Tag Archives: pelargoniums

Pelargoniums really thrive in hot summers

First published by Rattan Direct on 3 July 2016.

The rain is sheeting down outside as I write and I’m seriously wondering whether summer is over. I’m not alone in doing this, of course. We all know that these thoughts are a traditional part of the British summer!

Anyway, let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that scorching days are ahead. Which plants will do well in your garden and in mine?

Pelargoniums love hot, dry weather

Pelargoniums can cope with hot, dry weather better than many plants. They are very straightforward to grow: all most of them ask is plenty of light and a freely draining soil. They have very few pests and diseases. Water them occasionally (they hate damp conditions and poor air circulation) and if the weather is very dry, give them a good soaking. Feed them occasionally with potash-rich fertiliser (like tomato feed) and deadhead to encourage flowering.

Although they are often grown as annuals, pelargoniums can happily be perennial, given the right conditions. Help outdoor plants make it through the winter by taking cuttings, putting them in an unheated spare room or cold greenhouse, or putting them into a semi-dormant state.

Bedding, hanging basket, statement plants

There are several different types of pelargonium and each has a large range of varieties. There’s bound to be something that will suit you.

The zonal pelargonium has a horseshoe shaped mark (the ‘zone’) on the leaf. They are used for park and garden bedding displays but are also good indoors. Zonal pelargoniums will flower as long as there is good light and the temperature is at least 7-10°C. (A local café grows some inside against the front window as floor-to-ceiling perennials, in flower all year round.) There’s a huge range of fancy-leaf zonals, grown more for their coloured leaf marking than their flowers.

Red zonal pelargoniums, Peaks Parkway, Grimsby.
Red zonal pelargoniums, Peaks Parkway, Grimsby. © Steve Fareham and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence.

The regal (or show) and angel groups have shrubby growth, saw-edged growth and large bi-coloured ruffled flowers. These are best grown indoors or in partial shade outdoors. They make a good statement plant on a window sill.

The ivy-leaved pelargonium has fleshy leaves on trailing, slightly brittle, stems. In Britain these tend to be grown in hanging baskets and pots but they’re used as ground cover in countries with relatively dry and frost-free climates. I have these pelargoniums outside the back door: a white one in a dark green pot and two very dark red ones in black pots.

Ivy-leaved pelargoniums at a window on the west side of Chateau de Monsec, Mouzens, Dordogne, France.
Ivy-leaved pelargoniums at a window on the west side of Chateau de Monsec, Mouzens, Dordogne, France. ©Père Igor and licensed for re-use with the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence

Finally, scented-leaved pelargoniums like the rose geranium* are mainly grown for their fragrant leaves, often distinctly lobed, toothed or incised, or variegated.

* Pelargoniums are commonly called ‘geraniums’ but that’s not really their correct name. True geraniums are hardy herbaceous plants.

Pelargonium 'Mint Rose' at Ryton Organic Gardens, near Rugby, Warwickshire. Pelargoniums.
Pelargonium ‘Mint Rose’ at Ryton Organic Gardens, near Rugby, Warwickshire. ©TMcB23 and licensed for re-use under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International licence.

What’s the long-range forecast for our pelargoniums and us?

We’ve still got two or three more months of summer, depending on how you’re counting. Here’s the long-range weather forecast for the rest of summer 2016. Fingers crossed!


Take cuttings and be part of the spring/summer surge

First published by Rattan Direct on 1 June 2016.

Benefit from the impetus of the ‘May flush’

The ‘May flush’ is that wonderful swelling of energy when everywhere begins to burst enthusiastically with fresh new growth. Over these past few weeks I’ve been travelling regularly across North Wales and North West England, a complete and utter delight as the hedgerows, verges and front gardens have rolled past in mile after mile of foamy abundance. The hawthorn (may), cow parsley and mountain ash (rowan) have all been glorious in cream. The forget-me-nots have passed by in a blur of indistinct blue. The lilacs have been variously cream, dusty mauve and deeper red. Cream is always my favourite but I’m coming round to the other colours. They are all wonderful in the right place.

May (hawthorn) blossom lining the hedgerows at Hodge Lane, Hartford Junction, Cheshire. Take softwood cuttings at this time of year.
May (hawthorn) blossom lining the hedgerows at Hodge Lane, Hartford Junction, Cheshire, between the bridges. © Copyright Jo Lxix and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

It’s had elements of the road movie. Travelling, travelling. Watching that amazing spring surge but somehow not being part of it.

But you and I can be part of it. The May flush has produced lots and lots of soft and sappy growth, ideal for softwood cuttings. It’s easy to take cuttings and grow your own plants. Doing this, somehow or another, you feel more part of what’s going on. No longer a watcher but a player.

Softwood cuttings

Softwood cuttings are taken from young, soft shoots early in the growing season before they ripen and harden. There is such energy in these cuttings that they will usually root very readily.

Taking a few small cuttings usually does no harm at all to a vigorous plant and the gentle pruning (which gives some shaping at the same time) may benefit it. When I was out and about last week I begged a few slips of the exotic French lavender from some acquaintances. This was my ‘recipe’.

French lavender. Propagate by softwood cuttings.
French lavender, Lavandula stoechas, looking good in Sardinia, Italy. Copyright Hans Hillewaert, licensed for re-use under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

Recipe for softwood cuttings such as lavender

You will need:

1 very sharp knife or nail scissors (or a sharp fingernail will do) so you don’t crush the stem

6 slips (small shoots) of very young growth

13cm / 5” pot (terracotta for preference as it allows cuttings and potting compost to breathe)

Some open, well-draining compost (something like half potting compost and half horticultural sand)

1 or 2 see-through plastic bags big enough to cover the pots, to prevent the cuttings from drying out.

What to do:

  1. Nip off six slips of very young soft growth about 10-13 cm / 4-5” long. Put them straight into the plastic bag and fold over the top.
  1. One at a time, take the slips from the bag and cut just below a leaf node (where the leaf is joined to the stem) where rooting hormones are most active, so they are about 5-10 cms /2-4” long. Cut at an angle as that will increase the area for rooting. Remove lower leaves, leaving an inch or so of stem bare; this prevents rot and encourages root formation at the node. Cut any large top leaves back by half, to prevent drying out.
  1. Using a pen or pencil, make six planting holes to accommodate two leaf nodes or about half the depth of your cutting, very close to the edge of pot. Drop in the cuttings and firm soil in place around them.
  1. Put the plastic bag over the top of the pot, possibly secured by an elastic band. Make sure the bag doesn’t touch the cuttings; you may need to support it with twigs, or a bit of metal coat hanger.
  1. Put in a warm place out of direct sunlight. A north or north-west facing window sill where the light and temperature is steady is ideal.
  1. Remove the plastic bag for 10 minutes or so every day to allow air to circulate and reduce risk of mould.
  1. Watch for new growth and, after a few weeks, test for roots by pulling gently on each slip. If the cutting has rooted (‘taken’), then pot it into its own 10cm / 4” pot. When the roots have filled that, either pot on again or harden off and transplant into the garden.

Watch Monty Don take rosemary softwood cuttings for Gardeners’ World.

My French lavender cuttings are looking fairly happy and I hope they’ll have rooted in three or four weeks. I’ve also taken some cuttings of other lavender to replace plants lost to winter frosts, and some rosemary for a small and fragrant hedge just where the front gate swings open. Later in the year I’ll take some pelargonium cuttings from a plant with a particularly lovely deep red flower.