Plant of the Week: Gorgeous Geraniums
When I was a kid growing up in South Central Texas, I wore out the gardening magazines, catalogs and reference books. They were all out of the North, and geraniums were a really big deal.
When I transferred to Ohio State to finish my degrees, scarlet geraniums were all over that campus. Geraniums everywhere I could see. But I never had much luck with them back in my home state of Texas.
A big part of that problem was planting time. Nurseries in Texas offered them in mid-spring, just like they do in the North. But that’s too late. It gets hot in Texas, and geraniums at that time couldn’t cope with that heat. And, most of those old geraniums were just rooted cuttings taken from plant to plant, year after year. Diseases came with them, and geraniums were weak and relatively unrewarding.
Then along came hybrid geraniums grown from seed. They bypassed most of the diseases and introduced hybrid vigor and increased tolerance of Texas warm weather.
If you go into garden centers today you’ll find hundreds of absolutely dazzling geraniums in shades of red, pink, salmon, white, fuchsia, and more. Their growth habits are handsome, and their foliage is striking. But best of it all, they bloom well into the summer.
Best Uses of Geraniums
I guess it would be possible to plant a large bed filled with geraniums, but that seems like overkill. Their flower heads are so large and so crazily showy that you really don’t need scores of these plants to hit a home run. Just 15 or 20 plants strategically placed in decorative pots and urns, maybe in tandem with Sprengeri ferns or other fine foliage can make a dramatic statement to highlight an entry.
Geraniums must have highly organic, well-draining potting soil. I use lightweight mixes consisting of half sphagnum peat moss, 30 percent pine bark, 10 percent perlite and 10 percent expanded shale. Of course, that kind of a mix is going to be devoid of nutrition, so you have to add a complete fertilizer (all three major nutrients included along with trace elements). That plant food needs to be fairly high in nitrogen, since geraniums bloom on strong, new growth.
As summer nears, if you begin to see the leaves of your geranium plants starting to fade to yellow or tan, move the plants a couple of feet farther into the shade. While geraniums are basically sun-loving plants, sometimes protecting them from mid-afternoon sun will give you many weeks of additional bloom. They may still give it up in the hottest part of the summer, but you will have had four or more months of great color in the meantime.
What’s New With Geraniums?
There are always new series of geraniums coming into the market – at least that’s how it’s seemed through my career. Some of the current All Stars are the Caliente and Calliope Series. These have been bred by some of the world’s finest plant scientists to incorporate handsome growth habits, striking flowers, lovely foliage and, yep, tolerance of heat.