Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
February, 2011
Regional Report

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Scented geraniums are some of my garden favorites.

"Scent- sational" Scented Geraniums

Scented geraniums are related to bedding geraniums but they yield a variety of fragrances, from apple to rose, lemon, nutmeg, ginger, coconut, and mint. The flowers feature the five petals of the Pelargonium genus, but instead of being evenly spaced as they are in bedding-plant geraniums, they are arranged in groups with three lower and two upper petals. These shrub-like plants grow from 18 inches to 3 feet tall. Perennial in warm winter climates, scented geraniums are generally grown as annuals in our gardening zone. The leaves of these plants range in shape from rounded to lacy and finely cut. The small flowers grow in clusters and are usually white or shades of lilac and pink. A few varieties feature bright red flowers.

A Bevy of Scents
The leaves of scented geraniums can mimic the aromas of flowers, fruits, nuts, spices -- even candy and doughnuts! With such a variety of shapes, textures, shades, and fragrances, it can be difficult to decide which scented geraniums to add to your garden. I want them all!

Here are a few of my favorites: for apple fragrance, choose Pelargonium odoratissimum 'Fringed Apple.' This plant has tiny white flowers and a mounded growing habit. P. grossularioides has magenta flowers and a coconut fragrance; P. Juniper', with its round, crinkled leaves and pale lilac flowers, smells like juniper; P. 'Crispum' has a lemon scent, pale pink flowers, and small, crinkled foliage; P. 'Variegatum' has a similar fragrance but touts green leaves edged in white, while P. 'Roger's Delight' has large, red upper petals, paler pink lower ones, and smooth, slightly toothed leaves. P. 'Nutmeg' does, indeed, smell like nutmeg; P. 'Chocolate Peppermint' has small lavender flowers and green leaves with a purple blotch. This one smells good enough to eat!

A popular rose-scented plant is Pelargonium 'Little Gem.' Its soft, gray-green leaves are filigreed. The flowers are pink with a strong rose scent. Mint varieties include 'Joy Lucille' with red-marked pink flowers and 'Godfrey's Pride,' a large rambling plant with a pungent mint scent, lobed green leaves and pink flowers. Some of the fruit and spice varieties include 'Ginger,' 'Frensham Lemon,' 'Lime,' and 'Grapefruit'. Included in the pungent group is 'Wildwood' with brownish purple markings on the leaves and rose-colored blossoms. 'Citrosa' and 'Citronella' are also known as "mosquito repellent" plants because of their lemony scents.

Low Maintenance, Easy Care
Growing scented geraniums is easy. They are frost tender, though, so plan on growing them outdoors during the spring and summer months and taking them indoors during the fall and winter months. Mine enjoy full sunshine outdoors, but if you're gardening in a hot summer area, provide some afternoon shade. Scented geraniums prefer well-drained soil with average fertility. They are light feeders and will be happy with an early spring dose of a general purpose balanced fertilizer. They don't require much water and prefer to have the soil dry out between waterings.

When the weather begins to cool in the fall, I take my plants indoors. I grow mine in containers so they're easy to move from outdoors to in, and vice-versa. They will tolerate overnight temperatures of about 50 degrees F, so watch the weather reports and take yours inside when cool weather arrives.

Indoors, your plants will need about four hours of sunlight each day, so find a sunny windowsill or provide them with artificial light. Feed them only if they begin to look light green, and keep the soil fairly dry. Some gardeners cut the plants back by one-third before bringing them indoors and others prefer to take cuttings rather than move the entire plant indoors.

You can root cuttings in a glass of water, but they also root quite readily in moist potting soil. Take cuttings four to six inches long, strip off the lower two or three sets of leaves and let them air dry for about 12 hours. Dip the cut ends into rooting hormone and place them in a container filled with moistened potting soil. Keep the medium damp but not soggy wet. The cuttings should root within two or three weeks. When you can gently tug on the new plants and feel resistance from their new roots, they are ready to move to their own pots.

Most scented geraniums require some pruning or pinching back. I pinchmine back with my fingers, removing the stem tips above a leaf or snapping off part of an overly long stem. The plant will branch out at the leaf nodes beneath the cut.

Pests and diseases sometimes bother scented geraniums. I use a strong spray of water from the hose to dislodge aphids, whiteflies, mealybugs and spider mites. If your plants become heavily infested, try insecticidal soap or neem oil. If you monitor your plants on a regular basis, you can nip problems in the early stages before they have a chance to overtake your plants.

There are so many scented geraniums available at garden centers that, rather than depend upon names or plant descriptions, try rubbing the leaves lightly between your fingers to get the full impact of the aroma. This way you're assured of getting exactly the right fragrance.

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