Learn About Geraniums

How to Sow

Geraniums may be grown from seed may be sown early indoors and transplanted outside after frost, or grown from potted plants.

Sowing Seed Indoors:

  • Sow indoors 10-12  weeks before last frost  
  • Sow seeds ¼ inch deep into individual containers filled with seed-starting formula.
  • Keep the soil moist at 70-75 degrees
  • Seedlings emerge in 7-21 days
  • As soon as seedlings emerge, provide plenty of light on a sunny windowsill or grow seedlings 3-4 inches beneath fluorescent plant lights turned on 16 hours per day, off for 8 hours at night. Raise the lights as the plants grow taller. Incandescent bulbs will not work for this process because they will get too hot. Most plants require a dark period to grow, do not leave lights on for 24 hours.
  • Seedlings do not need much fertilizer, feed when they are 3-4 weeks old using a starter solution (half strength of a complete indoor houseplant food) according to manufacturer’s directions.
  • Transplant hardened-off seedlings to the garden after the frost.
  • Before planting in the garden, seedling plants need to be “hardened off”. Accustom young plants to outdoor conditions by moving them to a sheltered place outside for a week. Be sure to protect them from wind and hot sun at first. If frost threatens at night, cover or bring containers indoors, then take them out again in the morning. This hardening off process toughens the plant’s cell structure and reduces transplant shock and scalding.

Planting in the Garden:

  • Select a location in full sun with good rich moist, well-drained organic soil.
  • Prepare the bed by turning the soil under to a depth of 8 inches. Level with a rake to remove clumps of grass and stones.
  • Most plants respond well to soils amended with organic matter. Compost is a wonderful form of organic matter with a good balance of nutrients and an ideal pH level, it can be added to your planting area at any time. If compost is not available, top dress the soil after planting with 1-2 inches of organic mulch, which will begin to breakdown into compost. After the growing season, a soil test will indicate what soil amendments are needed for the following season.
  • Plants should stand 12 inches apart in the garden.
  • Set level with the surrounding soil. Fill with soil to the top of the root ball. Press soil down firmly with your hand leaving a slight depression around the plant to hold water.
  • Water thoroughly, so that a puddle forms in the saucer you have created. This settles the plants in, drives out air pockets and results in good root-to-soil contact.
  • Use the plant tag as a location marker.
  • Water thoroughly, so that a puddle forms in the saucer you have created. This settles the plants in, drives out air pockets and results in good root-to-soil contact.

How to Grow

  • Keep weeds under control during the growing season. Weeds compete with plants for water, space and nutrients, so control them by either cultivating often or use a mulch to prevent their seeds from germinating. 
  • Mulches also help retain soil moisture and maintain even soil temperatures. For annuals an organic mulch of shredded leaves lends a natural look to the bed and will improve the soil as it breaks down in time. Always keep mulches off a plant’s stems to prevent possible rot.
  • Keep plants well-watered during the growing season, especially during dry spells. Plants need about 1 of rain per week during the growing season. Use a rain gauge to check to see if you need to add water. It's best to water with a drip or trickle system that delivers water at low pressure at the soil level. If you water with overhead sprinklers, water early in the day so the foliage has time to dry off before evening, to minimize disease problems. Keep the soil moist but not saturated.
  • Until plants become established, some protection from extreme winds and direct, hot sunlight may be necessary. Good air movement is also important.
  • After new growth appears, a light fertilizer may be applied. Keep granular fertilizers away from the plant crown and foliage to avoid burn injury. Use low rates of a slow release fertilizer, as higher rates may encourage root rots.
  • Deadhead spent flowers to prolong blooming.
  • Monitor for pests and diseases. Check with your local Cooperative Extension Service for pest controls recommended for your area.
  • Remove plants after they are killed by frost in fall to avoid disease issues the following year. Geraniums may also be brought indoors and grown as houseplants over the winter.

Growing tips

  • Geraniums are perfect for beds, borders, walkways, and containers. Ivy-leafed geraniums cascade, making them ideal for hanging baskets and window boxes.
  • Geraniums may be grown as houseplants over the winter in a sunny location. Over time they may become woody with the flowers smaller. Take stem cuttings to propagate new plants.

Common Pests and Problems

Common Disease Problems

Alternaria Leaf Spot: Small, round reddish brown spots with white to gray centers form on the upper surface of the leaves. The lesions may encircle the stems and cause wilt. This disease is worse in warm, wet or very humid weather. Burpee Recommends: Avoid getting water on the foliage. Remove infected plant parts and do not work around wet plants. Provide plenty of air circulation. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.

Botrytis: This fungus causes a grey mold on flowers, leaves, stems and buds. It thrives in cool wet weather conditions. Burpee Recommends: Remove affected plant parts, avoid watering at night and getting water on the plant when watering. Make sure plants have good air circulation. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.

Damping Off: This is one of the most common problems when starting plants from seed. The seedling emerges and appears healthy; then it suddenly wilts and dies for no obvious reason. Damping off is caused by a fungus that is active when there is abundant moisture and soils and air temperatures are above 68 degrees F. Typically, this indicates that the soil is too wet or contains high amounts of nitrogen fertilizer. Burpee Recommends: Keep seedlings moist but do not overwater; avoid over-fertilizing your seedlings; thin out seedlings to avoid overcrowding; make sure the plants are getting good air circulation; if you plant in containers, thoroughly wash them in soapy water and rinse in a ten per cent bleach solution after use.

Fasciation: Fasciation is an abnormal flatting of stems,which may cause them to have a fused appearance. Distortion often develops at the base of the plant. It is usually caused by a bacteria or virus and enters through a wound in the plant. Burpee Recommends: Be very careful when handling plants. Remove and destroy any plants that show signs of the disease.

Root Rots: A number of pathogens cause root rots of seedlings as well as mature roots. Burpee Recommends: Practice crop rotation do not plant in the same area for several years. Pull up and discard infected plants. Make sure your soil has excellent drainage. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for recommendations.

Common Pest and Cultural Problems

Aphids: Greenish, red, black or peach colored sucking insects can spread disease as they feed on the undersides of leaves. They leave a sticky residue on foliage that attracts ants. Burpee Recommends: Introduce or attract natural predators into your garden such as lady beetles and wasps who feed on aphids. You can also wash them off with a strong spray, or use an insecticidal soap.

Cyclamen Mite: These mites damage plants by sucking juice from stems and leaves. They multiply rapidity in hot, dry weather. They can only be seen using a magnifying glass. Plants will look distorted and stunted, and may not bloom. Flowers will be distorted, streaked and blotched. Leaves can become cupped, curled, dwarfed and thickened. Burpee Recommends: Discard plants that are severely infested. Avoid working with infested plants. Keep plants watered in dry weather. For heavy infestations consult your Cooperative Extension Service for insecticide recommendations.

Mealybugs: Mealybugs are 1/8 to ¼ inch long flat wingless insects that secrete a white powder that forms a waxy shell that protects them. They form cottony looking masses on stems, branches and leaves. They suck the juices from leaves and stems and cause weak growth. They also attract ants with the honeydew they excrete, and the honeydew can grow a black sooty mold on it as well. Burpee Recommends: Wash affected plant parts and try to rub the bugs off. They may also be controlled by predator insects such as lacewings, ladybugs and parasitic wasps. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for pesticide recommendations.

Spider Mites: These tiny spider-like pests are about the size of a grain of pepper. They may be red, black, brown or yellow. They suck on the plant juices removing chlorophyll and injecting toxins which cause white dots on the foliage. There is often webbing visible on the plant. They cause the foliage to turn yellow and become dry and stippled. They multiply quickly and thrive in dry conditions. Burpee Recommends: Spider mites may be controlled with a forceful spray every other day. Try hot pepper wax or insecticidal soap. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for miticide recommendations.

Thrips: Thrips are tiny needle-thin insects that are black or straw colored. They suck the juices of plants and attack flower petals, leaves and stems. The plant will have a stippling, discolored flecking or silvering of the leaf surface. Thrips can spread many diseases from plant to plant. Burpee Recommends: Many thrips may be repelled by sheets of aluminum foil spread between rows of plants. Remove weeds from the bed and remove debris from the bed after frost. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for pest controls.

FAQ

My geraniums are not flowering can you tell me why? Geraniums need full sun and will not bloom well in the shade. Geraniums benefit from regular applications of fertilizer. Make sure you remove all spent flowers throughout the season.

Why are some geraniums referred to as zonal? Zonal geraniums usually have a red ring on the leaves during cooler weather. Most zonal geraniums are propagated as cuttings and are only available as plants.

What is the difference between annual geraniums and “Pelargoniums”?  Annual geraniums and pelargoniums are the same plant. Pelargonium is the scientific name. Do not confuse annual geraniums with hardy or perennial geraniums. Annual geraniums are tender perennials that are grown as annuals and usually only last one season outside in cold areas. Hardy geraniums are a different genus (Geranium) and are perennial.

What pollinators will annual geraniums attract to my garden? Geraniums attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

Why are the lower leaves of my geranium turning yellow? Lower leaves may discolor from either under or over watering.  Make sure the soil is moist but not wet. Water is resting on the leaves may also cause leaves to yellow. Try to water the soil only. Annual geraniums need regular applications of fertilizer to maintain large, healthy, green leaves.

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