In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
February, 2011
Regional Report

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Zonal geraniums can live long enough in containers to see their pots crack from old age.

Geranium Myths Busted

In much of our nation, zonal geraniums are the traditional Mother's Day gift plant. Here, we grow both seedling and zonal types.

Defining Geraniums
My fondness for geraniums began with a package of seed and extended to pots full of double red flowers, then grew into a love of other pelargoniums. The genus is truly diverse and each species has a place in our gardens.

Zonal geraniums (P. x hortorum) are propagated from cuttings and so are exact clones of their parent plant. Their flowers are usually double and held above the leaves in large clusters. There is no better container plant in our regions and with simple care, zonal geraniums can last for years. Some of their leaves are banded (or zoned) with a darker shade, ranging in texture from almost slick to nearly hairy.

Geraniums grown from seed are a more compact version of the vegetatively propagated zonal geraniums. They are found with other annual flowers at the garden center in small multi-packs or pots. They are usually single red, white, or pink flowers and grow well in mixed pots or en masse in well-drained garden beds. Seedling geraniums are also essential to breeding since each one has the potential to vary from its mates and offer a new shade, flower size or other desired attribute.

But there are more pelargoniums to grow, distinguished as much by their leaves as their flowers. The succulent ivy geranium has truly shiny, ivy-shaped leaves, while the matte green, scented geraniums look almost bearded when seen under a microscope. The effect is a dull-looking leaf with simple flowers, unexciting until you crush a leaf and inhale the scent of pure peppermint, apple, chocolate, or citrus. The so-called mosquito plant is P. citrosum and belongs to this group of aromatics.

Perfect Pots
Zonal geraniums make excellent anchor plants in large pots outdoors, but stay away from huge, heavy containers. For example, two plants purchased in 6 inch pots will dry out daily left as individuals, but will thrive planted together in a pot approximately 12-14 inches across and 10-12 inches deep. Fill the pots with a well-drained soil mix and rough up the root balls as you plant. Water the pots well with a starter solution or root stimulator fertilizer.

Larger pots add unnecessary weight, an important factor to consider, since moving geranium pots can help to extend their life. A few weeks in the spring sun help get the plants growing, but the same spot will prove too hot and stunt the geranium's growth in summer. Similarly, pots of zonals can decorate around the pool in fall but may be too exposed if the winter proves cool and rainy. The need for protection from our extremes of hot and cold weather make geraniums good candidates for slightly sheltered locations. Consider the top step to a porch where the eave offers afternoon shade or a bright corner on the deck protected on the north side by the wall of your house to reduce the need for moving them.

Water geraniums when the top of the soil feels dry and fertilize them monthly if using a water-soluble formula. Even with this regime, a few leaves will inevitably turn yellow, but so long as the loss is limited, simply remove them along with spent flowers. If you have a sunny west window, you can move the pots indoors over winter on the Southern Coasts.

The Other Geraniums
Ivy leaf geraniums should be recommended to anyone who has ever lost a hanging basket fern to the heat and sun of a bright porch. Instead of wilting sadly, ivy geraniums respond with flowers and a nice draping form. Regular water and fertilizer will keep them blooming for months. At the other end of the geranium spectrum, scented geraniums are best grown "lean" like herbs. Just enough water to prevent wilting and minimal amounts of fertilizer enable these plants' essential oils to concentrate in their leaves. The very thought of those delicious flavors makes me want a big slice of rose geranium cake. If you find that idea intriguing, check the recipe at chow.com: http://www.chow.com/recipes/10401-rose-geraniumbuttermilk-pound-cake.


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