We love geraniums!

Photo by Deborah Maier

It feels like I just finished planting the last of my Pelargoniums. Well…I was still planting them on August 6. But that’s part of the beauty of Pelargoniums, commonly known as annual geraniums. They can hang out in their nursery containers, even bloom, until you’re ready to plant and they will still do fine.

Do you remember that Calgary had hailstorms at the end of June, this year? It made me pause in my roll-out of my over-wintered geraniums. I decided to keep a tray or two back in case everything that was planted was shredded like coleslaw by hail. Fortunately, my garden only experienced light hail, so the caution was unnecessary, but that’s how I ended up with unplanted geraniums at the beginning of August.

Most of the annual geraniums I grow are zonal geraniums (Pelargonium x hortorum). Zonal geraniums get their names from the circular mark that is typically found on its leaf. The mark can be darker green to burgundy.

Zonal geraniums are tolerant of many conditions. They enjoy evenly moist soil (not wet), being dried out between waterings, and even sitting dry for days before being watered. They can thrive in full sun to part shade.

They can be planted in hanging baskets, large or small containers, or in the ground. If ignored, and overwintered as plants, they may send out stems a metre long. If trimmed or grown from cuttings or seeds each year, they will form beautiful compact plants. Native to South Africa they are not winter hardy here but make great houseplants. In almost any setting they will bloom.

The flowers of zonal geraniums form ball-shaped clusters and come in colours white, coral, pink, red, to purple. In 2017, a yellow-flowered one was announced. My favourite is the Maverick violet. It has a fuchsia-coloured bloom with violet tones. It’s a bold, vivid colour that seems to glow.

A feature that some gardeners dislike is their leaf scent. If the leaves are disturbed, zonal geraniums will give off a pungent metallic smell. For my garden, this is a beneficial feature as it keeps most animal pests at bay. I have had deer come through and nip the flowers off, but they didn’t eat them. It might happen once in a season, then they don’t do it again. As long as the plants aren’t overwatered, they are rarely bothered by anything.

You may be wondering why I’m writing about geraniums in September. Well, if you grow Pelargoniums you need to decide what you are going to do with them before we get cold weather. Will they be brought in as houseplants and if so, the whole plant, or are you taking cuttings to root indoors? One of the most space-efficient ways to store them is bareroot, in a paper bag or box.

Lift the plant, shake off the dirt, clean off any dry leaves, and place them like logs in a paper bag or box. Put the bag or box in a cool place in the basement and forget about them until December. At that time, they might need a bit of water.

As long as the stems are not withering, they can remain in storage. If you start to see indentations, then they need to be hydrated and potted up. I usually clean mine up and plant them in February. This year I started some from seed. They are easy to grow, but I found they didn’t come into flower as fast as the bare-root stored plants.

There are so many Pelargoniums to choose from and they are anything but boring! Don’t worry about what’s the latest plant fashion—it’s okay, you can say, “I love geraniums!”

To learn more about overwintering geraniums, look for Gardening Tips under Resources on the Society’s website, calhort.org. Fall is learning season at the Society—Visit the What’s Happening Calendar for details.