What's so great about zonal geraniums?
If there’s an annual I can’t resist buying each year, it’s zonal geranium (Pelargonium hybrids). The flowers keep coming all season and the colors are fantastic! Of course there’s the classic red bloom but you’ll also find pink, white, lavender, coral, burgundy, orange and salmon in an immense range of shades and patterns. Some are knock-your-socks-off intense — perfect for attracting attention wherever you want. Others are more like Dynamo Salmon above — a peaceful pastel that lends an elegant air wherever it sits. Besides all the flower power, some geraniums have foliage with pretty patterns that look good all season.
What’s not to love about this traditional favorite? If geraniums haven’t made it to the top of your must-plant list, keep reading and I’ll show you five reasons they should.
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1. Zonal geraniums make great container superstars
One of the best things about zonal geraniums is how great they look in containers. They’re polite companions that won’t take over the pot, and they come in a myriad of colors, along with various habits and flower shapes to supply you with a different look every year. Check out the photo gallery below for just a sampling of what you’ll find at garden centers.
You can’t go wrong planting zonal geraniums with big red blooms by themselves in a terra-cotta pot or cast-iron urn. This traditional look provides a steady supply of color that makes a big impact up close or from a distance. Use it to accent the front door or decorate a windowsill.
Zonal geraniums come in a range of colors and types
With their bold colors and flower shapes, geraniums also fit right in to a tropically themed container. Take a look at Boldly Hot Pink in the container above, that shade of pink really ramps up the intensity. If pink isn’t your favorite color, there are plenty of other bright hues, such as Dynamo Red or 'Horizon Orange'. For a moody look try the rich blooms of Precision Deep Burgundy. On the other hand, softer colors, such as Survivor Baby Face or Pinto Premium Lavender, will have more of a peaceful and calming effect.
2. Zonal geraniums have fantastic foliage!
As if the pretty flowers weren’t enough, zonal geraniums have attractive foliage, too. Most have a “zone” on the leaf that can be faint or dark, narrow or wide. But fancy leaf varieties take colorful foliage to a whole new level. It’s not uncommon to find these geraniums with two leaf colors — usually cream or white and green — but some have three. ‘Mrs Pollock’ is an heirloom that’s been around for generations. Brocade Cherry Night’s dramatic purple-black leaves really pop in a chartreuse container. When growing dark-foliaged geraniums, avoid a dark-colored pot or you’ll lose the effect. Fancy leaf varieties often have fewer and smaller flowers, so some gardeners even cut them off because the leaves are the main attraction.
3. Zonal geraniums make a big splash almost anywhere
You can also fill a bed or edge a border with these versatile annuals. A big mass of color is more economical when you choose seed-grown types instead of cutting-grown geraniums. Though the flowers are smaller and single, it’s easy to bring home a nursery flat of seed-grown geraniums without breaking your budget. When you’re planting, zigzag the line to get a fuller, more natural look to beds and borders.
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4. Zonal geraniums are easy to grow
It doesn’t take a lot of fuss to keep zonal geraniums in show-stopping color from late spring until frost. Give plants sun — six or more hours ensures the flowers keep coming and the foliage stays healthy. Where summers are extra hot, some afternoon shade helps. Use a potting mix in containers or choose a spot in the garden with well-drained soil and don’t worry about watering too often.
Geraniums are better when they’re a bit dry rather than consistently moist. That said, don’t let them dry out to the point of wilting. That stresses plants so they won’t produce flowers for a few weeks. Geraniums aren’t bothered much by pests or disease and can even help you minimize Japanese beetle troubles. Check out “No more beetles” below to see how.
To fertilize or not?
Give zonal geraniums a slow-release fertilizer at planting time and they’ll look good all season. To get more and bigger blooms, feed every time you water with water-soluble all-purpose plant food at quarter strength. When temperatures reach 90 degrees F, plants naturally slow their flower production. If the high temps are going to stick around for more than a few days, it’s a good idea to stop feeding to avoid fertilizer burn. But be patient; plants will start producing again once temperatures cool down a bit.
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Deadheading zonal geraniums
The most important thing you can do to keep geraniums colorful is deadhead. A geranium’s big blooms are made up of clusters of smaller flowers, and once most of those are spent it’s time to remove the spent bloom. That way new growth will have plenty of energy and you’ll have a quicker rebloom. To deadhead, follow a slender bloom stem back to the main stem and snap it off. Use the same technique to remove any damaged or dead leaves.
Dealing with reverted leaves
Fancy leaf geraniums, such as 'Mrs Pollock' or 'Mrs Cox', occasionally have a stem that reverts. Go ahead and cut out that whole stem, otherwise they’ll outcompete the more colorful ones and you’ll have mostly green foliage. More variegated leaves will fill in a few weeks.
5. You can keep zonal geraniums for many years
When the growing season is over you don’t have to toss those beautiful plants on the compost pile. You can bring them indoors to grow again next year. There are two ways to do this: Maintain them in a pot or store them in a paper bag.
Bring zonal geraniums indoors for winter
Bring potted plants inside before a hard freeze and grow them in a sunny window or sun room that stays at 55 to 60 degrees F. Cut back on watering and don’t feed them. Plants will look a little scruffy through winter but they’ll recover.
How to overwinter zonal geraniums in a paper bag
Digging and storing geraniums in paper bags or boxes is a good solution when you have a lot of plants to store. Here are the steps to do it:
- Dig them in fall and shake off as much soil as you can.
- Remove any foliage that looks dead or diseased.
- Set the plants aside to dry for a couple of days out of direct sunlight. That helps discourage mold and mildew in storage.
- Then place the plants in a paper bag and store them in a dry spot that stays 50 to 60 degrees F over winter. Traditionally they’re stored upside down. I’ve stored them this way and placed them sideways in the bag and haven’t noticed a big difference in survival rates.
- In spring pull plants out 6 to 8 weeks before the last average frost date.
- Remove dead foliage, cut the stems back to the green part of the stem and pot them up. You should see new growth in a couple of weeks and enjoy these gorgeous flowers for another year.
Did you know zonal geraniums can be a trap crop for Japanese beetles?
Japanese beetles will eat zonal geraniums, but within 30 minutes of consuming petals this pest becomes paralyzed. You may find them lying on the foliage or ground nearby, making it easier for them to fall prey to predators, such as birds, or for you to catch and dispose of them. Japanese beetles usually recover within 24 hours so as you’re making your daily beetle sweep, pay special attention to the zonal geraniums. You can even use geraniums as a trap crop near other vulnerable plants. Researchers are looking into how they can capitalize on this unique situation to control Japanese beetles.
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Find a zonal geranium for your garden
You're sure to find a zonal geranium to add some pizzazz to your containers or garden. They come in a variety of bloom colors, and the foliage ranges from crisp green to an eye-catching tricolor that creates more drama than the flowers. Let's take a look at a few great geranium varieties you might like to try in the gallery below!