Some like it hot

Bold and bright, most geraniums just laugh at the sun

May 28, 2006|By SUSAN REIMER | SUSAN REIMER,SUN REPORTER

Nothing says summer like geraniums.

The fist-sized red blooms and the chartreuse leaves of this annual have been the season's favorite potted plant since your grandma first put hers out on the front stoop on Memorial Day.

"Geraniums are just a classic plant," says Susan Iglehart, who had more than 800 seedlings growing in the greenhouses behind her Glyndon home this spring.

"There are all kinds of flowers to put in baskets and containers that will thrill your heart, but you always come back to the classics," said Iglehart, a horticulturist who grows and sells a variety of heirloom and popular annuals each May.

Annual geraniums, which belong to the genus Pelargonium, are perfect for Maryland summers. They actually dislike wet soil and can take the drought conditions of July and August, and they have blossoms that can stand up against a strong summer squall.

And geraniums have the characteristics we like in container plants: easy care, long-blooming, color and fragrance.

That most familiar of geraniums -- the one with the showy red heads and the monochromatic green leaves -- is still the most popular.

"If you don't have red geraniums, you might as well close your doors and go home," said Kerry Kelley, annuals manager at Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville.

But that familiar geranium has made way for a return of old-fashioned varieties that had fallen out of favor: the ones with fancy cut leaves, scented foliage and star-like, airy blooms.

Many of these heirloom varieties are still being propagated in private greenhouses. And it is easy for a home gardener to do the same with a cutting from a favorite or unusual variety.

"If it is going to be in the pot all summer," said Iglehart, "then I want it to be exceptional. "And the scented geraniums are fun to have near you, where you can brush up against them or reach out and crush the leaves in your hand."

Iglehart recommends 'Frank Headley,' 'Mrs. Parker' and 'Mrs. Henry Cox' for their beautiful foliage.

"Don't you love it that they are named after people?" she said.

Interesting varieties

Ivy-leaved geraniums have trailing stems that make them perfect for hanging baskets or window boxes. Look for 'Black Magic,' a variety with deep, dark purple flowers, or 'Mandarin,' an intense, bright orange flower that is unusual in geraniums.

Scented geraniums need full sun to release the oil in their leaves, which are often used in sachets, potpourris, and teas.

The trade-off?

Small and not very showy flowers. Among the scents are lemon, nutmeg, apple, peppermint, balsa and rose. The citronella fragrance is said to repel mosquitos.

The most popular, according to annuals manager Kerry Kelley at Homestead Gardens, is probably 'Robert's Lemon Rose,' which smells of both lemon and rose, or 'Variegated Mint Rose,' with its beautiful foliage.

'Martha Washington' or 'Regal' geraniums are the most familiar variety, grown for their large, frilly flowers in a broad range of colors.. They require cooler temperatures at night (60 degrees or lower) to maintain their blooms. Kelley said that 'Crocodile Tears,' a new variety that made its debut at this year's Philadelphia Flower Show, is already in demand. It has green leaves with yellow veins and a hot pink flower. 'Jewel' is also popular, and it has a dark purple flower with a white edge.

Stellar geraniums, a type of zonal geranium, are named for the flowers, which are star-shaped, and the leaves, which are cut like fingers on an open hand. They are perfect for spots where their delicate foliage can be appreciated at close range.

Zonal geraniums are named for their leaves, which are marked by "zones" or bands of green, brown, gold, cream or rust. 'Mr. Henry Cox' has leaves marked with cream, yellow, green and maroon. 'Confetti Red' has multicolored blooms in pink, salmon and red, and some blooms with splashes of each.

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

GROWING TIPS

Plant in fast-draining soil, amended with organic matter. Fertilize only lightly, unless the leaves begin to yellow and drop.

Remove faded flowers regularly to encourage new blooms. Pinch off young small plants to force side branches.

Geraniums dislike having wet leaves and flowers, so water early in the day to allow foliage to dry before nightfall. Do not let pots stand in full saucers.

All geraniums do well in pots and, in fact, do well when slightly pot-bound.

Though they love full sun, most geraniums would prefer some shade in our hot climate.

SOURCES

Homestead Gardens 743 Central Ave. Davidsonville 410-798-5000

Valley View Farms 11035 York Road Cockeysville 410-527-0700

Watson's Garden Center 1620 York Road Lutherville 410-321-7300

Bru-Mar Gardens 1009 Bay Ridge Road Annapolis 410-990-9898

The Green Thumb 619 Lucabaugh Mill Road Westminster 800-769-2939

River Hill Garden Center 12165 Clarksville Pike (Route 108) Clarksville 410-531-3303

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