Cranesbill Geraniums [jer-AY-nee-ums] have long been a garden favorite in many parts of the world, known for their mounding habit and colorful, showy flowers.
The Geranium plants belong to the genus Geranium family Geraniaceae and are native to temperate regions around the world.
However, they are found in abundance in the eastern parts of the Mediterranean region.
Flowering plants are also seen growing in the mountains of the tropics.
Botanically this perennial bloomer is known as Geranium maculatum. Geranium is a big genus with about 422 species, including annual, biennial, and perennial flowering plants.
If you want a geranium that returns each year after late winter, look for perennial geraniums.
Cranesbill Geranium is the name generally used to refer to the perennial geranium species.
Perennial geraniums are adaptable plants that comprise a large collection of more than 300 species and varieties that go by a host of names:
- Hardy geraniums
- Wild geraniums (Geranium maculatum)
- True geraniums
The common name cranesbill refers to the long, beak-like shape of the seed-containing fruit capsule some varieties produce.
More from the Geranium Family:
There are over 300 species and varieties of perennial geraniums, so it’s easy to find one to suit your needs.
Cranesbill Geranium Care
Size and Growth
While the height of cranesbills varies across species, they generally qualify as taller shrubs and grow up to 12” to 20” inches in a year.
However, they are mounding plants and also generally have a spread of 18” to 24” inches.
Geranium maculatum makes 1-foot-tall mounds of foliage that become golden in fall.
The colorful flowers and the lush foliage of Hardy Geraniums will add a joyful vibe to any garden.
Shearing the plants back to basal growth will improve their look and encourage reblooming. This forces new healthy plant growth and a new flush of blooms within a few weeks.
Although the plants are native to temperate regions, they are being widely grown all over the world under similar conditions.
A distinguishing factor of hardy geraniums is their dark green foliage and green leaves with a light, citrusy fragrance, which is why they are sometimes referred to as scented geraniums.
The foliage of these plants makes a beautiful display in autumn with a mix of brown, yellow, burnished bronze, and red colors. It grows quite quickly with lovely dense foliage to fill an open space.
Flowering and Fragrance
In the summer, the plants produce beautiful white flowers, purple, magenta, lilac, blue, violet-blue, and darker shades of pink geranium.
In wide varieties of cranesbills, the bloom time starts in late spring and lasts till late fall.
The flowers are attractive and typically lobed and cup-shaped.
Leaf colors might include green, burgundy, gold, or near-black, like ‘Dark Reiter’ Geranium pratense, a type of cranesbill geranium (above).
The beautiful flower colors have made these geranium species a popular choice for gardens.
Foliage: Green, deeply divided
Light and Temperature
True geraniums grow best in the full morning sun but also appreciate partial shade in the afternoon. Afternoon shade will benefit most cranesbill in hot climates.
The best sites for these plants are those where they receive early morning sunlight and light shade in the afternoon.
In cooler climates, full to mostly sun is ideal, morning sun or some afternoon shade is best in warmer regions.
In regions with hot summers, the plant will benefit from afternoon shade. ‘Biokovo’ will spread by underground rhizomes, so give it some room or plan to divide every 3 or 4 years to control size.
They also grow well as underplants. The plants are winter hardy to USDA hardiness zone 4 to 9. Winter protection is suggested in zones 3 and 4. Use 3” to 4” inches of mulch.
Watering and Feeding
In wet, humid conditions is susceptible to root rot, leaf mold, powdery mildew, leaf spot, and rust. It adapts well to moist or dry conditions but does prefer well-drained soil.
Foliage turns orange and red in autumn. ‘Brookside’ is fairly adaptable to either dry or moist conditions and is not fussy about pH or soil, except that it does require well-drained soil.
Since cranesbill geraniums prefer moist soil, water them frequently because it requires low to average water. If that’s not the ideal light condition for a plant, it won’t form as many flowers.
Water plants early in the day so leaves can dry before sunset. If grown in fertile soil that receives regular water and fertilizer, ‘Biokovo’ will spread aggressively.
However, make sure not to overwater as they cannot survive in standing water or waterlogged soil.
In subsequent years, watering during prolonged dry periods may be needed to keep plants growing well.
Fertilizing The Plant
In planting beds and pots, mix a slow-release fertilizer into the soil at planting time.
Poor soils may require spring feeding with a time-release balanced fertilizer.
It benefits from once-a-year feeding with a balanced 10-20-10 fertilizer in early spring when the new and fresh foliage just starts to appear.
The liquid fertilizer should be reapplied as the plants start producing new and fresh growth after deadheading in mid-summer.
Do not fertilize these geranium species more than this, as over-fertilizing is a common cause of sprawling and lanky growth.
Soil and Transplanting
Perennial geraniums can handle just about any soil, but they appreciate well-drained soil and will sulk if they stay too wet.
However, Wild geranium plants prefer rich and loamy soil containing humus.
Growing hardy cranesbill geranium in fertile soil also encourages the plant to spread.
But, they can grow in almost any soil type as long as it is well-draining.
They prefer chalky, loamy, clay, or sandy, and soggy soil with a neutral pH, but they will adapt well to most garden soils.
More on Geranium Watering Requirements
Grooming and Maintenance
Cranesbills may need to be slightly trained and pruned to maintain a good appearance.
Geraniums do not require a lot of pruning. Light pruning (just removing the flowers and their individual stems) before plants set seed can help and/or prevent self-sowing.
Properly pruning your hardy geraniums will help keep them looking their best and encourage new and fresh growth.
They also benefit from regular deadheading, ideally in mid-summer when some cultivars may be lagging growth.
Cranesbill geraniums plants can live a long time, so prepping the site well before planting can pay off in years of healthy plant growth and beautiful blooms.
In wide varieties of cranesbills, the bloom time starts in late spring and lasts till late fall. Regular deadheading extends bloom time.
In such situations, cut the mound back by half to improve the appearance, encourage blooming as well as increase the flowering period.
Overall, hardy geraniums are low-maintenance plants, and once established, they only require little care apart from ensuring regular watering.
While deadheading is beneficial for improving the appearance of the plant, it can make you lose the seedheads.
Therefore, if you are looking to propagate cranesbills through seeds, make sure you leave some pods on the plant.
Related: Why Do Geraniums Leaves Turn Red?
How To Propagate Hardy Geranium
Hardy geraniums are propagated by seeds, stem rooting, semi-ripe wood cuttings, and root division.
Collect them in the summer and then store them to sow in spring or early summer, the next season.
Through stem rooting:
- Stem rooting is done anytime throughout the year, but make sure to do it in water.
- To develop strong and healthy roots, make sure to take stem cuttings from just below the node and use a sharp knife for them.
- Trim the lower leaves and also remove flowers (f there are any).
- Place the cuttings in water in an opaque container and place it in a sheltered spot in the garden or on a bright windowsill, where it gets 2 to 6 hours of sunlight.
- Change the water every few days.
- Stem cuttings generally start forming roots in 3 to 4 weeks.
- Let the healthy roots develop to 1” to 2” inches, and then plant in acidic soil.
From semi-ripe wood cuttings:
- Summer is the ideal time for propagating hardy geraniums from semi-ripe wood cuttings.
- But, it is performed anytime from mid-summer to mid-autumn.
- Take cuttings from the current year’s growth and look for stems with hard and older bases and tender and green tips.
- Plant the cuttings in a light and sandy potting mix and transplant them to the ground level only when they get mature.
By root divisions:
- Autumn and spring are the best times to grow cranesbills from root divisions.
- Use the same method as with semi-ripe wood cuttings to grow annual geraniums from this method.
Hardy Geranium Pests Or Diseases
Slugs may attack young geranium plants, while mildew and rust can infest foliage, especially in partial shade and/or humid climates. Whiteflies may attack leaves in late summer.
Fungal diseases, including mildew and rust, are often caused by plants being too hot and dry or too wet, so keep that in mind when deciding on which varieties to plant hardy and where.
In case you encounter any of these problems, check the soil drainage and make sure it is not water-logged or soggy.
Also, make sure the area the plants are growing in has good air circulation.
The plants are deer resistant.
Cranesbill Geranium Uses
Since wild geraniums are excellent bloomers, they are widely cultivated for ornamental purposes.
Some of their most commonly grown species include geranium macrorrhizum, Johnson’s blue, and geranium Rozanne.
Hardy geraniums are considered a good choice for camouflaging any eyesores in the garden.
They also make good underplants for filling in shady spots and are also used as edging plants.
Cultivars of geranium sanguineum, a low-growing geranium species, spread very quickly and hence, are ideal for ground covers and for hiding problem areas.
They are also grown in rock gardens.