How To Plant, Grow and Care For Scented Geraniums

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Just about everyone is surprised to find out their geraniums aren’t from the genus Geranium (jer-AY-nee-um) but a very similar genus called Pelargonium (pe-lar-GO-nee-um).

Hailing primarily from South Africa and nearby regions, pelargoniums have just over half as many species as geranium (which are known to gardeners as hardy geraniums) but are far more common.

Scented-Leaved GeraniumsPin

But there’s another aspect to many pelargoniums that make them stand out.

Known collectively as the scented-leaved geraniums, these species and cultivars have leaves that give off a pleasant scent when bruised.

These proud members of the Geraniaceae family are perennials that may also be grown as annuals.

  • ‘Angel Eyes Light’ scented geranium (Pelargonium ‘Paceyes’) – bushy with bicolor pink flowers
  • Apricot-scented geranium (Pelargonium scabrum) – pink to white flowers and hairy lobed leaves
  • ‘Chocolate Mint‘ (Philodendron quercifolium X tomentosum) – pale lavender flowers and leaves with seasonal chocolate-colored splotches
  • Coconut-scented geranium (Pelargonium grossularioides) – scalloped leaves
  • Fernleaf scented geranium (Pelargonium denticulatum ‘Filicifolium’) – toothed leaves with pale pink-purple flowers
  • ‘French Lace’ scented geranium (Pelargonium crispum ‘French Lace’) – deep lobed leaves with creamy yellow variegation and a citrus scent and pale pink flowers
  • ‘Mabel Grey’ lemon-scented geranium (Pelargonium citronellum ‘Mabel Grey’) – sharply lobed leaves and pink flowers with reddish-purple veins
  • Orange Fizz (Philodendron citriodorum) – larger leaves and pink to maroon flowers
  • Peppermint-scented geranium (Pelargonium tomentosum) – fuzzy silver-green leaves and tiny white flowers with purple splotches
  • Rose-scented geranium (Philodendron graveolens) – deeply lobed leaves and bright pink flowers
  • ‘Snowflake’ scented geranium (Pelargonium capitatum ‘Snowflake’) – rounded leaves with white clicks and a citrusy-rose scent
  • Spanish lavender-scented geranium (Pelargonium cucullatum) – hairy cupped leaves and pinkish-purple flowers
  • ‘Sweet Mimosa’ rose-scented geranium (Pelargonium graveolens ‘Sweet Mimosa’) – hairy, deep-lobed leaves and pink flowers

Scented-Leaf Geranium Care

Size And Growth

The size and growth habits of these types of Geranium plants can vary greatly, as the term “scented-leaved geranium” may refer to any pelargonium with scented leaves.

Some are low mounds or slightly creeping, while others form taller shrubs.

The general size ranges for these plants are between 1’ and 3’ feet tall with a 1’ to 2’ foot spread.

The plants are generally categorized by scent first, then by other features such as leaf shape or flower color.

These leaves may be dark green, gray-green, bright green, or variegated.

Flowering And Fragrance

As with the leaves, the flower colors and sizes may vary greatly.

Common colors are lavender, lilac, pink, red, and white.

Some scented geraniums have larger flowers, but most are insignificant.

The flowers have five petals, with the three lower ones smaller than the two upper petals.

In some cases, the flowers are also scented.

Light And Temperature

Scented geraniums prefer full sun for the best blooms but can tolerate partial shade conditions.

In more southern climates where the sun is harsh, it’s usually best to give them dappled sunlight or full sun in the morning, followed by some afternoon shade.

Indoor plants will fare well in bright, indirect sunlight.

These plants prefer moderate humidity levels, so average household humidity (40% to 50% percent) is perfect.

Most scented geraniums will grow as evergreen perennials in USDA hardiness zones 9 to 11.

Depending on the species or cultivar, some scented geraniums will also survive in zone 8 as perennials but will likely die back for the winter.

They prefer daytime temperatures of around 65° to 75° degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 55° to 60° degrees Fahrenheit at night.

While scented geraniums don’t go dormant during the winter, they still need a rest period with minimum temperatures of 50° degrees Fahrenheit.

Watering And Feeding

Scented geraniums tend to be drought-hardy, although prolonged periods without water may result in leaf drop.

Using the soak-and-dry method works best for these plants.

  • Water when the soil feels dry about 1” inch down.
  • Be sure to cut back on watering in the winter as your geraniums will be using far fewer resources.
  • A balanced liquid fertilizer given at half strength every three to four weeks during spring and summer works best for indoor plants.
  • For outdoor plants, mulch with organic compost once in spring and again in summer to keep the soil quality and pH levels.
  • Avoid feeding during the fall and winter months.

Soil And Transplanting

A moderately rich, well-drained soil is essential for the best growth.

Making the soil too rich can diminish the plant’s scent.

A soil pH of 5.8 to 6.3 is preferable for these plants, although they’ll generally tolerate more neutral conditions.

For container plants, a peat-based potting mix tends to work quite well.

Be sure to add some aggregate such as perlite or coarse sand to aid in drainage and help prevent soil compacting.

Scented geraniums usually prefer to be slightly rootbound.

However, they will need repotting in the spring every 2 years or so.

Increase the pot by one size as needed, and be sure to give the plant fresh soil each time you repot it.

Grooming And Maintenance

While this plant is generally fine with minimal pruning, it can really benefit from some care in the spring and fall.

In spring, pruning and pinching back new growth can lead to a much fuller-looking plant.

In the autumn or cooler climates, cutting back the plant can often help it overwinter.

Larger, fully established plants may be pruned during the summer as well to remove damaged or diseased portions and prevent legginess.

Deadheading is purely optional but may encourage longer bloom periods.

How To Propagate Scented-Leaved Geraniums?

Seeds and stem cuttings are the two most common methods for propagating scented geraniums.

Scented Leaf Geranium Pests Or Diseases

These plants tend to be moderately drought-hardy but are not very cold-tolerant.

It’s not uncommon to run into aphids, caterpillars, greenflies, mealybugs, scale, spider mites, thrips, or whiteflies.

Proper care of your scented geranium will greatly reduce the risk of infestation.

Several diseases may appear if the plant is improperly watered, such as botrytis blight, leaf spot, root rot, and southern blight.

Powdery mildew or sooty mold may also manifest on the leaves as a side effect of infestations by sap-drinking pests.

While considered non-toxic to humans, scented geraniums (as with all pelargoniums) are considered toxic to cats, dogs, horses, and livestock.

Symptoms vary greatly but may include skin rashes if the pet rubs up against a plant.

Scented Geranium Uses

  • The petals and leaves of scented geraniums are edible to humans and are often used in pastries, drinks, ice cream, and jams.
  • They’re popular in floral arrangements and potpourris, where their scent will last for some time.
  • As a garden plant, they’re perfect for beds and borders and spots close to foot traffic where they might be brushed as people pass by.
  • They’re also excellent for hanging baskets and both indoor and outdoor containers.

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