This diverse group of plants offers both attractive foliage and colorful flowers.
Coming in a huge range of shapes, colors, and sizes, perennial geraniums make beautiful garden plants. However, don't confuse them with annual geraniums, which aren't even related (those are actually in the genus Pelargonium). There are over 300 species and varieties of perennial geraniums, so it's easy to find one to suit your needs. Do you have small nooks and crannies to fill? There's a geranium for that. Looking for a flowering groundcover to spruce up a shady spot? There’s a geranium for that, too! No matter your yard's conditions, you're bound to find a perennial geranium that will work.
In both foliage and flower, perennial geraniums offer a variety of colors to choose from. One of its common names, cranesbill, comes from the seedpods of these plants, which resemble the beak of a crane. The blooms come in different shades of pink, purple, and even blue. A few offer starry white flowers, too. Along with the many shades, the blooms often have deeper colored veins radiating from the center like hand-painted whiskers. Perennial geraniums bloom in early- to late spring and keep blooming through mid-summer. However, there are a few varieties that bloom into fall.
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Many perennials are mostly grown for their blooms because their foliage doesn't offer much interest. Geraniums, however, can have very pretty foliage. Depending on the species, many have deeply lobed and dissected leaves. Some come colors such as gold, burgundy, bronze, gray, and green. Toward the end of the growing season, several species also put on a display of fall colors, showing off orange, red, and yellow.
Perennial Geranium Care Must-Knows
Because there are so many different species available in the trade, there is no "one size fits all" care for geraniums. Luckily, perennial geraniums are extremely tough and adaptable plants. As a whole, geraniums can grow happily in full sun to part shade. Many varieties also do fine in more shade, but then may have fewer flowers. Perennial geraniums also appreciate well-drained soil and will sulk if they stay too wet.
After they're done blooming, geraniums benefit from being sheared back. Plants that bloom on longer stems can be cut down to the basal foliage growth at the bottom of the plants. This will help encourage a new flush of growth and keep them from looking too messy. It may also give you a smattering of rebloom on some species.
The only real problem that you might see with perennial geraniums is powdery mildew. This is a fungus that grows on the leaves, looking like a fine, white powder. Powdery mildew is fairly harmless, but it can slow your plants down and look unsightly. The best way to take care of this problem is to make sure that your geraniums have good air circulation so don't crowd them in with other plants. Also keep leaves as dry as possible and avoid overhead watering to prevent the mildew from spreading. If you continue to see this each year on the same plant, try moving it to a more sunny spot. Clean up any leaf debris around plants once they die back in fall.
More Varieties of Perennial Geranium
Geranium sanguineum makes 1-foot-tall mounds of foliage that becomes golden in fall. Vibrant magenta flowers cover the plants in late spring. It tolerates hot weather well. Zones 3-8
Geranium macrorrhizum makes a fine groundcover and tolerates dry, light shade. The aromatic 6-inch-wide leaves take on splendid fall color. Bright magenta flowers appear in spring; several less strident cultivars are available. Zones 4-8
Geranium maderense, crowned with 4-inch-wide flowers, is a showstopper. Its massive leaves are spectacular, too. Zones 9-11
Geranium 'Johnson's Blue' is a long-blooming variety with 2-inch bright blue flowers. It grows to 18 inches tall. Zones 4-8
Geranium 'Ann Folkard' has yellowish-green foliage on 2-foot-long scrambling stems that weave among other plants. In midsummer into fall, bright magenta flowers punctuated with black veins and eyes bloom freely. Zones 5-9
Like an improved 'Johnson's Blue', geranium 'Brookside' provides loads of blue flowers almost all season long, on much tidier plants. Zones 5-7
Geranium sanguineum var. striatum is a long-blooming selection that grows only 4 inches or so in height. In spring it's covered with pale pink flowers striped with darker veins. Zones 3-8
Geranium 'Rozanne' blooms June to frost with silvery mottled foliage on spreading plants that can grow 3 feet wide. Zones 5-9
Perennial Geranium Companion Plants
Astilbe brings a graceful feathery note to moist, shady landscapes. In cooler climates in the northern third or so of the country, it can tolerate full sun provided it has a constant supply of moisture. In drier sites, however, the leaves will scorch in full sun. Feathery plumes of white, pink, lavender, or red flowers rise above the finely divided foliage from early to late summer depending on the variety. It will spread slowly over time where well-situated. Most commercially available types are complex hybrids.
Daylilies are so easy to grow you'll often find them in ditches and fields—escapees from gardens. And yet they look so delicate, producing glorious trumpet-shape blooms in myriad colors. In fact, there are some 50,000 named hybrid cultivars in a range of flower sizes (the minis are very popular), forms, and plant heights. Some are fragrant. The flowers are borne on leafless stems. Although each bloom lasts but a single day, superior cultivars carry numerous buds on each scape so bloom time is long, especially if you deadhead daily. The strappy foliage may be evergreen or deciduous.
Named for the Greek goddess of the rainbow, iris indeed comes in a rainbow of colors and in many heights. All have classic, impossibly intricate flowers. The flowers are constructed with three upright "standard" petals and three drooping "fall" petals, which are often different colors. The falls may be "bearded" or not. Some cultivars bloom a second time in late summer. Some species prefer alkaline soil while others prefer acidic soil.
Easy and undemanding, veronicas catch the eye in sunny gardens over many months. Some have mats with loose clusters of saucer-shaped flowers, while others group their star or tubular flowers into erect tight spikes. A few veronicas bring elusive blue to the garden, but more often the flowers are purplish or violet blue, rosy pink, or white. Provide full sun and average well-drained soil. Regular deadheading extends bloom time.