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Freshen and Green Your Life With Geraniums

Updated on October 16, 2018
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish has 30 years experience in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, history, and aerospace education for USAF Civil Air Patrol.

Double pink geranium
Double pink geranium

Greening Your Life With Plants and Flowers

Many of us are tired of smog, fog, and acid atmosphere, as well as wanton waste. Professional and hobby gardeners have taught us that gardening can affect our lives in many positive ways, one of them being to help clean up the environment.

In fact, NASA agrees with us in their publication called House Plants Clean the Air. In addition, plant life is vital to maintaining an atmosphere around an entire planet, so one can see the importance of flora to human life in this single feat alone.

A double blossom white variety.
A double blossom white variety. | Source

Interestingly, a company in Australia, known as Innovative Plant Technology, designs breathing walls based on the principals and biology of the rain forest to use for cleaning indoor air. In addition, at least one community in California began using a system of living plant roots in the 1990s to filter their water at the city water treatment plant. Plants can help us in many ways.

It was once the custom in hospitals to forbid plants around all patients, because it was believed that any plants took all the oxygen out of the atmosphere. Of course, this was proven incorrect. Plants generally take in carbon dioxide and emit oxygen, cleaning the air in this and other ways. In the 21st century, there remain some plant restrictions for certain hospital patients, but not the superstitions of previous decades.

During World War II, Americans and others in the war grew Victory Gardens, supplying themselves with home grown foods, while the nation's soldiers benefited from more for the farmer's crops that could be sent overseas to the battlefields and outposts.

In the 21st Century, we may benefit from a Sustainability Garden that

  1. Conserves and catches rain runoff,
  2. Slows erosion with soil holding power of plant roots, and
  3. Provides food, oxygen, and relaxation in an attractive setting in addition to other benefits.

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Pelargonium, a tender perennial.Pink-bloom family
Pelargonium, a tender perennial.
Pelargonium, a tender perennial.
Pink-bloom family
Pink-bloom family | Source

Varieties of Geraniums

While many varieties of geraniums are grown, "scented geraniums" are actually called "Pelargonium", available in a wide range of scents from apricot and lime to mint and nutmeg.

Pelargonium are "tender perennials", which means that they are not hardy: they will not survive outside over the winter. Zonal types refer to a zoned pattern on the leaves.

Geraniums are often obtained by growing from seeds and include:

  • Hardy variety: Cranesbill or Hardy Geranium. This plant may survive outside over the winter in some locales.
  • Seed families: Ringo, Bandit, Elite, Multibloom, Orbit, Pinto, Lone Ranger.
  • Cuttings from the red-bloom families: Kim, Mars, Tango, Sincerity, Yours Truly.
  • Cuttings from the pink-bloom families: Blossom, Helena, Katie, Pink Expectations, Rio.
  • Other families: Ivy-leafed, Martha Washington (also called "Regal"), tulip-flowering, dwarf type, or stellar (star-shaped leaves). Regals produce flower frills of white, orange, purple, red, and burgundy; can be grown in shade, and can reach four feet tall.
  • Scented families: These are not true geraniums.

Why Geraniums?

Geraniums are one of the plants considered most dependable for a home garden. They are annuals, which means that new plants are needed each year. However, the plants may be brought indoors in the autumn, repotted to keep inside for the winter and some will usually survive. Some US states enjoy wild, native perennial geraniums indigenous to their regions as well.

Geraniums are available at greenhouses, garden stores, and home DIY type stores already in flower by late spring, but seeds and seedlings are also available.

All of these plants can furnish a variety of colors to the garden landscape until the first frost occurs. New developments in geranium growing have produced blossoms that are advertised as “shatter proof” -- they survive rain and fairly high winds.

Growing the Plants to Bloom

Geraniums can grow well in many soil types and the soil must be well-aerated and rather porous, with good drainage. A sunny site for planting is preferred, usually in mid-to-late May.

Plants set out too early most likely will result in little foliage and only red blooms, no matter what color they are said to achieve. Usually, Too Cold = Red.

Heavy clay soils need organic matter added to them each year in order to improve the porous quality and to allow easy aeration -- Tightly packed clay soil cannot get enough air into it for the geraniums to thrive. About 1-2" of sphagnum moss or compost added when digging the beds is a good choice each year.

After planting, be careful not to over-fertilize. A liquid fertilizer like 20-20-20 or can be used, but be certain to follow the package directions. Then water the plants to encourage the fertilizer to flow down to the roots.

Meadow Cranesbill
Meadow Cranesbill | Source

Health Tips for Geraniums

Concerns with pests are usually very slight when dealing with geraniums. Remove fading flower stalks stave off botrytis, a concern in wet seasons.

Bacterial blight can be stopped if you notice when a plant or a few single leaves wilt for no reason, particularly when the temperature reaches 70 - 80. Just remove the infected plant altogether and discard it.

Before the first frost, Geranium plants can be dug up, trimmed to one-half original height, repotted, and set in sunny windows to over-winter. You can also dig them up, remove the soil, and hang them from the rafters in a basement if the air is not too dry – it needs to be humid.

© 2009 Patty Inglish MS

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