Geraniums make great bedding plants for your garden, and can be planted in your pots and hanging baskets too. There are plenty of varieties to choose from including zonal, fancy leaved, ivy, regal, stellars, dwarf and scented geraniums.
The bedding geraniums that are planted out in summer are in fact classified as Pelargoniums, but are commonly referred to as geraniums. They belong to the same plant family as the hardy Geranium, but are tender perennials and are not frost hardy in cold regions. Pelargoniums are only half hardy and therefore normally treated as annuals in the UK. However, with care, they may be overwintered in a frost free greenhouse.
Geraniums are Mediterranean plants and so like Mediterranean conditions; a warm, sunny position and free draining soil. They are not frost hardy so only plant outdoor from May onwards and bring back in before the onset of winter.
Although traditionally geraniums have been propagated from cuttings there is an advantage to raising them form seed. The resulting plants have more disease resistance, better vigour and a huge flowering capacity. Sow your geranium seed from mid to late January to ensure that you have strong plants in the spring that will flower throughout the summer.
The biggest risk to your geranium seeds are fungal diseases such as damping off. Good drainage is essential, as is thorough sterilisation of pots and containers used. Wash them in soapy water followed by a solution of 9 parts water to one part bleach. Rinse well with clean water after.
Fill a pot, seed or plug tray to within 2 cm of the top with a free draining soil such as John Innes seed and potting compost mixed with 30% perlite or grit. Firm the soil slightly and water gently and allow to drain.
Sow the seed 5 cm apart and cover with a light layer of soil. Stand the pot in water until the surface of the compost is wet and allow to drain. Cover with perspex or glass and place in a warm, sunny position but avoid direct sun light. Ideal temperatures for germination are 70 - 75 F. Seedlings should appear within 5 days, after which remove the glass or perspex
You can transplant seedlings into individual pots when the first true set of leaves have formed. Pot up pelargonium plants and grow them on in warm frost-free conditions. Gently remove the seedlings using a pencil or dibber and hold by the leaves and not the stem, ensuring you do not damage the root ball. Use a free draining compost with added grit or perlite.
Thoroughly water geraniums when the soil surface is dry to the touch. Fertilise weekly with a one-quarter strength house-plant fertiliser. Geraniums are not hardy so do not plant outside until the risk of frost has passed. Gradually acclimatise geraniums to outdoor conditions over a period of 7 to 10 days before transplanting them into their final positions in containers, beds and borders.
Plant geraniums in full sun, in any light, non-acidic, well drained soil. Pinch out the growing tip of each stem to encourage branching and form a bushier plant which will produce more flowers later on.
Feed your geraniums weekly during the growing season with a soluble fertiliser. Dead head flowers regularly to remove dead blooms in order keep your plants repeat flowering. Water deeply when the soil dries out, which may be daily for pots during hot weather.
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