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It's Time For Geraniums

Red GeraniumI often put my favorite geraniums in a large sunny southern exposure window of our family room in the fall. Beginning around Valentine’s Day when the days get longer they bloom and bloom. I love having the color and especially like the geranium scent when I water them on a warm afternoon. Now they are just covered with blooms and ready to go outside once more.

In a week or so it is the time of the year when red geraniums glisten in the sun, poppies blow in the breeze and flags pop up all along the road. Many folks have childhood memories that come to mind when a holiday approaches or they see or smell a certain plant or flower. Memorial Day brings to mind red geraniums, poppies and iris or flags as my family use to call them. All three bloomed on ‘Decoration’ day the name often used for Memorial Day way back when.

My earliest memories are of being pulled in a little wagon in the Memorial Day a parade on Delsea DR in Franklinville.  I don’t think I have missed one since.  From walking with the brownies and girl scouts as a kid to riding our bikes as a family when our sons were young to now just following the parade to the VFW, it is a family tradition for us. We have stood out in drizzle, rain, scorching sun and high humidity to watch the VFW (which is named after my uncle Anthony Grochowski) lead the parade down Delsea Drive. Long ago they finished at the Franklinville fire hall where geraniums were walked up by community and organization leaders and placed at the veterans memorial. Perennial Iris and poppies lined the walkway. Years later the parade route turned and walked south to the VFW where it culminated with a community service to honor the fallen veterans. They still take geraniums up to line the walkway to the memorial. There are still poppy plants blooming and maybe one or two iris.  People still come out in numbers in our town and bring their children who often cover their ears as we did when the guns are fired for the salute. Taps still bring tears to the eyes of many who stand gathered around the little garden and memorial display.

Hopefully this year our grand kids will again join us for this little community parade.  I just explained to one of them that Decoration Day as it was first called began when people started decorating the graves of Civil war victims.  If everyone planted a few red geraniums along the road what a pretty parade route it would be.

Geranium - Pelargonium x hortorumCommon Garden Geraniums or "Zonal Geraniums"

Bright red geraniums are my favorites! The beautiful crisp red bloom most often used to decorate graves in May is found on the common geranium.  Pelargonium x hortorum is the botanical name for this geranium produced from cuttings.  Most are compact in habit and have many blooms when there is a sunny spring. The plants originated in South Africa and have now become popular all over the world.  Some have fancy leaves marked by distinct bands -- or zones - of darker pigments, tri-colored leaves or leaves with silver or white markings.

Now these plants are bred to have larger shatter-resistant flower heads as well as wide variety of colors, which makes them popular with homeowners for bright plants to bloom all season in sunny gardens. They make excellent choices for plantings in flowerbeds, hanging baskets, or containers since they provide wonderful colors all season long. Follow these few tips suggested by growers to keep geraniums looking good all season.

Caring For Your Annual Geraniums
1. Select a sunny spot since Geraniums perform the best when planted in a location with at least 6 hours of full sun per day.
2. Water the plant when the soil becomes dry, do not let the plant wilt. Try to keep water off the blooms as they often become brown or moldy if constantly kept wet. It is better to use a hose or soaker hose to water soil than an overhead sprinkler.
3. Feed the plant with a good time-release fertilizer. To keep them blooming use 14-14-14 so that they get plenty of the middle number or phosphorus which helps to make good blooms. Geraniums are heavy feeders.
4. Container planted geraniums will need more frequent watering.
And also require regular fertilizer applications throughout the season to perform to their highest potential.
5.  Remove all faded blooms and any brown leaves to encourage continuous flowering all season.

Loarraine's Red GeraniumYou can also keep them year after year, I do. The trick is to mimic the dormant season the plant would go through in its native South African environment.  

In fall, before the first frost, prune potted geraniums back heavily and bring them indoors to a window in a cool room. (Many folks find a garage works well if it does not freeze.) Keep the plant alive, but don’t encourage it to grow and wait until the leaves become almost droopy between watering. Step up watering the first of the year. Then from around Valentine’s Day to March, feed the plant every two weeks with a high phosphorus fertilizer (14-14-14 works for me) to encourage strong root growth and flower production. During this period also pinch the plant back slightly and bring it into a warm, sunny room. Increase watering as the plant begins to grow and you should soon have flowers.

Over-wintered geraniums that are not cut back will bloom in sunny windows, but they do tend to get tall. I had beautiful geraniums blooming in all my sunny windows again this winter. I loved them! You may also take cuttings from your plants and root them in a warm, sunny spot in a box of promix. After they root, pinch the cuttings back once or twice.  

Add some nostalgia to your garden and plant a small bed with some poppies, geraniums and blue or purple iris plants.  You might even add a flag or two; it is that time of the year! See you at the parade!

Lorraine Kiefer is the owner of Triple Oaks Nursery and has been a garden writer since 1972. Click here to email her.

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