Kelly Orzel is the owner and grower at Bowery Beach Farm in Maine, She specializes in growing scented geraniums and a wide assortment of herbs. She graduated with her MS in Horticulture from Texas Tech University in 2008, is a current Master Gardner and lecturer. Kelly travels throughout New England giving garden talks and demonstrations. For more information on her farm or to purchase some of her over 40 varieties of scented geraniums visit the shop at BoweryBeachFarm.com or email her at email@example.com.
Scented geraniums (Pelargonium spp.) used to be a staple in my grandmother’s garden, but nowadays they don’t get the spotlight they deserve. The great thing about this herb: they are just as at home in a garden bed as they are in a pot on the windowsill.
The scented geranium’s small 5-petaled flowers are different than the showy zonal geranium blooms you’re used to seeing at garden centers. These pelargoniums put all their energy into growing their colorful, scented leaves—not their flowers. There are six groups of scents to choose from: rose, fruit, spice, mint, pine and pungent. They are also considered tender perennials since most can stay in the ground all year long in zones 8 and above.
Whether planting your new scented geraniums in pots, raised beds or the garden, be sure to use a light commercial potting mix or multi-purpose compost with plenty of perlite, vermiculite or sand and fine grit incorporated for drainage, since they like light, well-drained soil (most general potting soils will do well).
Scented geraniums make for wonderful container plants and will flourish all year inside the home in properly sized pots on windowsills or in rooms with adequate light, and perform exceptionally well in clay pots. Container plants will often benefit from adding some additional perlite for extra air around the roots. Also, when growing indoors, place the herb in a spot that gets about half a day of direct sun, and half a day of indirect sun. They really go wild for this kind of light! Feed your potted geraniums twice a month with half-strength general-purpose water-solulable fertilizer (20-20-20) to keep them happy, and be sure to wait until the soil surface dries out a little between watering. It is essential not to overwater as they do not like having wet feet and will start to decline from too much water.
It is important to prune your plants every few weeks to encourage bushy, dense growth, otherwise they will become leggy as they mature. Do not worry! You will not damage your plants by giving them a good trim—provided of course that you do not cut off all of the growing tips. I promise you will be pleasantly pleased with how well your scented geraniums look again in a very short time.
Naturally, as your plant grows and becomes larger it will require a bigger pot. This should be one size larger than the current pot as they do like fairly restricted roots. You will most likely need to do this several times during the life of your plant. This is a good time take cuttings and make more scented geraniums. The rooting process takes approximately 6-8 weeks, but once rooted, they make lovely housewarming or holiday gifts!
Scented geraniums are frost tender and should only be planted directly outside starting late May through to early October; however, they can be over-wintered indoors as long as they get plenty of bright, natural light. It is essential to assess your frost risk by checking your USDA Hardiness Zone and bring the plants inside at the appropriate time, as it is highly unlikely that they will survive if left outside during winter or very cold months. As house plants, scented geraniums will continue to flower for several months, filling you home with wonderful living, natural fragrances. Simply cut back your plant’s foliage by 1/2 to 2/3 inches, dig and pot it up. When it’s time to move them back out in to the garden, give them a good prune, repot and feed a couple of weeks beforehand. Acclimate your plants to outside conditions, then plant outside. By then, however, you may love their aromatic scents so much you’ll want to keep them inside!