Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Annual Geraniums

Geranium, also known as cranesbill, can be annual, biennial and perennial. (I always believed they were all annuals until recently.) My mother was kind of funny when it came to geraniums. She didn’t particularly like them, but would buy a couple of plants (always the annuals) every year because it was her mother’s favorite. I never paid much attention because, to me, it was a plant to put on graves. I don’t know whether most people do that or if it was only because that’s what my mother did.

Martha Washington Regal Geranium
"Elegance Purple Majesty" purchased 07/17
A geranium was the last plant my mother ever bought me. I remember the day she brought it home. A friend had taken her out for the day as she didn’t drive or go out on her own any more. She was so proud to bring me home a gift, a beautiful Martha Washington geranium. I was as excited to receive it as she was to give. She so wanted to please me – and she did. I planted it in the little garden near the garage.

A friend told me I could dig it up and bring it inside for the winter. I did and it survived, so for the next couple of years, I’d plant it outside in the spring and in the fall, dig it up and put it in a pot to winter inside. It lasted a few years but somehow went missing when I moved from Bradford. 

A Sarista Sunstar Red purchased in 2016 and wintered inside

Geranium facts: There are 422 species in the geranium genus. The leaves are palmate and broadly circular in form. The flowers have five petals and a few clumps will grow tight on a single stem. The colors range from white, pink, purple, blues and shades of red. Some will be a single color while others may have veining or be two-colored. 

Geraniums are nice because they will grow almost anywhere and, unlike other flowering plants, they don’t have a dormant period. They look great wherever they are planted whether in pots, in garden beds or hanging baskets. They prefer six to eight hours of sunlight, though. I had a friend who kept her geranium inside and it eventually got so big that the pot couldn’t be moved.

Care is easy – deadhead regularly and water deeply when the soil feels dry. (I sometimes wait until the leaves droop.) However, they don’t like to be water logged. A water-soluble houseplant fertilizer or 5-10-5 fertilizer can be added once a month during the active growing season. A potted geranium will wilt when it needs re-potting.

Now for the fun part, and something with which I am not familiar – propagating. I’ve always had trouble cutting plants back or dividing them when they get big. I was afraid of hurting them even though I know they do better with attention. Propagation of geraniums is easy. You can take cuttings in summer, gather seeds or divide a larger plant in autumn or spring.

I bought three geranium plants last year to honor my mother. I planted them in flower boxes in the yard and dug them up and brought them inside for the winter. Two of last year’s plants were in an oblong flower box in the living room window. They grew taller and taller. I didn’t want to cut them back because there was always a bud. The orange bi-color reached 40 inches tall and the pinto red, 36 inches. Both were in bloom and the weight of the blossoms finally caused both stalks to bend. 

Geranium cuttings root well without the need of any additives. I cut off the flowers and then cut the stems near a node (place above a leaf or a swollen part of the stem). Cutting here also encourages new growth on the mother plant. I pulled off the bottom-most leaves and just stuck the stems in the soil and gave them a generous amount of water. I watered often in the next few days whenever the leaves started to wilt.

Blossom from a cutting -- it grew!
I researched more on geraniums. Some websites said to dip the root end into a rooting hormone such as Miracle Gro FastRoot while others say it’s not necessary. The sites also say propagating is a great way to keep the geraniums as they often only live about a couple of years.

Weeks went by. The leaves stayed green and the plants grew. I was amazed. Three weeks later, one blossomed. The dilemma now is going to be what to do with too many geraniums. I hate the thought of just throwing excess away. Free geranium cuttings, I guess.