Geraniums may be annual or perennial

June 20, 1993|By Nancy Brachey | Nancy Brachey,Charlotte Observer

When someone says geranium, what do you see?

It's probably big globes of lipstick-red flowers, green leaves with scalloped edges on a plant rising 1 foot from a clay pot. That's a geranium.

But so is this: a low-growing, sprawling plant with small flowers of just five petals that are white, pink, blue or lavender, growing in a flower garden.

The potted plant is officially named pelargonium and commonly called geranium. It blooms all summer, but does not usually survive winters. It's an annual.

The plant in the garden is officially named geranium and commonly called cranesbill. It blooms for a few weeks in late spring or summer, but survives really cold winters. It is a perennial.

And though united by name, these flowers have little in common in terms of use, appearance or growth. Though they belong to the geranium plant family, they do not resemble each other very much. The tie that binds them is the name geranium that evolved over the years.

Annual geraniums require well-drained soil and full sun, spring .. through fall.

I think they look best grown by themselves or with just a simple edging of dusty miller for contrast. Geraniums growing in pots perform best if the roots fill most of the pot, so don't move them up to larger containers very often.

Although this is an annual, people often save their plants through the winter by placing the pots in a frost-free sun porch.

The perennial geranium plants are natives of such diverse climates as the Pyrenees mountains of Europe, Eastern and Midwestern North America and western Asia.

They are not for pots, but for permanent places in the flower garden in full sun or very light shade. In my experience as a Piedmont gardener, they seem to benefit from protection against hot afternoon sun in the summer. Think about this before you plant.

Give these geraniums moist but well-drained soil. Most varieties grow 18 to 24 inches tall. They are among the most carefree of perennials, attracting no pests or diseases. They require little fertilizer.

Be prepared for a shorter flowering season than you'll get with the annual geranium. However, the foliage, usually notched, is attractive.

Planted near daffodils or tulips, the foliage can spread nicely and fill some of the gaps in the garden as the bulb foliage browns and eventually disappears.

Set out young plants in spring or fall, and divide crowded clumps after bloom.

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