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How to Care for Scented Geraniums or Pelargoniums?

Cheery with scented leaves, pelargoniums are a top choice for flower beds, hanging baskets or windowsills. They flower in warm weather and produce five-petaled blooms in a variety of colors.

But the scented leaves are what most gardeners appreciate about this plant that’s often mistaken for geraniums, hence their other name, scented geraniums.

In Sweden, there’s quite an obsession with pelargoniums, so much so that they’ve even come up with a name for the phenomenon — pelargonsjukan (translated to “pelargonic disease.”).

If you too have got a case of the pelargonsjukan, the care tips that I compiled below will help you grow dazzling pelargonium plants year after year.

Size & Growth

The size of your pelargonium will depend on its species. Some varieties tend to grow taller, others trail instead, while many are naturally bushy.

But generally, their height can range from 1 to 3 feet, while their spread is usually around 1 or 2 feet. Because of their manageable size, they can be grown indoors as houseplants or outdoors as bedding type plants or in hanging baskets.

The plant is hardy in zones 9-11, in other zones you can winterize them indoors as houseplants and they adjust nicely to this regimen.

Some varieties exhibit a pronounced trailing growth pattern and they’re best grown in hanging baskets to allow the leaves to cascade down the sides of the basket.

If you want to discourage this trailing behavior, simply snip the plant back to encourage bushier growth. Pinch back the tips of shoots especially in spring or early summer to stimulate side-branching instead.

If you prefer taller growing cultivars, you can train them on canes for upright growth.

Watering

Pelargoniums have moderate water requirements, so water normally from spring to summer, whenever the potting medium feels dry.

You don’t want the potting medium to become wet because overwatering can cause fungal diseases and rot of the roots.

Besides watering correctly, make sure to also increase air circulation around the plant to prevent grey mold and rust.

Water the soil with a soaker instead of watering from above. Moisture on the leaves can also cause fungal leaf diseases.

They have a good tolerance to drought and heat, although in summer, and especially when planted in full sun, it’s a good idea to have a layer of mulch around the plant to help with moisture retention.

In winter, if you’re winterizing your pelargoniums indoors, water only when the potting medium becomes dry.

Light Requirements

Pelargoniums flower best when planted in full sun, although light preferences can vary depending on species.

Some species of pelargoniums might need partial shade, others need bright light but can tolerate some shade.

When kept indoors, they need plenty of bright light. They need shade from very hot midday sun, but otherwise they can be exposed to direct light.

Soil Type

Pelargoniums aren’t too fussy about their soil, but it’s best to avoid acidic soil with poor drainage.

If you’re planting pelargoniums in the garden in flower beds or borders, the best soil type is one that’s alkaline or neutral and fertile.

If you’re growing pelargoniums in containers — indoors or out — a peat-free compost or a soil-based compost works best for these plants.

For pelargoniums grown in hanging baskets, you can use lightweight multipurpose compost.

Fertilizing

Pelargoniums enjoy regular feeding with a balanced liquid fertilizer. A good feeding regimen will keep your pelargoniums healthy and disease-free, plus it will promote better bloom production.

Start feeding in spring until the flowers start forming. Ideally, you should feed every 10-14 days, but also consult the dosage recommendations on the label of the fertilizer product you’ve chosen

When flowers start forming, switch to a fertilizer with a higher potassium content. You can use fertilizers that are designed to feed tomato plants. Feed every two weeks throughout summer.

In autumn, you should reduce the frequency of feeding to about once a month. Depending on your winterization method (whether you’re keeping the plants indoors or allowing them to dry out), you should adjust your feeding accordingly.

For plants that have been allowed to dry out or pelargoniums that you’ve cut back, no feeding is necessary. If you winterize pelargoniums by taking cuttings, for example, you can start feeding them in late winter to kick-start their growth process.

Propagation

There are two methods by which you can propagate pelargoniums. One is by seeds, the other is by cuttings. Bedding type pelargoniums are easiest to propagate by seed.

When propagating by seeds, sow the seeds in late winter and keep the pots in a protected area like in a conservatory or greenhouse until it’s warm enough outside to move them in the garden. The seeds need warmth, moisture and indirect sunlight to germinate.

When propagating from cuttings, harvest softwood cuttings that are 1 ½ – 3 inches long. You can harvest these from spring to autumn.

Plant in a moist potting medium and keep in a warm location with indirect sunlight until they get established.

The ideal potting medium for rooting cuttings is a mix of two-thirds peat-free, multipurpose compost combined with ⅓ grit. Rooting takes around 2 weeks if conditions are optimal.

For cuttings harvested in autumn, make sure to winterize indoors and move outdoors again only when there is no longer a risk of frost damage.

Both methods produce viable plants, although propagating through cuttings is much faster overall.

Wrap Up

Scented geraniums or pelargoniums are excellent border plants and can prove a lively addition to garden beds, window soils or even grown in hanging baskets.

There are plenty of varieties with interesting leaf shapes and blooms, so you’ll always have a new addition to plant in sunny spots in your garden or keep in your window sill.

Make sure not to overwater to prevent mold and rotting. Plant in fertile soil and feed regularly for blooms throughout the entire summer. Deadhead spent blooms for even better blooming.

With these care tips, your scented geraniums will stay healthy and faithfully produce blooms, often even late into autumn.

Updated: March 17, 2021

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