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Now is the season for geraniums

By Ralph E. Mitchell

Red geraniums

Geraniums provide color for fall and winter planting in Southwest Florida.

Although associated with Memorial Day up north, garden centers are now full of geraniums and it is time to plant them here in Southwest Florida. Have you heard of ‘Red Express’, ‘Ringo Rose’, and ‘Fire Flash’? These are some of the cultivars of geraniums that do particularly well in Florida. Growers are producing superior geraniums that have compact growth, more flowers and branching, longer lasting flowers, earlier bloom and a greater variety of flower and foliage color. Geraniums do better with night temperatures in the low to mid-sixties and day temperatures up to eighty-five degrees. Accordingly, the gardener can take advantage of the cooler fall weather to get a new burst of color.

While geraniums are old, undemanding favorites, you can get the most out of them with proper culture. While they prefer full sun for best growth, they can tolerate some partial shade. A site that has good drainage improved with two to three inches of organic matter incorporated into the bed is ideal. If the soil is very poor, consider using two to four gallon plastic pots. Planted pots can then be sunk up to their rims and mulched. Use a slow-release fertilizer to reduce the need the need for frequent application. Water geraniums as needed, but do not keep the soil wet as it may attract damaging snails and slugs. Also, try not to wet the foliage and flowers as this may encourage disease and damage flowers. Deadhead old blossoms to help promote new flowers.

If grown in a frost-free area, geraniums are considered perennials. However, as geraniums get older and bigger, they tend to grow out of bounds and become leggy. When geraniums become unsightly, send them to the compost heap! They will not tolerate the heat of our summers very well and starting with new plants is a good practice. New disease-free plants can of course be purchased at any garden center, or started by cuttings or seeds. Seeds are a new development but have been found to be more compact, better branched and quicker growing than those propagated from cuttings.

Selecting varieties to plant is also important. Some types have been observed or tested to do better under Florida’s growing conditions. Consider ‘Sincerity’, which has red flowers and holds its flowers for a long time. This cultivar also is somewhat disease resistant, branches well and has stocky growth. Another benefit is that red-flowering geraniums appear to attract hummingbirds and butterflies to gardens. How about a Didden’s ‘Salmon Irene’ which is salmon pink and a prolific bloomer. A good white cultivar is ‘Snowman’. Within the category of seed geranium cultivars is ‘Carefree Crimson’; an intense crimson with well-defined zonal markings on the leaves.

If you are more of scented germanium fan, grow these fragrant-leaved plants for their spicy aroma and not their flowers. Scented geraniums release aromatic oils when rubbed or crushed that smell like mint, rose, lemon, cinnamon, and chocolate.

Add this garden regular to your landscape this fall and continue the color through another season! For more information on all types of plants and plant problems, or to ask a question, please visit https://www.facebook.com/CharlotteMGLifeline/.  Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for the UF/IFAS Charlotte County Extension Service. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or ralph.mitchell@charlottecountyfl.gov.

Don’t forget that Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ is a program that our office encourages as it promotes planting the “right plant in the right place”, water conservation, common sense pest management, sensible use of fertilizers, composting, etc. that help develop a sustainable landscape. For more information on this important, over-arching program, please contact Sara Weber, FFL Education-Training Specialist, at  Sara.Weber@charlottecountyfl.gov .

Resources:
Black, R. J. & Tjia, B. (1991) Geraniums for Florida, University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, IFAS.
Gilman, E. F. & Howe, T. (2014)  Pelargonium x hortorum Geranium.  University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, IFAS.
UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions (2020) Geraniums.  University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, IFAS.