Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
October, 2003
Regional Report

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Scented geraniums add an old-fashioned sweetness to the garden.

Scented Geraniums

Scented geraniums fill the garden with heady fragrances, such as rose, lemon, lime, ginger, cinnamon, apple, coconut, pine, orange, mint, and even nutmeg. These are not the Martha Washington-type geraniums with fat clusters of vivid red flowers. The majority of scented geraniums (Pelargonium) have diminutive flowers with just a few petals, usually white or pinkish. It's the leaves, loaded with essential oils, that pack the wallop and quicken the plant lover's pulse.

Leaf shape varies as much as scent does. Some leaves are heavily cut, almost jagged; others are roundish; some resemble maple leaves. Some are velvety soft to the touch; others rough. Although scented geraniums don't display the big blast of color of their relatives, they still lend considerable texture and visual interest to the garden.

Planting and Care
Scented geraniums take full sun, even in the desert, although their appearance is improved if they have protection from afternoon sun in the summer. They require well-drained soil, although it doesn't have to be super-rich with organic matter. Most grow 1 to 2 feet high and wide in our conditions. They are hardy to about 20 degrees F. After planting, layer several inches of mulch around the base. Pinch back regularly to promote a bushier plant. Water when the top inch or two of soil is dry. Don't overwater. They don't like wet feet.

I've read that in humid climes, scented geraniums release their scent naturally, but last time I checked, this was still an exceedingly dry desert. For optimum enjoyment, situate the plants where the scent will be released as you brush against them, such as near a walkway. They also grow exceptionally well in containers. Put one next to your favorite patio chair within easy reach of your fingers. Scented geraniums are great fun for a children's garden or a therapy garden, both for aroma and textures. Plant several and let the kids guess the scents.

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