quisqualic acid present within the flower petals is responsible for causing paralysis of the Japanese beetle.

Because of their scent and thick leaves, Pelargonium is usually pest free. White flies are the biggest threat and, less often, aphids, mealy bugs, spider mites might attack. Spraying with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil should get rid of them.


The primary uses have been for intestinal problems, wounds and respiratory ailments, but Pelargonium species have also been used to treat fevers, kidney complaints and other conditions. Pelargonium oil is considered a relaxant in aromatherapy, and in recent years, respiratory and/or cold remedies made from P. sidoides and P. reniforme have been sold in Europe and the United States.  P. sidoides along with Echinacea is used to treat bronchitis. P. odoratissimum is used for its astringent, tonic and antiseptic effects. It is used internally for debility, gastro-enteritis and hemorrhage, and externally for skin complaints, injuries and neuralgia and throat infections. The essential oil is used in aromatherapy. It is also used to balance the hormonal system, menstrual flow and clean the body of toxins.

One study I read suggested that geranium flowers can keep your house protected from negative energy. Might geraniums give you energetic protection by transforming low energy into tender, soft energy? By planting specific flowers and plants in your garden or window sill, maybe you can prevent low energy from entering your property.

Choices of geraniums

Chocolate mint scented leaves with small white flowers on this geranium.

Chocolate mint scented leaves with small white flowers on this geranium.

Now you want some geraniums too? Here is a list of some “goodies,” which gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit:

  • Attar of Roses – rose scented leaves, pink flowers
  • Citriodorum – lemon scented leaves and rose pink flowers
  • Dolly Varden – variegated leaves and scarlet flowers
  • Frank Headley – cream variegated leaves and salmon pink flowers
  • Fringed Aztec – Regal group – white and purple fringed flowers
  • Gemstone – scented leaves and pink flowers
  • Grace Thomas – lemon scented leaves and pale pink flowers
  • Joy – pink and white frilled flowers
  • Lady Plymouth – P. graveolens variegata – small mauve flowers
  • Lara Candy Dancer – scented leaves, pale mauve flowers
  • Lara Starshine – aromatic leaves and lilac flowers
  • L’Élégante – ivy-leaved, trailing, white and purple flowers
  • Mabel Grey – lemon-scented leaves and mauve flowers
  • Mrs Quilter – bronze leaves and salmon pink flowers
  • Radula – lemon and rose scented leaves, and pink and purple flowers
  • Royal Oak – balsam scented leaves and mauve flowers
  • Spanish Angel – lilac and magenta flowers
  • Sweet Mimosa – balsam-scented leaves and pale pink flowers
  • Tip Top Duet – pink and wine-red pansy-faced flowers
  • Tomentosum – peppermint-scented leaves and small white flowers
  • Voodoo – crimson and black flowers

About Kary Beck

Mother and wife, gardener, wine enthusiast, avid online bargain hunter, and owner of two black-and-tan cocker spaniels.
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