Ann Wright: Geraniums, the bright stars of summer
There are so many lovely, bright flowers with summer bloom, and Geranium are among the blooming beauties of late spring into summer.
Brightening up garden beds, decks, window boxes or Miss Mayella’s slop jars (from Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mocking Bird”), these stars of summer have an array of colors — pinks, white and stunning reds.
From the diverse family Geraniaceae, Geranium is the botanical as well as the common name of these plants in the species of Pelargonium — from the Latin term pelargo, or “stork.” Types of geraniums include scented, fancy-leafed, ivy, and “zonal” with rounded red flower clusters and leaves with faint “zones” or bands of contrasting color. Zonal geraniums are some of the most popular types, many of which have been developed to withstand the heat of summer. Caliente, calliope and strawberry sizzle are types developed for hot summer regions.
Some varieties are more temperature specific, such as the “regal” Martha Washington which requires an average of 60- to 80-degree temperatures during active growth.
Scented geraniums are grown for their aromatic characteristics, with scents of spice, citrus, almond, apple and many others. These aromatic plants are favored for their scented leaves for use in sachets, potpourri, and herbal flavorings. One scented geranium (Pelargonium citrosum) marketed as a mosquito repellent does indeed have a lovely citronella-like scent, but research at the University of Guelph in Canada found that it has no effect on mosquito activity. Scented geraniums are fragrant all year when not dormant. The scent is produced from the oil glands at the base of the leaves. Crushing the leaves releases the beads of scented oil from the plants.
Geraniums grow in warm sunny areas, but in very hot climates, will do best with afternoon shade. Needing regular water in our dry summer region, they also need to be planted in rich soil that drains quickly. Before watering, check the soil to ensure the plant needs water — stick a finger down into the soil to check for moisture. Allow geraniums to dry out between watering. Plants that sit in water are more vulnerable to disease and root rot. Avoid getting water on the leaves which also promotes diseases — water in the morning rather than in the evening, allowing the leaves to dry out quickly. Geraniums in containers will need to be checked daily for watering needs.
Geraniums need regular feeding during the growing season. Using a balanced fertilizer with N-P-K (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) ratios of 8-8-8 to 20-20-20 every two to three weeks, or at least once a month is recommended for geraniums. Compost added to planting soil will give them an additional boost, and for plants grown in containers, regular feeding is especially important, as nutrients tend to leach out of the planting soil with watering.
Prune geraniums of dry, brown leaves and dead-head blooms to encourage further blooming. Combine geraniums with colorful petunias, nasturtiums, verbena or other colorful annuals, and enjoy a lovely, scented garden.
The Nevada County Master Gardeners have one more class before the July break, then in August, public workshops resume. On June 22, “Garden Makeover- Lawn to Landscape” will be presented from 10 a.m. to noon at the Demonstration Garden on the NID grounds at 1036 W. Main St. in Grass Valley. On Aug. 3, “Seed Saving Basics” will be presented.
The Nevada County Fair is scheduled from Aug. 7-11 and Master Gardeners will be in the Ag-Sperience area offering daily workshops. For more information, call 530-273-0919, or go to the website at http://www.ncmg.ucanr.org.
Ann Wright is a Nevada County Master Gardener.
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