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Today is September 16, 2021

Southern Gardening

Geraniums come in red plus many new colors

By Dr. Gary Bachman

Geraniums come in red plus many new colors

Geraniums are easy to grow in containers with a well-drained potting mix, at least six hours of sun a day and consistent fertilization. Pictured are Americana White Splash zonal geraniums.

One of my favorite summer color annuals is the old-fashioned red geranium.

This is one of the plants that could be considered an old timey flower whose time has passed, but I don’t think so. They are just as useful and beautiful in our modern gardens and landscapes as they were once upon a time.

As I write this, I find it ironic that I’m calling the geranium one of my favorites.

You see, when I was working on my master’s degree, my thesis project revolved around growing and harvesting geraniums. I mean thousands and thousands of geraniums. I’m sure there came a time when I swore — both literally and figuratively — that I would never, EVER grow another geranium.

But enough time has passed for garden sanity to return, and thank goodness for that, because I really do like geraniums.

The geraniums gardeners love in the landscape have taken a very long trip to get to our gardens.

Pelargonium x hortorum, the botanical name of our common garden geranium, is native to southern Africa. From there, most of the major breeding and development that resulted in our great garden plants were accomplished in Europe. I’ve discovered that the Americana geranium series really performs well in our Mississippi gardens and landscapes. This group was bred and developed to thrive in our North American environment.

I love the size of the Americana geranium flower heads that develop on upright stems. The flowers are actually clusters of tightly grouped buds, and the buds don’t open all at once. The top buds open first, showing a bit of color, followed by the lower buds.

Flower colors include red, coral, lavender, salmon and bicolor White Splash. They can be up to 4   inches across, and if you keep the plant deadheaded, it will bloom continuously all summer.

Trial results show that the flower heads hold up to our Mississippi summer weather. The scalloped foliage has a dark bronze band and develops into a mounded habit.

Geraniums are pretty easy plants to grow, especially in containers with a well-drained potting mix. Be sure to plant in areas that get at least six hours of full morning sun every day. Be careful not to overwater because geraniums don’t like wet feet. Only water when the soil is dry to the touch.

Geraniums are heavy feeders and need consistent fertilization to keep flowering. Feed with a controlled-release fertilizer at planting and then twice a month afterwards with a water-soluble fertilizer.

Don’t forget to deadhead when the flowers are fading. Don’t just clip the flower head. Go ahead and pinch or prune the flower stalk at the base.

I know everyone’s porch and patio would look great with a couple of big containers of pretty geraniums. Be sure to visit your favorite local independent garden center and pick up one or two or a dozen to enjoy this summer.

 

Gary Bachman, Ph.D., Extension/Research Professor of Horticulture at the Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi. He is also host of “Southern Gardening” radio and TV programs. He lives in Ocean Springs and is a Singing River Electric member.

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