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Scented Pelargoniums/geraniums - 1/26/2015
Jim & Dotti Becker
'Bourbon Rose' 'Staghorn Peppermint' 'Mabel Grey' 'Cy's Sunburst'
Scented pelargoniums were among the plants that we most admired and prized in our first garden over 20 years ago. Today we grow over 75 types, and are adding new ones each year.Scented pelargoniums, often known as scented geraniums, are admirable in many ways. We can step back and view them within the intricate tapestry of a garden or move forward to explore the smaller secrets held in their fragrances, shapes, textures, and colors. Unlike most garden plants, their fragrances come not from transitory blossoms, but can be summoned up at any time by gently rubbing the leaves.
Like the common garden geranium, scenteds are actually members of the genus Pelargonium. The generic name, from the Greek pelargos, “stork”, comes from the notion that the long narrow seed head resembles a stork’s bill. There are some 250 naturally occurring pelargoniums, most native to South Africa. Not all are scented, but the ease of hybridization has led to over 100 cultivars. There are only a few true species commonly found in gardens. These include apple (Pelargonium odoratissimum), coconut (P. grossularioides), and peppermint (P. tomemtosum).
The scent is contained in small beads of oil produced in the glands at the base of tiny leaf hairs. Bruising or crushing a leaf breaks the beads and releases their fragrance. Some have an easily identifiable fragrance, such as lemon, mint, or rose. Others may smell like cinnamon to one person and citrus to someone else.
The leaves vary in size, shape, color and texture. Some are splashed or edged with white or creamy yellow. Purplish brown may blotch leaf centers or add color to leaf veins and midribs. Leaves may be smooth, rough, raspy, hairy, or soft like velvet.
Though scented pelargoniums are grown mainly for their fragrant foliage, the flowers are often attractive as well. They are almost always single, with five petals each, and most commonly white, rose or lavender. The upper two petals are usually wider and often stippled with deep purple or reddish markings.
In their native South Africa scented pelargoniums are perennial, living and flowering for many years. Because they can’t reliably tolerate freezing temperatures, however, they can only be grown outdoors all year-round in frost-free regions. In cooler climates they can either be used as annual bedding plants, or brought indoors each winter in containers.
Remember to place pots so that the foliage is within easy reach of chairs, benches, and walkways. Many varieties are suitable for hanging baskets or window boxes, and can be mixed with other trailing annuals for a fuller effect. A few types can also be trained into topiaries.
Scenteds grown in containers need repotting every year or two. Choose a pasteurized potting soil that contains peat moss, perlite, composted bark, or similar ingredients. It should hold moisture evenly but allow excess water to drain off rapidly –pelargoniums hate wet feet.
Water the plants thoroughly when the top of the soil begins to dry out and always empty out any water that collects in saucers placed under the pots. Check plants daily, until you have determined the proper watering schedule for each one.
Feed scented pelargoniums with a balanced, water-soluble liquid or a slow release granular fertilizer. We generally use half the manufacturer’s recommended dose during the growing season, and taper off after that.
Outdoors, keep your pots in a bright spot, but shielded from direct sunlight in hot climates. Bring them indoors when frost threatens and place them in a sunny, south-facing window where they will get at least four to five hours of sunlight daily. If you grow scenteds in flower beds, it’s easier to winter them over by rooting some cuttings in the early autumn than to dig them up and bring them inside. Prune and shape leggy plants whenever necessary; the best time to prune established plants is in late winter or early spring.
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