Mention geraniums, and most U.S. gardeners picture umbrella-like clusters of red flowers growing in Grandma’s pots.
While the red geranium – paired with a vinca vine and a dracaena spike in the middle – is a long-time pot classic, it’s far from the only geranium choice. In fact, that type of geranium isn’t a true geranium at all but a Pelargonium, a drought- and heat-tough flower that dies in freezing weather.
“Real” geraniums are mounding perennials that bloom lavender, pink, white or purplish-blue – never red. Most of these come back year after year in Zones 4-8, and they’re often called “hardy geraniums” or “cranesbills” to distinguish them from annual geraniums.
The annual ones
By far the most common type of annual geranium (Pelargonium) is the zonal geranium, so named for the darker pattern over the fan-shaped green leaves. These grow in full sun to part shade and bloom all summer in shades of orange, coral, pink, white and burgundy in addition to red.
Another type known as ivy geraniums (Pelargonium peltatum) have a trailing habit and are usually grown in hanging baskets in afternoon shade.
What happens if you combine the two? Breeders did just that to create “interspecific geraniums,” ones that have the durability of zonal geraniums and the heavier bloom of ivy geraniums. These high performers are sold under such names as Caliente®, Calliope™, Galleria™, ‘Double Take,’ ‘Salsarita,’ ‘Cumbanita,’ ‘Dixieland,’ Boldly™ and Timeless™.
If fragrance is your goal, check out scented geraniums, annual Pelargoniums that come in such scents as lemon, cinnamon, peppermint and rose.
The perennial ones
Cranesbills or hardy geraniums are some of the longest blooming perennials. Some bloom in spring, some in summer, and some rebloom in fall. Most grow 18 inches or less and prefer morning sun and a bit of afternoon shade, especially in hotter regions.
Trying to go native? The U.S.-native wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) is a pink bloomer that does well in mostly shaded locations.
For annual geraniums: Snip off the flower stalks as the flowers brown to encourage continuing bloom.
For hardy geraniums: Cut off spent foliage at the end of winter but not the whole way to the ground. Leave a stub of a few inches… that’s the crown from where new growth will emerge.