Indoors or out, you’ll be swept away by the charm of geraniums—their happy display is insuppressible for geraniums flaunt all the warm, cheerful spectrum colors, sharpened with an immaculate dash of white. And their leaves are a delight to the senses.
Consider, for example, the soft fur of kitten’s ear geranium, the spicy fragrance of the nutmeg-scented kind, and the dashing colors of Cloth of Gold. Their appeal is infinite.
Pelargoniums—the proper name for most of the plants known as geraniums—came originally from South Africa.
They are now so numerous and offer so many fine species and varieties for the summer garden outdoors and the window garden in winter that it is hard to think of a better group of plants for the would-be specialist.
Pelargoniums are not constantly in flowers like Begonia semperflorens or Impatiens Sultani.
But, young plants of the bedding kinds, which are at their best in summer in the very lightly shaded garden, can be brought into winter bloom quite quickly.
The rarer, fleshy, or tuberous-rooted species and hybrids go entirely dormant in summer and bloom freely in winter.
Lady Washington geraniums occupy a position between blooming in spring and resting almost entirely in late summer.
The many hardy species of cranesbills, which do so well in perennial borders, are true geraniums. However, they differ from the pelargoniums in certain technical characteristics.
Various Pelargoniums Sizes
In size, pelargoniums range from tiny dwarfs no bigger than Tom Thumb roses to great shrubby or climbing specimens were seen in semitropical climates.
Flowers may be small and insignificant, as in most of the scented-leaved sorts, and round and phloxlike, as in many singles.
Or very double, with or without ruffled petals. The straight-stemmed blossoms may be in shades of the following:
Common garden or zonal geraniums (so-called because of dark zones on the rounded, velvety leaves) have been cultivated since the 18th century.
They were derived originally from Pelargonium zonale and Pelargonium inquinans.
They are the most dependable family members in America, producing masses of single or double flowers in summer gardens or window boxes and sunny winter window gardens.
Double-Flowered Zonal Pelargonium Varieties
Hundreds of double-flowered zonal varieties are available.
The petals of some are so crowded together that much of the beauty of the flowers is lost.
Examples are the following:
- Mme. Recamier is the old standard white now rivaled by newer White Wonder or Alaska.
- Apple Blossom is the famous soft pink and white variety available as a double or a single.
- Jean Oberla is a pale pink, while the Pink Fiat is especially free-blooming.
Salmon Pelargonium Varieties
Salmon varieties are favorites for garden use.
Fiat or Supreme Fiat is now considered more desirable than the standard Beaute De Poitevine.
Double Dryden is an excellent deep rose, while Hasse Scarlet and Red Fiat are reliable bright reds.
Venerable Variagated S. A. Nutt is still my favorite rose red because of the white-edged, grayish green leaves and the many blooming heads.
Better Times is a more recent, unvariegated variety of this color. As novelties, try Prince Violet or violet Montmart and Orange Beauty or Prince of Orange, a type that blooms freely and is easy to propagate.
Single Pelargonium Varieties
There is a chaste beauty about the best of the singles, which always appeals to me.
Hybridizers strive for rounded blossoms with wide, overlapping petals, and when this is attained, we have something like the following:
- Single Apple Blossom
- Blush Pink Snow, a great bloomer
- Silver Anniversary, a white introduced by the Garden Club of America
- More unusual is the Battle of Gettysburg with orange-centered flowers shading to violet.
- Birds Egg, orchid with dark pink spots
- New Life produces white-flecked red blossoms, red-flecked white ones, or pink-centered red or white blooms, all on the same plants.
Ideal Growing Conditions
Zonals are easy to grow in bright sunny climates. However, they prefer a soil that is not too rich and full of sunshine, except in the heat of midsummer when the broken shade of trees or shrubs is appreciated.
Geraniums, however, should not be planted too near these larger plants as they particularly like the free circulation of air.
In summer garden beds, geraniums usually get along with little or no artificial watering, while in pots or window boxes, they need to be watered only when the surface soil feels dry to the touch.
Proper Cutting Propagation Method
Here are the following propagation tips to remember:
- Cutting back the top of a young plant just above a leaf bud encourages bushy growth.
- Plants in 5- or 6-inch pots may be fed once a month with a complete fertilizer solution or manure water when coming into bloom, but always avoid overfeeding and rich soil.
- Cuttings that are removed to encourage branching can be easily rooted in slightly moist sand if they are firm enough to break like a snap bean.
- After cutting, let them lie in a dry, shaded place for 24 hours before setting in the rooting medium.
- Keep the sand just barely moist, never very wet, until coots have formed.
They can then be potted in sandy loam. Though fall cuttings make the most vigorous plants, those rooted during the early summer make satisfactory young plants for winter bloom.
Plants that have performed well all summer in the garden will not continue to bloom through the winter.
They should be pruned back and rested with little water. Since it is so easy to propagate from cuttings, I seldom keep the parent plants over winter, especially after growing to an unwieldy size.
Zonal Varieties’ Notable Foliage
Some zonals produce such striking foliage that they are grown by geranium enthusiasts for this alone.
The flowers are often inconspicuous. Notable exceptions to this rule are Frutetorum and Jubilee, which have strikingly zoned leaves and many lovely single salmon flowers.
I have found both of these easy to grow and propagate.
Madame (or Lady) Pollock is probably the best known of this group. It is a tricolor with deep green, red, orange, and yellow leaves when grown in full sunshine.
Miss Burdett Coutts is often considered the most outstanding of the tricolors. The leaves are green-centered, edged with cream, and bearing a purple zone marked in pink.
Another famous variety, Cloth of Gold, with truly golden leaves, is very temperamental, while Golden Marechal Macmahone, gold with a narrow zone, is more easily handled.
As a class, the fancy-leaved zonals, two dozen or more commercially available, are not easy to grow.
For one thing, the variegations are due to a lack of chlorophyll in the leaves, which makes them generally delicate and hard to propagate.
To encourage maximum leaf coloration, it is best to grow them in pots in winter and summer, keeping them in full sun except in the hottest weather.
Propagate fancy-leaved zonals from cuttings as soon as you have enough firm new growth to spare a few shoots.
In this way, you will be able to increase your stock of rare and expensive varieties, for the fancy-leaved geraniums are high-priced compared to most of the others.
After each variety has bloomed, you can decide whether the blossoms are worth encouraging.
Popular Scented-Leaved Geraniums
Most exciting of all geraniums, to my mind, is the host of species and varieties grown for their scented leaves.
Everyone knows the rose geranium and Pelargonium graveolens. It is deliciously fragrant and is used in the following:
- Pot pourri
- Flavors for cakes and jellies
One variety of this is variegated, and there is a number with deeply lobed and much-divided leaves.
Some of the other fragrant sorts are less common:
- Erect-growing, small-leaved Pelargonium crispum
- The finger-bowl geranium and its lovely variegated form, both lemon scented
- The velvety soft kitten’s ear or Peppermint geranium
- Pelargonium tomentosum
- Pelargonium fragrans
- Pelargonium ferulaceum (incorrectly Pelargonium parviflorum), which is trailing in habit
- Apple and Orange
- Pelargonium odoratissimum
- Pelargonium citriodorum
- Red-flowered, filhert-scented Pelargonium concolor
These are some examples, to name but a few.
In most cases, these flowers are small and inconspicuous though a few varieties have been developed with attractive flowers.
I often use the small but freely borne trusses of lavender-pink rose geranium blossoms in mixed bouquets.
Pungent-Scented Geranium Group
Many of the so-called pungent-scented groups are oak-leaved and descended from Pelargonium quercifolium.
The hairy, deeply lobed leaves resemble oak foliage and are usually splotched or marked with maroon.
The strong, pungent geranium fragrance is very pleasing.
One variety, Clorinda, has brilliant large flowers of the Lady Washington type.
Some bear much small red, pink, lavender, or white flowers, while others produce blooms of little interest.
As a whole, the scented geraniums are easy to care for and are great growers.
They have been one of my hobbies for years, and I get along with little attention in the summer garden and winter in our cool greenhouse.
Rampant-growing parents often have to be abandoned in the fall in favor of rooted cuttings small enough to bring indoors.
Proper Way Of Rooting Scented Geraniums
Rooting scented geraniums is not difficult except with woody species like Pelargonium crispum and Pelargonium crispum variegatum, which are more temperamental.
Here are the basic steps:
- Give all woody sorts little water in summer.
- Prune back hard in the fall before taking indoors.
- Increase water gradually as new growth appears.
- When making cuttings, use a root stimulant, which should always be of a firm, green new wood.
Ivy geraniums have glossy, almost leathery ivy-like heaves, trailing angular green stems, and large long-stemmed trusses of single or double flowers.
They are ideal trailers for the cool window garden or outdoor window box. Double rose pink Roycroft Surprise is the variety most generally available, probably because it has a strong constitution and can take abuse.
Jeanne D’ Arc is a white single with lavender markings. Other varieties are the following:
- Lavender Rose
- Scarlet Beauty
- Blush and Double Lilac
There are 20 or more varieties available from geranium specialists.
A very cool sun porch or cool greenhouse is the best place for ivy geraniums indoors in winter unless you have a bay window in the sun where the temperature never rises above 65° degrees Fahrenheit.
Tiny Dwarf Geranium Varieties
Several tiny dwarf geraniums are ideal for the winter window sill, and among them are:
- Little Darling, bearing many tiny pink single flowers
- Pigmy, the smallest of all, with scarlet blooms
- Black Vesuvius, with its olive green leaves and red geranium blossoms.
The rosebud geraniums produce clusters of tiny double blooms in pink, red or white, while the poinsettia group bears blossoms shaped like small poinsettias.
In the tuberous-rooted group, which becomes completely dormant in summer and blooms in winter, is a climbing plant known commercially as Pelargonium ascetosum with scalloped and cupped silvery green leaves and single salmon pink flowers.
Pelargonium echinatum is the sweetheart geranium, with grayish green leaves and single white flowers marked in red, while climbing Pelargonium scandens (another trade name) is a single lavender with round glossy, zoned foliage.
Pelargonium stapeltoni (trade name), similar to Pelargonium scandens has velvety leaves and red flowers dotted in purple.
The tubers of this type are potted up in late summer in sandy loam enriched with bonemeal.
Give water sparingly until growth starts, then increase gradually, watering freely during the flowering period from January to late spring.
Reduce water after bloom and dry off completely when foliage matures.
Lady Washington Varieties
Like the fancy-leaved sorts, the tuberous-rooted geraniums are rarities that, as a rule, can be secured only from specialists.
The Lady Washington, show or pansy pelargonium is a type, the exact ancestor) which is uncertain, though several species have places in its family tree.
Though its culture is similar to the tuberous-rooted geranium, there are many distinguishing characteristics in the show pelargonium.
The stems are quite woody, and the leaves are either unlobed or angle-lobed, with sharply notched edges.
The large, pansy-shaped flowers consist of 2 dark upper and 3 lighter lower petals.
Old Easter Greeting is one of the best-known Lady Washington varieties, with brilliant rose pink flowers.
Others are the following:
- Tige Rose
- Salmon Splendor
- Orchid Edith North
There are many named varieties.
Since they bloom in very early spring, they are good subjects for the cool sun porch.
Growing them in warm rooms is very difficult because they are the favorite hosts of several insect pests, especially white flies.
Since bloom is at its height in late spring, blossoming plants can be set out after the danger of frost is past.
Pansy pelargoniums are grown through the winter in a cool location in part sun and kept on the dry side until February.
Then, as new growth and buds appear, remember the following tips:
- Water is increased, and they are fed with a complete fertilizer in liquid form.
- Watch out for insects and spray promptly if any appear.
- After bloom, reduce water gradually until all the leaves turn yellow, for, in summer, they rest almost completely.
In September, but not before, plants are severely pruned, repotted in loam that is not too rich, and kept in cool quarters with little water until new growth starts up again after the first of the year.