A truly classic garden plant, geraniums have been a gardener's favorite for well over a century. The old-fashioned standard for beds, borders, and containers, geranium is still one of the most popular plants today. Traditional bedding types love hot weather and hold up well in dry conditions. Though most geraniums are grown as annuals, they are perennials in Zones 10–11. Bring them indoors to overwinter, if you like, then replant outdoors in spring. (Or they can bloom indoors all year long if they get enough light.)
This garden staple has a little secret: It's not even a geranium! What we know as the common annual geranium is actually a Pelargonium. A completely different group of plants has Geranium for its genus name.
With their wide range of color, shape, and size of blooms, it's hard not to find a reason to use geraniums everywhere. The most common of the annual variety, zonal geraniums, is the most recognizable geranium; it gets its name from the broad band of darker coloring on leaves. In some, this "zone" is more pronounced than others. If you don't see this banding on the leaves but the flowers look like a zonal geranium, it could be either a variety where this coloring is not present or a seed geranium (the latter of which is a more inexpensive version of its zonal counterpart).
Zonal geraniums are grown from cuttings only, and have been heavily bred for traits like bigger and longer-lasting blooms, sterility (so that the plants don't waste energy on making seeds), and overall vigor and disease resistance. Zonal geraniums also thrive in the heat and sun of the summer and will bloom all season, if you remove old blooms.
Ivy geraniums are another popular variety and, as their name implies, these plants have more of a trailing habit with segmented leaves like ivy. Overall, blooms of the ivy types are very similar to the zonals, but with smaller bloom clusters and deeper purple flowers.
Regal geraniums, another popular plant variety, are grown for their large, extremely showy blooms. These fancy flowers come in many colors and have beautiful patterns you don't see in other types of geraniums.
Geranium Care Must-Knows
The most important thing to know about some geraniums, such as the ivy variety, is that they can suffer from a condition called edema. This is most often seen in ivy type geraniums on the underside of the leaves. When soil temperatures are warm and wet and air temperature is cooler and humid, plants take up more water than they can hold, which causes the leaf cells to stretch and become damaged with scabs that turn brown and bumpy. This isn't contagious, and damaged leaves can simply be removed. Ivy geraniums take heat well, but not quite as well as their zonal counterparts. If it is exceptionally hot, ivy geraniums will thank you for a little bit of afternoon shade.
Regal types are probably some of the pickiest geraniums. They prefer a cooler growing season and will stop blooming in high summer heat. Make sure they have well-drained soil, and keep them cool when the steamy temps arrive.
No matter which geranium you select for your next container or flower bed, just make sure to keep up with deadheading. And don't forget to feed them!
More Varieties of Geranium
Pelargonium 'Allure Pink Picotee' produces huge, hydrangea-like clusters of pale pink blooms edged in darker pink. It grows 18 inches tall.
Pelargonium 'Aurora' is a heat-loving variety with large heads of bright magenta-pink flowers on 12-inch-tall plants.
Pelargonium 'Caliente Hot Coral' produces bold coral-pink blooms and exceptional heat tolerance. It has an upright, mounding habit, and you don't need to deadhead the flowers. It grows 12 inches tall.
Pelargonium 'Calliope Dark Red' is a hybrid between ivy-leaved and zonal geraniums. It bears rich, dark red flowers and has a mounding/trailing habit. It grows 12 inches tall.
Pelargonium 'Candy Cherry' offers lots of bright cherry-pink flowers over rich, dark-green foliage. It grows 14 inches tall.
Pelargonium 'Candy Fantasy Kiss' shows off rich pink flowers with a lovely soft pink edge. It has dark green foliage and grows 14 inches tall.
Pelargonium 'Daredevil Claret' is a vigorous selection with dark red flowers all summer. It grows 24 inches tall and 14 inches wide.
Pelargonium 'Daredevil Orchid' shows off brilliantly colored clusters of lavender flowers all summer long. It grows 24 inches tall and 14 inches wide.
Pelargonium 'Elegance Burgundy' is a cool-season variety that blooms in spring with rich burgundy flowers that look like they're made from crepe paper. It grows 12 inches tall.
Pelargonium 'Elegance Imperial' is a spring bloomer offering rich burgundy-purple flowers boldly edged in white. It grows 12 inches tall.
Pelargonium 'Elegance Royalty White' is a cool-season variety displaying white flowers brushed with bright pink. It grows 12 inches tall.
Pelargonium 'Global Merlot' bears rich wine-red flowers on a heat-loving plant that trails to 14 inches.
Pelargonium 'Graffiti White' is a heat-loving selection with spidery white flowers on a plant that grows 14 inches tall.
Pelargonium 'Indian Dunes' offers attractive chartreuse foliage with a large bronze-purple blotch in the center of each leaf. It produces orange-red flowers and grows 10 inches tall.
Pelargonium 'Maestro Rose Pink' offers large soft pink blooms touched with rose on a medium-size plant with good heat tolerance. It grows 12 inches tall.
Pelargonium 'Maiden Iced Wine' is a cool-season variety with a compact habit and dark red flowers delicately edged in white. It grows 10 inches tall.
Pelargonium 'Mini Karmine' looks its best in hanging baskets or window boxes where you can enjoy it as the plant trails over the edges. It features bright magenta flowers and finely cut foliage.
Pelargonium 'Moonlight Cranberry Blush' features intensely pink flowers with a compact habit and lots of blooms throughout the summer. It grows 12 inches tall.
Pelargonium 'Patriot Lavender Blue' is a quick-growing variety with large lavender-pink flowers. It grows 16 inches tall.
Pelargonium 'Royal Candy Pink' is a trailing, heat-tolerant geranium with an abundance of rich pink flowers. It trails to 14 inches.
Pelargonium 'Royal Lavender' is a trailing, heat-tolerant geranium with soft, lavender-pink flowers all summer. It trails to 14 inches.
Geranium Companion Plants
Many types of nicotiana are terrifically fragrant (especially at night) and are wonderful in attracting hummingbirds as well as fascinating hummingbird moths. There are several types of nicotiana, also called flowering tobacco, because it's a cousin of the regular tobacco plant. Try the shorter, more colorful types in containers or the front of beds or borders. The taller, white-only types, which can reach 5 feet, are dramatic in the back of borders. And they're ideal for night gardens; they're usually most fragrant at dusk. These plants do best in full sun and moist, well-drained soil, and they may reseed.
Pentas is one of the best butterfly-attracting plants around. It blooms all summer long, even during the hottest weather, with large clusters of starry blooms that attract butterflies by the dozens as well as hummingbirds. The plant grows well in containers and in the ground—and it can even make a good houseplant if you have enough light. It does best in full sun and moist, well-drained soil. Pentas is grown as an annual in most parts of the country, but it's hardy in Zones 10-11. Plant it outdoors after all danger of frost has passed.
Like so many grasses, fountaingrass is spectacular when backlit by the rising or setting sun. Named for its especially graceful spray of foliage, fountaingrass sends out beautiful, fuzzy flower plumes in late summer. The white, pink, or red plumes (depending on variety) continue into fall and bring a loose, informal look to plantings. This plant self-seeds freely, sometimes to the point of becoming invasive.
Garden Plans For Geranium
Classic shapes and lush floriferous plants combine beautifully in this shade-loving garden plan.
This garden plan uses soft pinks, yellows, blues, purples, and whites to create an old-fashioned English cottage garden. Garden size: 20 by 16 feet.