10 Neat Things About Geraniums
by Dorothy Dobbie
by Dorothy Dobbie

The Local Gardener magazines, Ontario Gardener, Manitoba Gardener and Alberta Gardener, are published by Pegasus Publications Inc.

Drawing on her 30 years' experience as a senior executive in the magazine publishing industry, Dorothy launched Manitoba Gardener in 1998, initially running the business out of her home. Two years later, Dorothy's daughter Shauna, living in Ontario, jumped into the fray with Ontario Gardener. And two years after that, they started Alberta Gardener. Visit us at and register for our "Ten Neat things" newsletter. Watch Shaw TV for garden tips and Listen to CJOB for the Gardener Sundays at 9:08

April 19, 2015

1. A stork's beak?

The first documented species of Pelargonium known to have been cultivated was P.triste, a native of South Africa. It is thought to have been taken to the Botanical Garden in Leiden before 1600 AD on ships which had stopped at the Cape of Good Hope. In 1631 John Tradescant the elder, known as "The English Gardener", purchased seeds from Rene Morin in Paris and introduced the plant to England. The name Pelargonium was first introduced by Johannes Burman in 1738, formed from the Greek word pelargós (stork) because the seed head looked like a stork's beak.

2. How many is there of me? I hear you say.

Pelargonium is a genus of flowering plants composed of up to 200 species of perennials, succulents and shrubs commonly known as geraniums and in the United States also as storksbills. Confused? Surely. Geranium is the correct botanical name of a completely separate genus of related plants which are often called cranesbills or hardy geraniums. Both belong to the family Geraniaceae linnaeus which originally included all the species in one genus, but these were later separated into two in 1789.

3. Which type to choose from? Do I smell?

Scented leaf pelargoniums are one of the six major divisions of the plant. They show up in a very large number of species, and in thousands of cultivars. The scented-leaved plants are grown chiefly for their fragrance, the leaves emitting a clear, distinctive scent when touched. Here, with a listing of their scents, are some of the scented leaf species: P. quercifolium, almond; P. odoratissimum, apple; P. grossularioides, coconut; P. crispum, lemon; P. x fragrans, nutmeg; P. fragrans 'Logees', Old Spice; P. tomentosum, peppermint; P. capitatum, P. graveolens, P. radens and P. roseum, rose. P.citronellum, lemon scented; P. abrotanifolium, southernwood - a herb; and P. scarboroviae, strawberry.

4. How large can I grow?

Geraniums range in height from six inches to four feet, although the common zonal geraniums, used mostly for plant pots and borders, typically grow to between 12 to 19 inches in height. There are many colours of blooms. These can be red, pink, magenta, violet, white, purple, salmon and now yellow, a very rare colour indeed.

5. Growing up fast!

The quickest way to grow geraniums is from young plants (plugs, or plant cuttings) rather than seeds. From one plant comes many (a mother plant) you can if you are careful gather many new plugs from this plant. Once you have gathered your plugs using environmentally friendly jiffy pots, fill them with soil and simply place your cutting inside. Press firmly with soil and water gently. The root should take in 10 days or less.

6. Healthy is always the best way to go.

One geranium variety P. odorantissimum contains essential oils that provide a multitude of health benefits. Oils extracted from the plant's stem and leaves can be used as an astringent in improving skin and muscle usage, also as a cytophylactic in promoting healthy growth for cells. It also can be used as antibacterial oil in preventing infection to cuts and wounds. Some other uses for the geranium oil are as a deodorant, tonic, diuretic and a cicatrisant, helping to fade scars and other skin blemishes.

7. Did you say six categories?

Pelargonium/geranium cultivars are divided into six groups, Regal: bushy evergreen and shrubs, producing single (rarely double) flowers. Angel: Similar to the regal, although more compact and bushy. Ivy-leafed: Trailing evergreen with stiff almost wax-like fleshy leaves, used for hanging baskets. Zonal: Upright, bushy, succulent-stemmed, grown for their single or double flowers. Scented-leaved: Shrubby everygreen, mostly cultivated for their scented and very often distinctly lobed or variegated leaves. Unique: Shrubby evergreen perennials that do not fall in the categories previously mentioned.

8. Looking my best at all times.

Many pelargoniums are naturally bushy. They can be pruned back anytime to encourage further branching. Tall varieties and vigorously growing cultivars can be trained on canes to form a pillar (sort of like topiary for flowers), Young plants of ivy-leaved cultivars are best pruned back to promote fullness and stronger branching. Always remember to dead-head these plants to encourage continuous flowering throughout the summer period.

9. Keeping me safe and happy.

Pelargoniums are very easy to grow, but, there are a few things to watch for: they can suffer from viruses transmitted by sap-sucking insects or by cross-handling of plants and tools. Roots of container-grown plants are prone to vine weevil larvae damage. Poor air circulation and wet conditions favour diseases like grey-mold and rust.

10. I am not a big fan of the cold.

Like many perennials the cold is something pelargoniums do not like. If you want to save some for use with plugs, take softwood cuttings in late summer. Once the cuttings have rooted, they can be overwintered in trays of compost kept in a well-lit indoor windowsill. Water the tray only sparingly in winter; allow the tray to dry out between waterings. Feed a balanced liquid fertilizer every 10 days or so in late winter and pinch out the shoot tips to encourage bushy growth. Pot individually in mid-spring.

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