How To Grow And Care For Geraniums

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True Geraniums (jer-AY-nee-um) are hardy perennial native flowers that can be found in the woodlands of temperate climates around the world.

The plant’s botanical name is derived from the Greek word for the crane (geranos). All members of this vast group can rightly be referred to by the common name, Cranesbill because they all produce beak-like seeds, which look like a crane’s bill.


You may also hear Geranium spp. referred to as Hardy Geraniums or Perennial Geraniums.

They are naturally occurring in such diverse and far-flung locations as:

  • The French Pyrenees mountains
  • The Himalayan mountains
  • Central America
  • North America
  • South America
  • Afghanistan
  • Kashmir
  • Iceland
  • Europe
  • Turkey
  • Africa
  • China
  • Asia

There are over four hundred species of these pretty wildflowers, and many of them have been adopted, moved, and naturalized to non-native settings. There are also legions of cultivars.

And among the four most popular geranium varieties is the zonal geraniums, which are the classic geraniums you see and recognize today.

Moreover, the annual geraniums or garden geraniums (originally from South Africa) are commonly planted outdoors and from the Pelargonium genus.

True Geraniums Care

Size and Growth

With so many varieties to choose from, it is unsurprising that these plants vary greatly in size and spread. Some miniature types never grow taller than 6” inches high. Still, others may attain a height of about two feet.

Some varieties have an upright or mounding growth habit, while others sprawl and ramble.

To choose the right species or combination of species for your climate, your garden, and your goals, it’s important to research individual species and cultivars before obtaining them. This will help you avoid unwelcome surprises.

Refer to this handy chart from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

Flowering and Fragrance

Just as Cranesbill Geraniums vary in size and spread, they also present a vast array of bloom colors, sizes, and bloom times.

Most types of True Geranium produce flowers that display interesting veining in either light or dark shades that contrast with the petal color from late spring until fall. The blooms are typically unscented or very lightly scented.

Flowers come in shades of:

  • Lavender
  • Maroon
  • Purple
  • White
  • Pink
  • Blue

Some varieties have contrasting centers.

Generally speaking, these plants begin blooming sometime after late spring and finish up at some point during the summer. 

Some varieties bloom enthusiastically during the springtime and then sporadically through the summer.

Bloom time typically lasts between two and four weeks. You can encourage more blooms by deadheading the plants regularly.


The leaves of Hardy Geraniums are lobed and may be a bit fuzzy. Just as with the flowers, the foliage comes in an array of shades and colors depending upon the species or cultivar you choose.

Look for greens ranging from pale to dark. You may also find such interesting foliage shades as purple or maroon. Many varieties transition to yellow, orange, red, or burgundy in the autumn.

Light and Temperature

These woodland dwellers do not typically like full sun.

Although sun requirements vary from one type to another, you can generally do quite well planting Cranesbill Geraniums in a setting that provides all-day dappled light shade, full morning sunlight, afternoon shade, and shelter from the harsh rays of the noonday and afternoon sun.

They need at least 6 to 8 hours of sun per day.

As houseplants, placing them in a sunny window will help them thrive even in the coldest months.

Versatile, adaptable Perennial Geraniums are usually winter hardy in USDA hardiness zones 4 through 9.

Watering and Feeding

These woodland understory plants are not especially drought tolerant. They like to be kept lightly watered, especially when first set out in the landscape.

Water at ground level, early in the day. Avoid getting the leaves wet, and keep in mind that the more sun your plants receive, the more water they will need.

As with most wildflowers, an occasional deep soaking is preferable to frequent small drinks. Mulching the soil around your Hardy Geraniums will help keep the soil moist between waterings.

For potted plants, provide daily watering, especially in hot weather.

A two or three-inch layer of organic mulch is also a good source of nutrients for Cranesbill Geraniums. 

As it decomposes, it releases nutrients into the soil. This may be all the nutrition your plants need. Excessive fertilizer will produce lanky, sprawling growth.

If your soil is very poor, you may wish to provide feeding of a good, balanced, slow-release general-purpose fertilizer early in the springtime.

Feeding your geraniums with organic liquid fertilizer at the beginning of spring is also recommended.

Soil and Transplanting

These forest floor dwellers like soil that is rich in organic matter and well-draining with a neutral pH.

At the time of planting, it’s smart to amend the soil with organic materials such as:

  • Finely Chopped Bark
  • Dried Seaweed
  • Rotted Manure
  • Leaf Mold

Strive to create soil that is light and airy.

True Geraniums cannot tolerate soggy soil. If your planting area is low, raise its level a bit with ample amendments, or consider creating raised beds.

Grooming and Maintenance

For the most part, these native or naturalized plants need little or no care. You may wish to deadhead dead flowers to encourage more bloom development.

Regular deadheading also helps extend bloom time, increase flower production, and prevent diseases.

If your plants get straggly and lanky in mid-summer, you can prune them back dramatically. If you wish, you can even mow them.

They will soon begin to grow back and will probably reward you with more beautiful blooms. 

If you have sheared your Cranesbill Geraniums back to the ground, give them a light feeding of a balanced fertilizer when new growth begins to appear.

Moreover, it’s best to move your geraniums in spring, usually from late May, or when all danger of frost has passed.

How To Propagate True Geraniums

These enthusiastic native or naturalized plants spread naturally through underground stems and traveling roots. They also produce abundant seeds and self-sow in a carefree way.

However, even with these easy, self-propagating habits, Hardy Geraniums do not tend to spread rapidly.

If you want to expand your True Geranium bed or have more plants in different locations, you can propagate them by division. Just dig up clumps of the plant and move them to their new setting.

You can also try rooting geranium cuttings to multiply them.

True Geraniums Main Pest Or Diseases

Hardy Geraniums are so-called because they are hardy. If you can provide them with light, airy soil, and the right amount of light, you are unlikely to encounter any problems.

Overwatering, low-lying planting locations, excessive shade, and other things that lead to soggy conditions will cause fungal diseases such as:

  • Powdery Mildew
  • Leaf Spot
  • Root Rot
  • Mold
  • Rust

Insect pests are unlikely to bother True Geraniums, and slugs, snails, deer, and rabbits don’t seem to like them much.

However, some common geranium pests include:

  • Aphids
  • Spider mites
  • Whiteflies

The best way to treat them is to spot the problem early on. However, you can remove and discard the infected plants if there’s a severe infestation. You can also use pesticides to remedy this.

Geraniums are also prone to flower withering, which can be caused by nutritional deficiencies, lack of water, natural age progress, and bacterial or fungal diseases.

Is the plant considered toxic or poisonous to people, kids, and pets?

Geranium spp. is not a toxic plant.

Is the plant considered invasive?

Cranesbill Geraniums are not listed as invasive and do not spread rapidly; however, as with any plant that self-propagates with ease and is winter hardy in a wide variety of locations, a non-native variety could begin to prosper and overwhelm native plants.

When looking for varieties to plant on your property, it’s smart to favor those that are native to your location. If you choose others, keep an eye on them and control unwanted spread.

Suggested True Geraniums Uses

The use possibilities for True Geraniums are endless. They adapt and thrive in any setting that provides well-draining soil and the right light.

Consider using these pretty plants as ground cover or add them to your:

  • Cottage Style Garden
  • Native Plant Garden
  • Wildscaping Project
  • Woodland Garden
  • Pollinator Garden
  • Wildlife Garden
  • Rock Garden
  • Flower Bed

Aside from these, geraniums are also an excellent choice for window boxes and hanging baskets.

Your potted geraniums are also perfect as indoor plants. 

If you like cooking, you can use fragrant leaves of scented-leaf geraniums as an addition to potpourri.

It is easy to provide everything that these cheery little plants need for success in almost any setting.

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