Have you been looking for a bright and beautiful plant that's not a nightmare to care for? Sit down with some coffee and let us tell you about the prize that is the geranium. These gorgeous plants produce beautiful blooms with very little fuss and last all throughout summer. If that sounds like the perfect plant for you, keep reading.
How to Choose the Right Geranium for You
When you're looking for plants to use in your home and yard, it's hard enough to choose one type. And then you realize there are multiple varieties for that type. It's enough to make any newbie gardener throw in their trowel! But deciding on a geranium type isn't as hard as it may seem.
When you're looking for a geranium, you really need to consider your climate. Do you live in an area with intense, long cold seasons? A geranium loves warmer, dry weather, so it likely wouldn't last long on your porch. If you're wanting a houseplant, though, you could likely pull it off. Unless, of course, you don't get a lot of sunlight either. Geraniums are big sunshine fans, so if you wanted to grow them you'd need to invest in some fluorescent lights.
Check out these main geranium types and their pet peeves to decide which would work best for you.
Zonal geraniums are the most common type of geranium available. This is what you'd typically find in the garden center of any big store like Walmart or Home Depot. While they're only marked as 'geraniums' in the stores, they get the zonal designation from their coloring on their round, kidney-shaped leaves. Zones of colors like bronze, purple, or dark green mark each leaf, and the colors grow darker as the plant matures.
This variety of geranium is great if you're wanting a plant that stands upright for a garden or pot. The flowers are gathered at the top of stems in a round, spherical bundle and come in a mix of red and orange hues as well as white. If you want more of a purple or yellow flower, there are hybrids on the market that offer these colors as well.
This geranium is fairly hardy, standing up to heat with a resilience that makes it a great fit for zones 7-12. They like drier conditions, which makes them great in drought-prone areas, though they don't handle intense heat or humidity well.
If this sounds like a geranium you'd love but you want to learn more about it, check out this post.
To find the geraniums shown above on Amazon, click here.
A variegated geranium is a type of zonal geranium, with one big difference. Variegated geraniums have bi-colored or tri-colored leaves, adding an extra bit of eye-catching color to the plant. These stand upright and grow up to 3ft tall but stay on the short and stocky side. This allows them to grow densely, producing a ton of those colorful leaves as well as the bright and bold flowers geraniums are known for.
A seed geranium is a geranium grown from seed rather than a cutting. These are shorter and more compact than zonal geraniums, and grow closer to the ground, making them a great choice for flower beds and large containers. They only produce single flowers on each plant rather than a lot of them bunched together.
These are typically sold in flats from home and garden stores and come in a bit cheaper than other geraniums. If you live in an area that's prone to heavy rains and winds, though, you might want to opt-out of this version. This geranium sheds its flowers frequently, and when it's hammered by rain and wind those flowers fall off quicker. A lot of naked plants do not a colorful garden make.
Ivy geraniums are great for planting in hanging baskets, window boxes, or tall vertical containers on your porch or patio. With their vine-like stems dripping in jewel-toned blooms over their containers, they're sure to make an eye-catching display.
These grow quickly and spread out by several feet in the largest varieties, but they also come in smaller versions nicknames 'balcony geraniums'. These can handle light frost easily, but intense, high heat makes them wilt quickly. So if you've fallen for this geranium type (and I don't blame you, they're gorgeous) but you live in a hotter climate, be sure to place them in a shaded area.
Interspecific Hybrid Geraniums
The Interspecific Hybrid Geranium is a cross between zonal and ivy geraniums, and it truly brings together the best features of both. This geranium blooms non-stop and has stems that both stand tall and also trail slightly over the side of their containers. These also handle heat much better than zonal or ivy geraniums, making them a great addition for your porch if you live in an area with intense heat like the Southeastern US.
The scented geranium is just what it sounds like, a geranium that smells. Well, kind of. The name 'scented geranium' refers more to the leaves of the plant than the flowers. And boy do they smell! There are many varieties of scented geraniums available. The plant pictured above has an apple scent, but lemon, lime, rose, mint, orange, and cedar are common scents, too. There's even chocolate scented geraniums out there for those of us who are chocoholics.
These don't have the huge blooms you might expect from a geranium plant, instead only producing small pink and white blooms. They add a lot to a yard or home, though, with their gentle scent that's released when the leaves are brushed up against or rubbed. If you want added aroma definitely chose this geranium. Just be careful when buying and make sure the specific plant you have smells good to you, as well as making sure it'll fit in the space you have in mind for it.
Martha Washington Geraniums
Martha Washington Geraniums, or Regal Geraniums, produce huge, showy flowers that are just as much at home in floral arrangements as they are in gardens and pots on porches. These are kind of oddballs in the geranium family, though. While most geraniums adore warm, dry climates, these beauties thrive in cooler, wetter environments found in zones 5-10. They don't last long in a garden, so if you want something for all summer these might not be the best choice. If you want a showstopper bloom, though, these will definitely deliver.
How and When to Start Seeds Indoors
Now that you've got an idea about what kind of geranium will work best for your plant project, let's talk about growing them. While you can definitely go buy some at your local garden center or nursery, plants that start from seeds typically grow better in the long run. And we want big, bright, beautiful blooms, right? Let's get started.
First off, we've got to start early.
I'm talking around 4 months before you intend to put your babies in the ground. Geraniums germinate and grow slowly, so they need plenty of time to get big and strong before you move them outdoors.
Fill a seed tray with good potting soil.
Each hole needs enough soil for you to plant your seeds in. Once you've got the soil in, spray over the soil with a water spray bottle to moisten the soil. Don't soak it, just get it a little damp for your new geranium seeds.
Plant your seeds.
And we're done! Well, not quite. Truthfully, this is where the work begins. After you put your seeds, one per pocket, in the seed tray, you need to add some more soil. Around a 1/8th of an inch will do it. Then moisten the soil with your spray bottle again.
Cover your seed trays with plastic wrap.
You've likely got some in your kitchen. Wrap each tray with the plastic wrap to trap in the moisture from the soil. Then put your tray in an indoor spot that has indirect light and stays around 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remove the plastic wrap once seeds germinate.
You'll start seeing little sprigs of green poking out of the soil within 1-4 weeks. At this point, the plastic wrap has done its job. Toss it.
Move your seed trays under a grow light.
Your seedlings aren't quite ready to move out of the house yet, but they still need some sunlight. Direct sunlight is going to be too much for the tender leaves, so opt for a grow light instead. Keep each light around 6 inches above the seedlings, and light them for 12-16 hours each day. Don't forget to keep your soil moist with your good ole spray bottle, though, or the new seedlings will dry out and die quickly.
Keep a fan on them.
We aren't trying to cool off the seedlings, so keep it on the lowest setting. A light breeze on your plants will encourage strong growth in the stems to keep them from being damaged once they move outside. A simple box fan will work fine for this as long as the air isn't blowing too hard.
Fertilize your seedlings.
Mix a good water-soluble fertilizer with water at around a quarter of the recommended strength, then pour it around the potting soil once per week to fertilize your seedlings.
Pinch them off.
Once your seedlings start getting around 4-6 inches tall, start pinching off the upper portion of each stem. This will encourage them to grow out rather than up, ensuring dense mounds rather than leggy stems.
Harden-off the seedlings.
Starting one week before you plan to plant your geraniums outside, start taking them outdoors for a bit every day. Start on day one with two hours in a sheltered location, then every day following extend the time and move them more into the sunlight. By the time you're ready to plant your seedlings will be used to being outside and it won't come as a shock to them.
Make sure you wait until the last frost has passed for your area before you start moving your plants outdoors though. Mature plants can handle a light frost, but new, tender seedlings will die quickly if exposed.
Choosing a Planting Location for Your Geraniums
Geraniums are not hard plants to grow but they do have a few requirements that must be met or they will quickly fade. You can plant them either outside in a garden, or plant them in a pot for either outdoor decor or to use as a houseplant.
Once you've decided to plant your geraniums outside, you need to check your calendar. It's really important to make sure you've passed the last frost for your area. A heavy frost will kill a young geranium plant overnight. If you've gotten into warmer weather, though, we're good to go.
Next, we need to consider our soil. Is it heavy and solid, or light and fluffy like geraniums love? Does it have enough nitrogen, and is the pH level between 5.8-6.5, a favorite for geraniums? If you aren't sure of your soil's nitrogen and pH levels, you can purchase a soil test at garden supply and hardware stores.
You also need soil that's well-drained. To test your soil, dig a hole that's around 8 inches deep and fill it with water. Give it a couple of hours, then check the water level. If there's still water standing, that spot isn't draining well and your geraniums will experience root rot.
Geraniums are huge fans of the sun, so make sure the spot you pick to plant in gets at least 6-8 hours of sunshine each day. If you live in an area that gets really intense heat during the summer, though, you want to make sure that area also has some shade during the hottest part of the day. Being exposed to higher temperatures and direct sun can cause your leaves to burn.
You need to be sure to have enough room for your geraniums to spread out, as well. Plants need at least 8-12 inches of space between them but double-check the information that comes with your plant. Some varieties may need more space, while others may need less.
When you plant indoors you don't have quite as many concerns as you do when you're planting outdoors, but there are a few things to consider. You need to make sure and have a well-drained pot. Avoid using a saucer under the pot. That will just hold the water under the plant and keep the soil soggy.
Speaking of pots, make sure yours is big enough for your plant. Check the information that comes with your plant for details about how big your specific plant should grow. The pot you plant it in then needs to be a few inches bigger than that to give it plenty of room.
Your potting soil should have a good nitrogen content, and be light and fluffy. Some added organic materials in it would be a great choice as well.
When you chose where to put your pot, look for an area of your home that gets a good amount of sunlight during the day, like in front of a window or in a sunroom.
Preparing the Soil for Geraniums
When you're getting ready to plant, whether geraniums or any other plant, you don't really want to just go plop it in the ground and call it done. You can, but you're gambling on whether your plant will survive or not. If you'd rather make sure that your geraniums don't just survive, but thrive, you're going to need to make sure the soil is as close to perfect as possible.
Geraniums love soils that are lighter and fluffy. Heavy soils like clay don't encourage the growth of this plant well. To improve denser soils, mix in sphagnum peat moss, leaf mold, organic compost, or composted manure. This will help circulate air through the soil and make it lighter.
We discussed how to determine if your soil is well-drained in the previous section. If you test it and find that it's not, there are a few ways you can correct it.
First, make sure there's not a large rock under your test hole. If there is, it can block the drainage of the hole. Remove it and test the hole again.
If you've checked and either removed the rocks or found there were no rocks yet you're still having drainage problems, mix in some organic material. Layer 3-4 inches of compost on top of the soil, then work it in gently. The added compost will lighten the soil, allowing water to filter through easier.
Determine Nitrogen and pH Levels
Plants, in general, need soil with high nitrogen levels to ensure plant fertility, and geraniums specifically prefer slightly acidic soils with pH levels between 5.8 and 6.5. You can't really determine either of these things without a soil test, but thankfully these are available from garden supply and hardware stores.
If your test shows a nitrogen deficiency, you can easily add nitrogen with commercial soil mixes, organic materials such as compost, or a good general fertilizer mixed into the soil. Look for a slow-release fertilizer if going that route, and if you can find one that's a bloom booster, even better.
If your soil isn't quite acidic enough, there are a few different ways to boost it. Manures and compost are, yet again, a good option to improve the soil. Vermicompost is especially helpful for this. You can also add vinegar or peat moss to the soil for a good organic option to increase acid levels.
Adding sulfur to the soil will also increase the acidity. Synthetic fertilizers like ammonium sulfate and ammonium nitrate are both good sulfur boosters.
Bonus Tip: When you add acidity to your soil, you can run the risk of lowering the iron available to your plants. This is common in alkaline soils and easily fixed. If you notice your leaves looking yellow with dark green veins spray your plant with an iron sulfate mixture to boost its iron and getting it back to its best health.
If you're planting indoors, you can skip most, if not all, of these steps and simply buy a solid all-purpose potting soil. Mix in some fertilizer to feed your geraniums during their growing season and you're good to go! For some great geranium fertilizers, read our guide on 9 of the best fertilizers for this plant.
Now that you've chosen your planting location and you've prepped your soil we're ready to actually plant those gorgeous geraniums. This isn't a complicated process and can be done in a few simple steps.
Planting Geraniums in Pots
Make sure the pot you've chosen is a good material for what you intend to use it for. For example, if you plan to move the pot frequently you likely don't want a heavy clay pot.
Once you have the right sized pot for your geranium, the first step is to clean it to make sure there are no pests or germs that could harm your new plant. Then fill the pot with good quality soil that drains well and has organic materials mixed in with it.
Take your geranium out of the container you bought it in. Tap the sides to loosen the soil from around the root ball, then gently lift the plant out. Place the plant in the prepared pot.
The top of the root ball should be level with the surface of the soil. Don't cover the stem with soil, though, as that will encourage the stem to develop rot. Cover the root ball with soil and pat it down around the plant so the geranium can stand up on its own.
Once the geranium is in its new pot, immediately water it. Be sure to water it at soil level rather than from above to prevent the leaves from being damaged. Adding in a good water-soluble fertilizer would be a great idea at this point to make sure your new plant has everything it needs.
Planting Geraniums Outdoors
You've picked the spot you're going to plant in and you've made sure the soil is ready for your geraniums. Now it's time to plant.
It's best to go ahead and mark where each plant will go. Check to see how much space your geraniums need, then measure out that much space for each plant. Mark the spots where each hole needs to be dug.
When digging your holes, make them roughly twice the size of the pot your geraniums are in now. For example, if your geranium is in a 6-inch pot, dig a 1-foot hole.
Take the geraniums out of their pots one at a time. Tap the sides of the pot to loosen the soil so you can take the plant out without damaging the roots.
Place the plant in the hole so that the roots are level with the soil. Fill the rest of the hole with soil, patting it down gently around the plant's stem. Then water gently at the base of the plant and ta-da! You've created a garden of geraniums.
Geranium Plant Care and Maintenance
Now that you've gotten your geraniums in their perfect place, be it a garden or a pot, you're ready to enjoy them. To keep enjoying them, though, you do need to do a few little things to make sure they stay happy and healthy.
If your plants are indoors the best thing you can do is to make sure they have well-draining potting soil with a good amount of organic material mixed in. Beyond this, keep the temperature between 65 and 70 F during the day and no lower than 55 F at night.
During the day you also need to make sure that your plants get between 6 and 8 hours of sunlight. If you live in an area that doesn't get that much sun, that's okay. Simply invest in a grow light for plants to supplement.
Water your plant deeply at soil level once the soil begins to feel dry.
If your plants are outdoors in a garden or pot you need to water them weekly if they're planted in the ground. If they're planted in a pot and the temperatures are high, you may need to water them daily. Keep a check on the soil and if it feels dry go ahead and water your plant at soil level.
Encouraging Geranium Growth
The best thing you can do to encourage your geranium to grow is to add a water-soluble fertilizer to it every 4-6 weeks during its growing season. This keeps the plant fed and happy.
Promoting Bloom Production
Deadheading your geranium, or removing the spent flowers, encourages the geranium to produce more blooms. To do this, clip the stems of the dying flowers at the base and remove them from the plant. If you spot a flower that's already lost its petals, snip it from the plant as well. Make sure to clean your scissors or shears between each deadheading session to keep from spreading diseases.
Making Sure Geraniums in Pots Have Enough Room
If your geranium is in a pot, you may need to re-pot it as it grows. If you notice roots growing out of the drainage holes or if your plant keeps tipping over, it's time for a move. Get a pot 2-3 inches bigger than the one your geranium is in to give it some more room to grow, and follow the same steps you used to plant the geranium originally.
Keeping a Geranium Bushy Rather Than Leggy
If your geranium stems get too tall they'll start to lose their lower leaves. This creates a leggy, scraggly geranium rather than a bushy and full geranium. To make sure that your geranium has that full, dense bunch of leaves and flowers, you'll need to pinch off the tops of the stems. This encourages the plant to grow out instead of up.
Starting in the spring, check your geranium stems. If they've grown to more than a few inches, use a sharp pair of scissors or your fingers to snip or pinch the top 1/4-1/2 inch off the end. The geranium will sprout two new stems in the place of the one you removed, making it bushier and fuller.
There aren't many pests that bother geraniums, but a few do. Aphids are quickly taken care of with either ladybugs or insecticidal soaps, both of which are available at garden supply stores. A major pest for geraniums, geranium budworms, are taken care of either by picking them off by hand or with synthetic pyrethrin pesticides, also available at garden supply stores.
Since geraniums don't do well in cold temperatures, those in the garden will likely die off during the winter. If you'd like to save your plants, though, you can overwinter them. To overwinter your geraniums, dig them up and pot them, then cut them back to 1/3 of their size. Water them well, then allow the soil to dry. Bring them inside a bit before the cold weather really hits and cover them with a paper bag to encourage them to do dormant. Store them in a cool, dry place until spring.
As you can see, the geranium is a treasure of a plant. It produces brilliant flowers and requires very little care. What little bit it does need, though, you can do easily to grow gorgeous geraniums for your home and garden.
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