Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
New England
May, 2001
Regional Report

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'Lemon-Rose' scented geraniums not only have fragrant leaves, but produce beautiful flowers as well.

Learning to Like Geraniums

It's peak planting time now, Memorial Day being the apex. This time of year I always think about all the holes in my beds that are just begging for annual plants to fill them in. One annual plant I've scorned for years but am warming up to more recently is the geranium (Pelargonium).

Bucking Tradition

The reason I usually don't grow geraniums is because I'm tired of seeing baskets and barrels of them overplanted in commercial and home landscapes. As a young gardener I thought of them as "old lady flowers." I was interested in brash new annuals such as scaevola that were on the cutting edge. Maybe it's because I'm older, but now I'm looking at geraniums in a different light.

Millions and Millions of Geraniums

One of the great things about geraniums are the many varieties. Traditional zonal and bedding plant geraniums grow 1 to 2 feet tall and produce rounded flower heads of almost every color imaginable. These are the most common and are found potted up on porches all summer. What I'm particularly excited about, though, are the scented geraniums. These have smaller, more interesting flowers, and, best of all, the leaves have scents such as lemon, apple, almond, mint, and camphor rose. The names of many varieties hint at their fragrance--for example, 'Nutmeg', 'Prince of Orange', 'Coconut', and 'Rober's Lemon-Rose'. Though smaller, the flowers have the same range of colors as zonal geraniums, but the flower shapes are more varied and interesting. The plants may be upright or creeping, so they work well in window boxes and along walls and edges of the garden.

Geranium Care

Best of all, I'm realizing that geraniums are easy to grow, especially in the dry conditions we're experiencing so far this spring. They don't like cold, so wait until after the last frost date to set them out. Plant them in full sun in well-drained containers filled with potting soil. They don't like wet roots either, so it's best to let the soil dry out between waterings to avoid root rot. Give them some fertilizer every few weeks, deadhead the flowers, and, other than that, let them grow.

Making More Geraniums

Since it seems that everyone grows some geraniums, you'll undoubtedly run across some varieties that you want to have for yourself. Once you find a geranium you like, it's easy to make more. Just take a 4- to 6-inch cutting from the tip of a stem, remove any flowers and the lower leaves, dip the cut end in rooting hormore powder, and stick the cutting in a pot filled with moistened potting soil. Place the pot in a bright location, keep it watered, and in a few weeks, you've got a new plant.

Year-Round Delight

When fall comes, you don't have to sacrifice your prized geraniums to the cold. You can cut them back and bring them indoors to grow in a sunny window, or take them out of their pots and place them in a cool, dark basement to overwinter. They're tough plants and will almost magically start sprouting again next spring. Just pot them up, place in front of a bright window, and when all danger of frost has passed, place them outdoors.

With all their advantages, I guess I really do like these old-fashioned flowers.

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