Signs of Spring: Selecting and Caring for Pelargoniums, aka Scented Geraniums

Posted on Apr 1, 2019

You might know Pelargoniums by their common name, Scented Geraniums, although they’re not technically geraniums at all. These are the charming scratch-and-sniffs of the plant world, with vibrantly green leaves that release heady perfumes when gently rubbed between your fingers. These perfumes mimic with uncanny elegance some of our most beloved scents, such as rose, apricot, mint, cinnamon, apple, and lemon.

Pelargonium, Scented Geraniums - Pistils Nursery
The delicate pink blossoms just beginning to open up on this Lemon Scented Geranium

Scented geraniums were enormously popular in the 1700s and 1800s and became highly hybridized. There were once hundreds of cultivars, but many have since been lost. There is some disagreement about how many varieties of Pelargonium still exist today, but suffice it to say that there are plenty. Scented geraniums can be floral, spicy, citrusy, woody, fruity, or herbal. The rose is the classic favorite, with a rich and velvety fragrance that could pass for the real  thing (and has in many perfumes).

There are plenty of unexpected scents too, such as juniper, coconut, peach, nutmeg, pine, violet, strawberry and even Old Spice! The plants themselves are just as diverse as their scents, with extensive variation in leaf shape, blossom color, size, and growing habit.

Pelargoniums might not have the enormous glossy foliage of more exotic houseplants or the showy blooms of many garden favorites, but if you take the time to get to know them, you’ll find they have many charms. Besides their endearing fragrance, perhaps the best thing about scented geraniums is how versatile they are. They are docile, unfussy plants that can be tucked into flower beds or container gardens, grown in hanging baskets, pruned into a tree shape, or easily brought indoors and grown as a houseplant, whether neatly pruned or left to ramble up walls with as much gumption as any philodendron.

Pelargoniums’ potent oils act as a natural bug deterrent, and they are usually left alone by both indoor and outdoor pests. They’re drought-tolerant and can survive a little neglect. The blooms are delicately pretty and edible, making them a special addition to summer salads.

Endlessly useful, Pelargonium leaves make a sweet-smelling addition to bouquets and can last a week or more in water. Fresh leaves can be used to perfume bathwater. Dried leaves can be smudged like sage or added to homemade sachets to tuck into your dresser drawers. If they’ve been grown organically, you can cook with the rose, lemon, and mint varieties. They make for a delicate, sophisticated jelly, ice cream, or cocktail flavoring and can even be used in cakes and cookies for a subtle floral effect. Pelargoniums are said to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and can even help relieve stress, much like chamomile, when made into a tea.

Ready to start collecting scented geraniums yet? Read our care tips to find out how to care for these unique plants.

Scented Geranium Care

Watering –

Pelargonium are drought-tolerant and don’t like sitting in wet soil. Make sure to allow the soil to go a bit between waterings, but keep a close eye on them during the summer when they can dry out quickly in the hot sun. After long periods of dryness, leaves and stems may crisp up, turning yellow or brown and falling off. This is okay— these plants are tough and should perk back up with a thorough soaking.

Light –

Native to South Africa, scented geraniums needs bright light in order to thrive. Indoors, they should be placed in a nice sunny window— South-facing is ideal. Outdoors, pelargonium tolerate full sun to part shade.

Feeding –

Scented geraniums are light feeders, so go easy on the fertilizer. Once in spring and then again later in the summer should be plenty.

Trio of Pelargoniums aka Scented Geraniums - Pistils Nursery
A trio of Pelargoniums, aka Scented Geraniums

Pruning –

Pelargonium respond well to pruning. Trim your plant back when it begins to get too large to encourage new growth and a bushier habit. In order to encourage new blossoms, deadhead your plant regularly.

Hardiness –

Scented geraniums are hardy to USDA zone 10, which means they need to be brought indoors when there is risk of frost. In warm climates, they can be placed outdoors spring through fall.

Spring is here and so are the scented geraniums! Stop by Pistils and ask us about our current pelargonium selection. Or if you’d like one shipped, check out Scented Geraniums on our web shop.

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