Resilient, colorful geranium will brighten any garden

Published 1:00 am Saturday, January 21, 2012

Pelargonium is a plant name that might not readily be recognizable to many gardeners. Most know it as a geranium.

Geranium is the botanical name for a separate genus called Cranesbills. Both are in the Family Gerniaceae but were separated in 1789 into two genera by Charles L’Heritier, who noted that some species were so distinct they needed to be in another genus. This caused disagreement among experts, but geranium won. Pelargonium is generally used only by those who need to differentiate between the two.

Annual garden geraniums have been an American favorite for decades. Easy to grow and suitable for containers or flower beds, they are excellent for bright windowsills, patios and porches.

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With so many selections, The National Garden Bureau proclaimed 2012 the Year of the Geranium.

Discovered in South Africa, the first geranium, Pelargonium triste, made its way into England in the 17th century. Others species were discovered but it was only after Thomas Jefferson shipped some from France to Philadelphia horticulturist John Bartrum that Americans fell in love with it.

Many early cultivars were lost, but the Pan American Seed Company made a major breakthrough with one called “Freckles.”

It was the first tetraploid hybrid and the results meant huskier, stronger plants with thicker stems and bigger flowers. Freckles and other recent cultivars have won the All-American Selection distinction including the 2002 AAS Winner “Black Velvet Rose.”

The leaves on this geranium are what makes it so interesting and distinctive. Solid charcoal, chocolaty-brown leaves enhanced by just a central strip of green contrast dramatically with its bright rosy-colored bloom clusters.

Geraniums will be available at garden centers later this spring.

The National Garden Bureau recommends choosing plants based on color, size and how you plan to use them in your landscape. Look carefully at the foliage for spots or discolorations on the top and bottom of leaves which might indicate disease. The bloom clusters should just be open just enough to distinguish the color. Consider Ivy geraniums for hanging baskets and window boxes because of their flowing, more vine-like growth pattern rather than the upright growth pattern of most garden varieties.

All geraniums require four to six hours of bright sunshine daily and should not be planted until all danger of frost has passed. Well-drained soil fed with organic matter is important for them and other bedding plants. They need good air circulation but protection from strong winds. Geraniums are heavy feeders.

It is advised to scatter in some fertilizer when they are initially planted and more every four to six weeks until frost. Container plantings require more frequent fertilizing. Every two weeks is recommended because daily watering will flush out the fertilizer more quickly from any container planting.

Geraniums have few problems with pests or disease; however, if they are planted in poorly draining soil, they can develop stem and root rot. Botrytis blight might also be a problem, and indoor plants can suffer from white flies and aphids.

Geraniums are such versatile, long-blooming additions to the garden. I noticed them being used in shopping malls in Dallas last year and was surprised at how attractive they were in mass plantings with sun coleus. Give them a try, Geraniums will perk up just about any garden.

Reservations are being taken for the American Rose Society Gulf Coast Mid-Winter Workshop, Feb. 11, at the Natchez Grand Hotel, 111 N. Broadway. Registration starts at 8 a.m.

Speakers from Mississippi State University, Louisiana State University and the Shreveport Rose Society will discuss disease prevention, organic rose growing, old garden roses and propagating techniques. Vendors and silent auction are scheduled.

Send checks for $32 payable to Gulf District to: Karen Constant, 14907 Profit Ave., Baton Rouge, LA 70817. More info: contact Flora Hover 318-255-8158 or

Miriam Jabour, a Master Gardener and Master Flower Show judge, has been active in the Openwood Plantation Garden Club for over 35 years. Write to her at 1114 Windy Lake Drive, Vicksburg, MS 39183.