How to Grow Great Geraniums
What is a Geranium or Pelargonium?
What is usually considered a very popular geranium we all know and recognize today, is in reality a pelargonium. Although that won't really matter to most home gardeners who grow this wonderful flower, it is an interesting tidbit to know.
In the 18th century, what is considered a geranium today, along with pelargonium, were grouped into one genus. But a man named Charles L’Héritier changed that in the latter part of the century by separating them into two genera. I mention this only for the purists, and for those who may be seeking one of the two but may end up with the wrong one.
As for pelargoniums, there are close to 200 species of them, which can come in the form of shrubs and succulents, as well as the flowers we're so used to planting and caring for in modern times.
For the sake of this article and not to confuse people, we'll be talking about pelargoniums, but we'll continue on with simply calling them geraniums for the sake of clarity for home gardeners.
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The large number of the varieties of geraniums makes it almost impossible to describe them, as along with numerous colors and bi-colors, they include an amazing variety of flowers, sizes, and shapes.
They can also vine or be bushy, as well as include leaves that change from plant to plant.
As for scent, many geraniums that have been around for awhile aren't that pleasant in that regard, although newer scented-leaf geraniums come with a variety of beautiful aromas.
Growing Geraniums from Seeds
Formerly, most of those choosing to propagate geraniums chose to do it through cuttings rather than from seed. That has changed over time as a growing number of varieties are now being offered from seed for home gardeners.
Not only are there now more seed options, but a number of the new varieties do much better than those taken from cuttings. Check your catalog or online sources for geranium seed offerings.
Many companies offer branded geraniums for their customers, so check out several seed companies for options that fit your tastes. Some geranium varieties offered from seed have different leave patterns, color, and/or foliage.
Be aware that growing geraniums from seed usually means they're single-flowered. If you don't mind that, it of course means less work in contrast to geraniums which need to be deadheaded.
How to Grow Geraniums from Seed
One thing to be aware of when growing geraniums from seed is they take some time to get going. So start them in the early part of the year, as it takes from 12 to 16 weeks for them to bloom from the time you sow the seed.
As a general rule of thumb, you shouldn't sow them much later than the latter part of January.
Concerning geranium seeds themselves, they have a lower germination rate because of a tough outer coat. If you don't do something to improve the rate you'll have to increase the amount of seed you sow to get the desired results.
A simple step removes that outcome if you don't mind taking a little time to do it. That step is to simply damp some paper towels and lay the seeds on the towels to moisten them before you sow them.
Take your seed and spread them over one half of the paper towel surface after it has been dampened, and then place them in a plastic bag that zips up in order to retain the moisture so the towels don't start to dry out and lose their effectiveness.
It only takes about 24 hours for the seeds to soften and begin to germinate. So just check them when it gets close to that time period to see when they're ready to sow.
Sowing Your Geranium Seeds
When your seed is ready to go, get your mix (preferably commercial) in the pots, which should include drainage holes. Dampen the mix with water to the consistency you would with a sponge, but don't let it get overly wet.
Let the mix sit until the water is absorbed; usually completed in no longer than two hours.
Using pots of about 2 1/2" with the mix about an inch from the top, go ahead and sow several seeds and then lightly tamp it down after you cover it with no more than 1/4 inch of mix.
I like to use at least a couple of seeds, and maybe more, in order to guarantee germination success within the pot. It's also in order to be able to pick the best sprout as the one to keep when they start to grow. I just remove those that aren't as good as the better looking plant.
Once the seeds are sown, at that time water them lightly, preferably with a spray bottle if you have one. Just don't overdue it no matter what you use to water them.
Placing your pots in a plastic bag and closing it is a good practice, as it helps retain the moisture, which aids in the germination process.
Geranium seeds have no need of light to germinate, so don't be concerned with that. Place them where the temperature will be from about 70°F to 75°F (21°C to 24°C).
After your seeds begin to produce green sprouts you can at that time open up the bag container so air can circulate. Leave the pot in the bag while it is open though. You will need to place them in light at this time.
Once two leaves grow (not the first two seed leaves), remove the plastic holders altogether and let them grow for a couple of weeks before transplanting into larger, individual pots.
As I mentioned, depending on your growing strategy and how many you want, you can simply discard some of the plants that aren't doing as well as the others. Alternatively, if they look pretty close in quality, you can use as many as you want up to the number of plants you desire.
Emily's Garden " Geranium Cuttings" Video
Once your seedlings are ready, place them in a place that receives a good amount of sunlight. Another option if you don't have somewhere near a window is to place them under fluorescent lights for about 12 hours, or a little more, daily.
Fertilize your seedlings once a week using a water-soluble fertilizer at half-strength.
From there it depends on whether you're going to keep them indoors or plant them in soil, as to what you do next with them.
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Planting Geraniums Outdoors
Geraniums are a very resilient plant, and so can do well in almost any type of soil; although they thrive more in conjunction with the quality of the soil.
If you have no other options, plant them in the type of soil you have and they'll still do good. But build up and improve the soil over time, especially if it has a strong clay base.
When to Plant
Be sure all danger of a frost has passed before placing your geraniums in the ground.
If a geraniums experience too cold of a temperature, they will produce little growth because of injury, and many times result in a reddish foliage.
Geraniums like sunlight, so plant them in a place with at least 8 hours a day or more. While they can do well in less sun as far as leaves and foliage, the blooms will be much less in quantity.
Depth to Place Them
A geranium plant does better when planted at about the same level as they were in the pot you're transplanting them from. They will do even better if they're planted a little shallower, as the deeper they're planted the more apt they are to be killed because of stem rot.
Good drainage is also important.
Propagating Geraniums Through Cuttings
Most gardeners prefer to propagate geraniums through cuttings, and even with more seed varieties available, it remains a popular practice. The latter part of summer is usually the best time to take cuttings.
It is best to take cuttings from your most impressive and desirable plants, as they have the best chance of reproducing the traits and look you personally like the best. That's a simple but sometimes unknown rule to follow that gardeners need to learn concerning any cutting.
First Cutting Step
Other than choosing the plants you want to take cuttings from, the first practical step is to prepare the containers you want to put the cuttings in.
They seem to do the best in containers of 3" to 4" deep. You can use a mix similar to that you would sow seeds in. Moisten the mix before you place the cuttings in it.
As for the cuttings themselves, cut the shoots at 3" to 5" lengths from the tip of the stem, and then remove the lower leaves.
Now just place the cuttings about an inch deep into the potting mix while tamping down the mix. You can add some rooting hormone to aid the rooting process if you choose. What you do there is dip the cutting into the rooting hormone to about 1/2 an inch deep and then place in the mix.
If you're placing more than one cutting in a larger or wider container, don't crowd them together, as they need some room to breathe so they aren't more susceptible to disease.
As when you sow seeds, cover the cutting or slip with a plastic bag to help with retaining moisture, as it helps boost the rooting of the slip.
Place the pot or container in an area where it receives bright, but not direct light from the sun. Once in a while open the bag to release any build up of heat which could be too much for the plant.
Soil Temperature for Slips
The optimum soil temperature for geranium slips is from about 72 to 75 degrees F.
Under the conditions laid out here, the successful rooting of your plant should be accomplished in about 3 to 4 weeks. Don't use too much water during this process.
Rooting is more successful when kept more dry than wet.
After about a week you can fertilize the slips to give them a boost. Use only about half the recommended dosage for best results. Many people prefer to wait until there is some top growth before fertilizing.
Checking if Your Geraniums have Rooted
To be sure your slips or cuttings have rooted, just give a very slight pull on the stem to see how it responds. Resistance confirms the cutting has taken root and are ready to be transplanted to individual containers.
When transplanting, like outside, they do best when placed at about the same level they came out of. As they grow and flourish, you can gradually move them to more direct light while continuing to water them.
Digging Up Geraniums
Another method more ambitious gardeners take to lengthen the life of their geraniums is to dig them out of the ground in the latter part of the year and pot them for growing indoors.
Best practices here is to trim the geranium to about half the height it was when you removed it from the garden. Usually just placing it in a sunny window during the winter is enough.
Another practice that a lot of gardeners probably aren't aware of for extending the life of geraniums is to dig them up, and after removing the soil from them, simply hang them upside down somewhere in a basement or similar storage place.
Because there are more challenges here, I wouldn't try this with my favorite plants, but would use it as more of an experiment to see if the place you put them in is conducive to success.
The key in this practice is the humidity factor. Most homes today are made to be very dry, which limits this particular practice. But if you have a place in your home where it has humidity of 85 percent to 90 percent, with a temperature range from 50 to 55 degrees F, this could be an effective and easy way to store your geraniums till the next year.
Why dryness is an issue is because it would dehydrate the plant.
Geraniums Great for Indoors or Outdoors
As you can see, geraniums can be a lot of fun to grow and work with. The reward is the great color from a healthy geranium which will bloom from the latter part of spring all the way until first frost, depending on which zone you live in.
Add to this the resistance to insects, and you have a great flower to add to your garden, whether it's indoors or outdoors.