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Geraniums Deserve A Second Glance
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Before the National Bureau designated 1998 as the Year of the Geranium, I couldn't remember the last time I planted geraniums or even paid them any attention. Now guess what I have in my landscape and in mixed containers?
Geraniums arrived in America in 1760, and Thomas Jefferson brought some with him from France in the 1770s and 1780s. Today we have all colors of zonal geraniums (pelargonium xhortorum) including those that are two-toned. We also can choose ivy-leafed geraniums (pelargonium pelatum) and scented-leaf geraniums like the rose-scented pelargonium graveolens, which are so loved by herb enthusiasts.
Geraniums need full sun to grow and flower well. That means they should receive six or more hours of direct sun daily. With our area's staggering heat and humidity, a little afternoon shade is welcome.
Beyond that requirement, geraniums look great in a variety of gardens. We can use them on their own in beds, edging a perennial border, mixed with other annuals or in patio containers. Probably the prettiest display I have ever seen was in a window box at a home in Shreveport. Red and white geraniums were alternated with cascading asparagus fern.
To prepare your soil, loosen it 8 to 12 inches deep and add 2 to 3 inches of organic matter. Add about 1 pound of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet and rake the soil smooth.
Geraniums are heavy feeders and many gardeners do not apply enough fertilizer to meet the plants' nutrient needs. We can feed every two weeks with a water-soluble fertilizer like a 20-20-20, or apply a granular time-released fertilizer a few times.
The best time to transplant geraniums is on a cloudy day or in the late afternoon so the plants have a chance to settle in before contending with the drying effects of the sun. Set geraniums in the ground at the same depth they were growing in the container. Space the plants as recommended, keeping in mind that good air circulation around plants is healthy.
When it is time to deadhead old flowers, don't just clip the cluster. Pinch or break off the flower stalk at the base.
One group of geraniums that has really caught my attention this year comes under the name Starburst. Starburst Violet Rose is my favorite, followed by Starburst Red Rose. Both of these are bi-colored, and not the least bit gaudy.
I have grown ivy-leafed geraniums the past few years, and I have to admit that this geranium looks elegant and graceful alone in a hanging basket or mixed with other flowers. As we get into summer temperatures, this geranium definitely appreciates a little more shade protection.
Scented-leafed geraniums give off their fragrance as you gently brush against them. They open up a whole new world of geranium growing which is more like herb gardening. These geraniums are grown for potpourris, sachets, jams, jellies and desserts. You can find species that give off the fragrance of strawberry, lemon, apricot, almond, peppermint and nutmeg.
If, like me, you have overlooked the wonderful possibilities geraniums offer, look around now and you will probably agree this is a good time to designate "The Year of the Geranium."