A flowering plant that flourishes in window boxes and containers throughout Canada has to be easy to please. Here’s what you need to know about bedding geraniums and some helpful tips to get you started.
A brief introduction to bedding geraniums
The annual bedding geranium isn’t a true geranium; its proper botanical name is Pelargonium.
- Bedding geraniums, also called zonal geraniums, are actually tender perennials that hail from South Africa, where they thrive in lean soil and without reliable rainfall.
- This undaunted bloomer cut its teeth under those rigorous, survive-or-die conditions, and that explains why geraniums are often popped into tough places and nonetheless produce quantities of lollipop-like flower clusters crowning scalloped, velvety, deep green or variegated leaves.
- In cool weather and in partial shade, geranium leaves are often marked with a reddish horseshoe-shaped band or zone, a trait that has won the plant its nickname of zonal geranium.
- In some varieties the leaves are almost as ornamental as the flowers. ‘Flowers of Spring’ has leaves variegated with silver, while those of ‘Crystal Palace Gem’ are golden.
- There are even geraniums with leaves accented by bands of several colours, such as old-fashioned ‘Skies of Italy’, which was popular in Victorian times. Such specialty geraniums can usually be found at mail-order nurseries.
- These showy varieties, which are propagated exclusively by cuttings, are most appropriate as container plants for sunny indoor windowsills, where they bloom off and on year-round.
- For outdoor beds, seed-sown bedding geraniums, such as ‘Elite’ or ‘Orbit’, which branch freely and produce a summer-long display of self-cleaning flowers that need no grooming, are simply unbeatable.
- Flower colours include white, pink, red, magenta, lavender, salmon and orange. And if you want especially dramatic geraniums to showcase in containers or window boxes, there are double- and semi-double-flowered varieties that produce breathtakingly large blossoms.
- The best of these are grown from cuttings rather than from seed, and are sold in roomy pots at garden centres in the spring.
How to grow bedding geraniums the right way
- Except in areas with very hot summers, bedding geraniums flower best with at least six hours of full sun each day.
- All geraniums benefit from well-drained soil enriched with compost or other organic matter, but they do not need large amounts of fertilizer. Apply it only periodically, to get them off to a good start and to support spurts of new growth.
- And because geraniums have a special fondness for soil that becomes almost dry between waterings, you can easily satisfy them by drenching them with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer every three to four weeks.
- The secret to keeping bedding geraniums healthy and care-free lies in watering them before the soil becomes bone dry, and feeding when the plant leaves start to yellow.
- Pest problems with geraniums are rare, but the geranium budworm, a moth larvae, occasionally causes damage where winter temperatures seldom fall below -7°C (19°F). Budworms bore inside the buds and ruin the blossoms.
- Use the biological insecticide BT (Bacillus thurin – giensis), a caterpillar stomach poison, applied as directed to control this pest.
- Blossom blight is caused by a fungus and is quite common where summers are humid. Spray with a copper-based fungicide.
Keep these simple tips in mind and you can grow bedding geraniums in no time!