The Year of the Geranium

By: Kathy Cropp

A wonderful article came across my desk recently and it struck a chord with me about a plant that I have loved since my mother grew them in Florida — the geranium.

According to Diane Blazek of the National Garden Bureau, 2012 is being called the “Year of the Geranium” and there might be a lot about this plant that you don’t know. These beautiful plants, which we use in a variety of ways all spring and summer, are really called pelargoniums. True geraniums are also called cranesbills, and they are an herbaceous perennial from North America and Europe. Pelargoniums are tender plants and mostly came from South Africa. Of course, the story goes on and on, but for those of us who love to use them in our gardens it doesn’t really matter. We can call them geraniums as long as we want because we know what we are talking about, and so do our local garden centers.

One of the things that struck me as I read the article was the change in the way they were propagated. Geraniums started out strictly with vegetative propagation, but Dr. Richard Craig, from Pennsylvania State University, changed all of that in 1962 when he bred the first commercially successful open-pollinated, seed propagated geranium. He called it the ‘Nittany Lion Red.’

There are four basic types of annual geraniums, so when you go geranium shopping you have a variety of choices available to choose from.

  • The first is the common or Zonal Geraniums (Pelargonium x hortorum). These are called Zonal because of the “zoned” leaf markings. This variety is usually considered your classic bedding plant.
  • Second, is the Regal or Angel Geraniums (Pelargonium domesticum). This variety is your bushy geranium, and has large blossoms with single or double flowers with dramatic colors and patterns. This type blooms earlier in the spring because it needs the cooler night temperatures.
  • Third, is the Scented-Leaf Geranium (Pelargonium domesticum). These geraniums are known for the wonderful fragrance that comes off of them when the leaves are rubbed. They often have very unusual foliage and delicate flowers and are grown for their oils and for use in cooking.
  • Last, but not least, is the Ivy-Leaf Geranium (Pelargonium peltatum). This one is one of the most popular for containers — there are so many colors, blossoms, and leaf patterns to choose from. They have graceful trailing habits and beautiful ivy shaped leaves. They flower abundantly throughout the summer.

All four types will provide long-lasting displays of color, but you just need to make sure you provide some of the basics for their growth.

*  Give them 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight daily

*  Space them about 8-12 inches apart

*  Since they are tender plants, place them in an area that protects them from strong winds.

*  Your garden soil or potting mix needs to both retain moisture and drain well.

*  With the extreme temperatures we can have in the summer, make sure you put a good supply of mulch around them — even in your containers.

*  Dead head often so you can encourage more flowering, but also feel free to pinch them back so they don’t become too leggy.

*  Another idea when you are watering is to wet your soil and not your leaves and blooms in order to cut down on any diseases.

*  Be sure to fertilize them every two weeks or so throughout the growing season. It is recommended to use a half strength fertilizer — one that is water soluble usually does the trick.

*  You can also bring them in in the fall and winter them over. Just remove the soil from the roots and place them in a brown paper bag or box and leave them until next spring. Then you can trim off any dead leaves or stem and replant them for your next season.

Whatever your favorite color or variety of geraniums, plant some this summer and join in the celebration.

Here’s to the new gardening season!