I actually mean Pelargoniums in this case, though we do also grow quite a few perennial, true Geraniums. Those of you to whom this distinction means nothing, feel free to ignore it. I mention it only to forestall criticism from hardcore perennial lovers who might otherwise think I don’t know the difference. I do.
Why would we choose geraniums as one of our main crops?
Because they’re not just another bedding annual. They start blooming earlier, keep blooming later, bloom more continuously, grow in a wider range of conditions, require less special care, are more likely to overwinter, and generally give a gardener more satisfaction than just about any other plant.
What the heck is a zonal and why are they called that? Zonal geranium is the name that was given to the good old-fashioned cutting-grown geraniums after the development of seed-grown geraniums in the 1970s. They hadn’t needed any special designation before that. Pretty weird name, I wish they (whoever They were) had chosen something more descriptive, but I certainly didn’t have any say in the matter. We grow zonals from four different breeders, always trying new varieties to make sure we have the best ones on the market.
Our zonal geraniums are available from our opening in the beginning of March through June most years and sometimes into July a bit.
They aren’t grown all summer because the stock plants don’t produce good cuttings later in the season. Once the plants grown from our last shipment of cuttings in April are all grown up and have gone to new homes and loving families, that’s it. We grow them in 4 inch pots, 6 inch pots, and 12 inch clay planters.
Also known as Brocade geraniums, these are actually more kinds of zonals, but the emphasis in their breeding was on pretty leaves rather than big, showy flowers. We do about 10 variegated varieties all in 6 inch pots, since they’re usually large growers. They are particularly nice used in mixed planters, where their foliage color can pick up and compliment the flower color of their companions in the pot.
Martha Washington Geraniums
Also known as Regal Geraniums, these are real beauties. We do them just in 6 inch pots and they’re available in March and early April. They sell out fast, so if you come out in May you’ll usually be too late. We grow them all fall and winter at cool temperatures so they’re really fat and full of buds. Have you have ever bought smaller ones in 4 inch pots elsewhere and found that they didn’t bloom very long? Those were grown the quick shortcut way, without any cool period to set flower buds. That’s why they were cheaper. Ours are worth a little more, they’re going to bloom all spring, summer and fall.
These are the trailing types used in hanging baskets and planters, as in the famous windowboxes of Swiss chalets. They also make a great summer groundcover, though I rarely see them used that way. I wonder why. Try it sometime.
Ivy Geraniums are among the easiest to grow of basket plants. That shiny, waxy leaf that gives them the “ivy” name is really an adaptation to drought conditions, the waxy coating helps retain water. Hanging basket plants have to contend with water shortage more than anything else in our gardens, poor things, swinging up there in the wind and sun, frying ‘til we get home from work on a hot day, at the mercy of their humans for sustenance. Ivies take it well.
We grow them in 1 quart pots and 10 inch hanging baskets, and we work them into nearly all our sunny mixed hanging pots.
Scented Leaf Geraniums
Like the variegated ones, these were bred for their leaves, specifically the scented oils in the leaves, though the widely scattered flowers are an added attraction. The scents range from citrusy to minty to what I call simply scented geranium scent. You can tell from some of the names that someone was really stretching for a comparison, like the one called Hazelnut that smells nothing at all like nuts. But what the heck, it smells good and it’s pretty. They can be used like the variegateds in mixed planters, or in herb pots or herb gardens. You can cook with them, and make tea from them. The suggestion I see fairly often and always get a kick out of is that of making crabapple or quince jelly and putting a lemon scented geranium leaf in each jar. Any person whose life is so well organized that she/he has the time required to make quince jelly has my total, unfettered admiration.