GROWING SCENTED GERANIUMS
TAKE A BIG WHIFF…
Scented geraniums are members of the Pelargonium family and are closely related to Martha Washington Geraniums. They are also related to the annual flowers we often call Geraniums.
The best-known scented geranium is Pelargonium citrosa, a/k/a Mosquito Plant…although no proof exists that it actually repels mosquitoes, the lemon-scented oils will deter them and many gardeners grow Mosquito Plants for that reason.
HISTORY: Scented geraniums originally came from South Africa in the 1600s. They were hybridized in Holland in the 1700s and used by the perfume industry. At one time, as many as 250 varieties existed. They hybridize easily, but often do not grow true to the parent when started by seed.
TYPES: Today, nearly 100 varieties are still in commercial production. They can be divided into several groups: rose-scented, lemon-scented, mint-scented, fruit- & nut-scented, spice-scented, pungent, and oak-leaved. All have flowers, ranging in color from white to purple and in size from tiny to showy, but they are primarily grown for the fragrant foliage.
USES: The fragrant leaves hold their scent for years and are used in sachets and potpourris. They may be also added to bathwater or to finger bowls. Culinary uses include flavoring teas, jams, jellies, sugars, syrups and beverages.
GROWING: Scented geraniums are hardy to zone 10, where they can grow to be several feet tall. They must be brought indoors for the winter in Indiana, and cuttings can be taken to keep the plants compact and well-branched. They will grow to 1’-2’ tall during a season here.
Scented geraniums prefer a sunny location, and will need a minimum of 4 hours of sun to bloom. Indoors, they should be put in the brightest spot possible, and outdoors they may benefit from being shaded from the hottest afternoon sun. Generally grown in pots, they perform best when slightly pot-bound. They require a soil which drains well and is allowed to dry out between watering. Fertilize lightly, if at all. Occasional topdressing with compost is usually sufficient, and too much nitrogen will make leggy plants which are less fragrant than they would otherwise be.
PROPAGATION: Like “regular” geraniums, scented geraniums are easy to propagate by rooting cuttings. Take a 3”-4” sprig and remove all leaves from the bottom 1”. We like to dip the cut end in a rooting hormone/fungicide combination before sticking it into a moist soilless medium. Keep the pots moist while rooting is taking place; covering the starter plants with a clear plastic bag or dome will hold humidity in. Scented geraniums can sometimes be grown from seed, but resulting plants will not necessarily be the same as the parent.
Once rooted, cuttings can be transplanted into 4” pots and put outdoors after danger of frost. Pinching the plants back periodically (use the leaves you pinch off for sachets or teas!) will encourage bushy growth. Repot to a larger sized pot as the plant grows during the summer.
PESTS: The thickness of the leaves and the fragrance of the plants will usually deter most pests. Watch for whiteflies, and use sticky traps or insecticidal soap if necessary.