How To Grow And Care For Geranium

Learn more about gorgeous geraniums.

The plants we know as geraniums aren’t actually geraniums. If you point to a geranium at a garden shop, you're actually probably identifying a Pelargonium, a member of a group of plants that have commonly come to be called 'geraniums.' Botanically speaking, true geraniums (those belonging to the genus Geranium) are a related genus of hardy flowering perennial shrubs.

Because of their pretty blooms, lovely fragrances, and culinary uses, scented geraniums are a wonderful addition to herb gardens, borders, window boxes, and hanging baskets. Some can even be used as ground cover. Peppermint geranium is one that can spread and cover (as long as it won’t have to endure a hard frost). 

Geraniums are popular plantings across the South. They add fragrant foliage and bright blooms wherever they're planted, whether that's in backyard garden beds or in pots, planters, and containers. For seasoned gardeners and geranium-growing novices alike, there's a fact or two about these flowering plants that will surprise, and likely inspire you to revisit these cheerful blooms. Read on to learn more about these regional-favorite flowers and try your hand at planting some this season.

Plant Attributes

 Common Name Geranium, Pelargonium
Botanical Name  Geranium 
Family Geraniaceae
Plant Type Perennial shrub
Mature Size 48 in. tall, 36 in. wide
Sun Exposure Full 
Soil Type Well-drained
Soil pH Neutral, Alkaline
Bloom Time Spring, Fall
Flower Color Red, Pink, Orange, Purple, White
Hardiness Zones USDA Zones 9–11
Native Area Southern Africa
Toxicity Toxic to dogs, toxic to cats
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Geranium Care

While they require a little attention, geraniums are relatively easy-care plantings.


This light-lover should receive full sun. When planted in containers, you can move the pot to adjust for natural conditions. If the plant appears to be sunburned, you can give it partial shade to help it recover. If the geranium leaves turn yellow and are slow to send up flowers, move the pot into the sun to supplement its natural light.


Plant in any good, fast-draining soil and amend poor soil with plenty of organic matter. Geraniums growing in good garden soil need little fertilizer; those in light, sandy soil should receive two or three feedings during active growth.


Geranium requires moderate to regular watering. Geraniums planted in pots dry out faster than geraniums planted in garden beds, so you’ll need to water pots more frequently.

Temperature and Humidity

According to the Grumpy Gardener, "High summer heat can take its toll on these plants. Many common geraniums stop blooming in sizzling weather, a condition known as 'heat check.' (They'll resume blooming when cooler weather arrives.)." Grumpy recommends avoiding this by planting heat-tolerant geraniums; these include the 'Americana,' 'Orbit,' 'Cascade,' and 'Summer Showers' series.


Don't over fertilize: Feed your geraniums with slow-release, granular fertilizer once in spring or with a liquid 20-20-20 fertilizer three times during the growing season.

Types of Geranium

If you search enough garden centers, you can probably find four or five different types of geraniums. Two, however, account for almost all of the sales. The first and most popular is the common geranium (Pelargonium x hortorum). It's also sometimes called a zonal geranium because its rounded, velvety, green leaves often contain a burgundy ring.

Most gardeners treat common geraniums as annuals, but in the Coastal and Tropical South where it doesn't freeze, they're perennials. Succulent stems become woody with age, and plants grow into picturesque shrubs. Outside these areas, you must store the plants indoors near a window during winter if you wish to grow them this way.

The second most popular type is the ivy geranium (P. peltatum), named for its glossy green, ivy-shaped leaves. Rather than growing upright like common geraniums, this one cascades. Use it to plunge from hanging baskets, window boxes, or the edge of a big planter.

Here are more of our favorites, for your consideration:

P. cordifolium. HEARTLEAF GERANIUM. Rounded plant to 4 ft. tall and wide, with 21⁄2-in., dull green, toothed and lobed leaves. Loose clusters of reddish purple, 1-in. flowers. Good for borders.

P. domesticum. LADY WASHINGTON GERANIUM, MARTHA WASHINGTON GERANIUM. Erect or somewhat spreading, to 3 ft. tall and wide. Rangier than P. hortorum. Heart-shaped to kidney-shaped leaves are dark green, 2–4 in. wide, with crinkled margins and unequal sharp teeth. Loose, rounded clusters of large (2-in. or wider), showy flowers; colors include white and many shades of pink, red, lavender, purple, with brilliant blotches and markings of darker colors. Can be planted in beds if pruned hard after flowering to prevent lanky, rangy growth. First-class potted plant. Some selections are used in hanging baskets. Most suffer during extended high temperatures, but the hybrid Grandirosa series is surprisingly heat tolerant.

P. hortorum. COMMON GERANIUM, GARDEN GERANIUM. Succulent stemmed; grows to 3 ft. or more high and wide. In mild climates, older plants grown in the open become woody. Round or kidney-shaped leaves are velvety and hairy, soft to the touch, aromatic, edges indistinctly lobed and scallop toothed; most selections show a zone of deeper color just inside the edge of leaf, though some have plain green foliage. Flowers are single or double; they are flatter and smaller than those of P. domesticum, but clusters bear many more blossoms. Many selections are sold, in white and shades of pink, rose, red, orange, and violet; flowers are usually solid colored. Tough, attractive geraniums for outdoor bedding can be grown from seed; will flower the first summer. Available strains include Americana (bright green foliage, compact); Eclipse (dark green foliage, compact); Elite (quick to reach blooming stage, compact, needs no pinching); Maverick (open habit with many flowering stems); Multibloom (compact, early blooming); and Orbit (distinct leaf zoning; broad, rounded flower clusters). ‘Orange Appeal’, a seed-grown selection, blooms in pure bright orange. There are also dwarf, cactus-flowered, and other novelty types. Fancy-leafed or color-leafed selections have zones, borders, or splashes of brown, gold, red, white, and green in various combinations. Some also have highly attractive flowers. ‘Golden Ears’, 1 ft. high and wide, has small, deeply cut, almost star-shaped leaves of deep bronzy red with a wide border of chartreuse; flowers are bright coral. ‘Vancouver Centennial’ is very similar if not identical. ‘Mrs. Pollock’ has green leaves with a red zone and a creamy yellow margin; it bears vermilion blooms.

P. peltatum. IVY GERANIUM. To 11⁄2 ft. tall, trailing to 3 ft. wide. Rather succulent, 2- to 3-in.-wide, glossy, bright green leaves with pointed lobes resemble foliage of ivy (Hedera). Spectacular summer show of single or double, inch- wide flowers in rounded clusters of five to ten; colors include white, pink, rose, red, salmon, and lavender. Upper petals may be blotched or striped. Many named selections are available. Most types cannot tolerate extended heat and are grown as summer annuals only in the Upper and Middle South (though they perform well as winter annuals in the Coastal and Tropical South). However, heat-tolerant Blizzard and Cascade and Summer Showers series perform well throughout summer in much of the Lower South, as well as farther north. Focus series is compact with dark leaves for dense baskets. Use ivy geraniums in hanging baskets, window boxes, and tall planters.

P. hybrids. Crossing zonal geraniums and ivy geraniums has produced garden hardy selections. Double Take series has semidouble flowers that are slow to shatter. Calliope and Caliente series are a geranium lover’s answer to Southern summer heat. Place them where they get all-day sun in the Upper and Middle South, but afternoon shade in the Lower and Coastal South.

Scented geraniums. Many aromatic species, hybrids, and selections are available. Most grow 1–3 ft. tall, spreading as wide as high. Foliage scent is the main draw; clusters of small, typically white or rosy flowers are secondary in appeal. Leaves vary in shape from nearly round to finely cut and almost ferny; they range in size from minute to 4 in. across. Plants’ common names usually refer to the fragrance of their leaves: almond geranium (P. quercifolium), apple geranium (P. odoratissimum), lime geranium (P. nervosum), nutmeg geranium (P. fragrans ‘Nutmeg’), pepper- mint geranium (P. tomentosum). There are several rose geraniums, including P. capitatumP. graveolens, and P. ‘Lady Plymouth’. Various types offer lemon fragrance, including P. crispum and P. c. ‘Prince Rupert’. All scented geraniums are good for herb gardens, edgings, front of borders, window boxes, hanging baskets; peppermint geranium makes a good ground cover in frost-free gardens. Use fresh leaves of all types for flavoring jelly and iced drinks; use dried leaves in sachets and potpourri. 


Geranium doesn't need to be pruned. Rather, you’ll need to deadhead geranium. To tend them during the blooming season, remove wilted and faded flowers. This will encourage new blooms to shoot up. You can also help shape the growth by pinching the growing tips of young geraniums to bring out branches along the sides of the plant.

geranium pruning

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How to Grow Geranium From Seed

The best time to start geranium from seed is in late winter. Using clean planting flats, fill with moistened planting mix and press into each opening. Make a shallow indent with your finger and sow the seed following the directions on the geranium seed package. Press the seed in the soil and lightly cover with the planting medium. Lightly water the soil and put the planting flat under a grow light. Once the seedling has two or more leaves, transplant it into a small nursery pot. Before planting, set the pots outside in dappled shade to build the plant’s outdoor endurance. After a week, plant the geraniums in pots, window boxes, or planting beds. 


Before the first frost, bring your container indoors and place it in front of a sunny window for at least six hours per day at a temperature above 50 F. Or let them go dormant in a cool, dark place where they won't freeze, like the garage. Let the soil dry to barely moist, and remove dead leaves and flowers and any rot. After the last frost in the spring, place the pot outdoors each day, slowly exposing it to more sun, to acclimate the plant to warmer temperatures and resume waterings. Once the temperature is above 50 F at night, resume feedings.

Common Pests

If your plant has buds that won't open or you see tattered petals, your geranium could have an infestation. Common pests include aphids, spider mites, and whiteflies. Tobacco budworms may be a problem in some areas. Most pests are controlled by spraying with neem oil or spinosad to treat.

How to Get Geranium to Bloom

When it comes to caring for geraniums, according to The New Southern Living Garden Book, you should "plant in any good, fast-draining soil and amend poor soil with plenty of organic matter. Geraniums growing in good garden soil need little fertilizer; those in light, sandy soil should receive two or three feedings during active growth." To tend them during the blooming season, you should regularly remove wilted and faded flowers. This will encourage the appearance of new blooms. You can also help shape the growth by pinching the growing tips of young geraniums to bring out branches along the sides of the plant.

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Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long do geraniums last?

    Geraniums can last about two years when properly cared for. For geraniums to flourish without diminished blooms, propagate geranium plants using cuttings to generate new healthy plants.

  • How do I care for geraniums in pots?

    Caring for geraniums in pots is similar to caring for the plants in a garden. Geraniums need moist, well-drained, and nutrient-rich soil. Amend potting soil with organic matter to assist with drainage.

  • Do geraniums have a signature scent?

    Geraniums are known for their aromatic, green foliage, the fragrance of which varies from plant to plant. According to The New Southern Living Garden Book, "Plants' common names usually refer to the fragrance of their leaves: Almond geranium (P. quercifolium), apple geranium (P. odoratissimum), lime geranium (P. nervosum), nutmeg geranium (P. x fragrans 'Nutmeg'), peppermint geranium (P. tomentosum)." Other geraniums produce fragrance that smells like roses and lemons.

    As mentioned above, the fragrances of geraniums span the lengths of the garden (and the kitchen). Some even smell of strawberries. Strawberry-scented pelargonium (Pelargonium x scarboroviae) is sometimes grown as an indoor plant. It is compact and produces berry-scented foliage with pink-hued blooms.

    Night-scented pelargonium (Pelargonium triste) is a group of geraniums with a distinctive fragrance. In the evening the plants, as if by magic, begin to smell of cloves. You may detect hints of warmth, even vanilla-like notes, which the plant releases when the sun goes down and through the night.

  • Can I cook with geranium?

    Both the flowers and aromatic foliage of geraniums are edible and can be used for culinary purposes. According to The New Southern Living Garden Book, you can "use fresh leaves of all types for flavoring jelly and iced drinks; use dried leaves in sachets and potpourri." They can be used to flavor sugar, iced tea, lemonade, pastries, pound cakes, and salads, too.

  • Are geraniums good for herb gardens?

    Because of their pretty blooms, lovely fragrances, and culinary uses, scented geraniums are great additions to herb gardens.

  • I’ve never considered the foliage of geranium when picking my container plants. What types of foliage add interest?

    The foliage varies from species to species. For example, heartleaf geranium has toothed and lobed leaves, while Martha Washington pelargonium (also known as Lady Washington pelargonium or regal pelargonium) has heart- or kidney-shaped dark green leaves. Common geraniums have rounded leaves, which are soft, velvety, and hairy with scalloped edges. Some geraniums have foliage resembling that of ferns.

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  1. Plants for a Future. Pelargonium triste.

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