Thursday, December 28, 2006

Geraniums



Growing Geraniums

Geraniums are probably one of the most reliable flowering plants you can grow in your garden. They are available already in flower in late spring to add glorious color to a garden all the way until the first frost in the autumn. Some geranium plants become very large and provide gigantic flowers, while other plants produce smaller blooms, so you have a choice. The new cultivars offer almost shatterproof flowers that can weather both wind and rain. Geraniums are available as seedlings or as already established plants.

Set out your geranium plants in the spring after all danger of the frost is over in your region. Geraniums that have been injured by cold temperatures will have little growth, and will often produce red foliage. A planting near the end of May will be more productive, because the plants will take root more firmly. Plant geraniums in a place where they will receive sunlight, so that they will provide the maximum flower production possible. Plants will grow in partial shade, but with reduced flowering, even though adequate foliage is produced. Select a site where water drainage is good.

Geraniums will grow in almost any type of soil if it is well aerated and porous so that water can flow through it. Clay soils should be improved for geranium plants by adding organic matter every year. An inch of coarse sphagnum peat moss, some rotted manure, or some compost when preparing the flowerbeds is great for this. Garden centers, greenhouses, and other retail outlets sell geranium plants in the spring of each year. These plants may or may not already be in flower. Plants are generally available as rooted cuttings or as seedlings that are planted in plastic trays, plastic pots, or peat spots. These will grow well; you can remove the container without disturbing the soil around the plant roots.

Plants should be set down into the soil no deeper than the depth they were when they were growing in their pots. If possible, plant them shallower than that. If planted too deep, stem rot will most likely attack and kill the plant. Once they are planted, take your hands, and gently pack the soil around the roots. Be careful not to injure stems, because such injury this creates an opening for diseases to enter. Water the new plants thoroughly after planting. Liquid fertilizers such as 20-20-20 or 15-30-15 are also needed at the application rate written on the fertilizer package. Water the plants again after applying the fertilizer to get it down into the soil where the roots are, but also to avoid chemically burning the plant. Any fertilizer that gets on the leaves of the plants must be sprayed off with water.

Additional geranium plants will grow well after starting from stem cuttings, often called slips. Remove stem cuttings from the tips of the stems, not from the bases. The slips should be three to four inches long, but some shorter ones can be taken if you need more cuttings and there are not enough longer ones. Strip off the lower leaves from the slips to make it easier to stick the cuttings in the rooting medium. Perlite, sharp sand, or sand mixed equally with sphagnum peat moss are all good media for rootings the cuttings. Stick the cuttings an inch deep in the medium and then water them thoroughly.

Place cutting containers in a north or east window until well rooted. Rooting occurs most effectively in soil temperatures of 72 to 75 degrees F. This takes three to four weeks and during this rooting period, water the rootings sparingly. The key to successful rooting is to let the cuttings run to the dry side. When cuttings are rooted, place them into 4-inch pots. After the cuttings become established in about a week, start fertilizing them with a liquid fertilizer such as 20-20-20 or 15-30-15 at one-half strength of package recommendations. Make monthly applications thereafter until the plants are planted outside in beds.

Pest problems are minimal with geraniums. Always keep fading flower stalks removed to reduce botrytis. Proper plant spacing will reduce botrytis on leaves that can sometimes build up during wet seasons. Occasionally, geranium plants or single leaves will wilt for no apparent reason. This should alert the homeowner to a serious problem known as bacterial blight. Infected plants will more readily display this symptom under high temperatures of 70 to 80 degrees F. No remedy sprays are available for this and removal of the plant from the site should be done immediately.

Plants purchased from greenhouses have been started from clean stock plants or seeds and eliminating many potential disease. Gardeners often like to experiment and keep their geraniums from year to year and this is possible by taking cuttings in late August and rooting them. Plants can also be dug, trimmed back to one-half original height, repotted and set in a sunny window over the winter. Some people also save geraniums by digging them, removing soil, and hanging them on hooks from the house rafters. This method will work under high humidity, 85 to 90 percent and cool temperatures of 50 to 55 degrees F, but modern homes are too dry, causing dehydration. Try it; if successful, you will have plants next spring.

There are several types of geraniums and the majority is produced from seed. Look for plants in these seed propagated families - Ringo, Bandit, Elite, Orbit, Pinto, Multibloom, and Lone Ranger. . Cutting-grown geraniums that are good include the reds: Kim, Mars, Tango, Yours Truly, and Sincerity. The pinks and others include Cherry Blossom, Helena, Katie, Pink Expectations, Pink Satisfaction, and Rio. Unusual geranium plants, such as ivy-leafed, scented, and Martha Washington are also possibilities. Ivy-leafed geraniums have a characteristic trailing stem that make them great for hanging containers, with flowers are in the pastel range of color tones. Keep all these plants evenly moist and sitting in an east or north window. Ivy types do not tolerate temperatures above 85 degrees F for extended periods and will dry out or burn.

Scented type geraniums should be grown in full sun to develop the volatile leaf oils. The resulting flowers are less significant in this scented group, but the soft scent of the leaves gives fragrant oils useful in sachets. Martha Washington or Regal geraniums are sold in the early spring and require cool temperatures of around 60 degrees F at night in order to continue blooming. Warm summer temperatures will cause flowering to cease until fall when temperatures are favorable.

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