Geraniums are popular and colorful plants that fill nurseries and even grocery store floral areas each spring. In cooler areas of the Southwest, geraniums are mostly indoor plants, at least in winter. But in warmer regions, many geranium varieties can ornament outdoor garden beds.
Growing Geraniums Indoors
Most of the popular geraniums you see in stores are plants of the Pelargonium species, a tender perennial plant. Because it cannot tolerate temperatures below freezing, it’s a houseplant or summer container plant outdoors in most of the country. My geraniums (Pelargonium) survive all winter indoors near a sunny window and even continue blooming. As soon as spring temperatures warm, I take them back outside and prune and groom them for summer bursts of growth and blooms.
Of course, even though Pelargoniums are not cold hardy, they also can’t take the summer heat in the low desert. There, they are late fall or late winter annuals. Or choose a variety that can handle more heat., such as Caliente and Calliope varieties from Syngenta Flowers. These often work as bedding plants in the desert. When summer heat gets to be too much, you can cut the plant down to just above the ground and fill in with other annuals. The plants will re-emerge in fall.
Most geraniums like moist but well-draining soil, with plenty of organic matter, so they can be a little challenging in the Southwest. Give indoor or outdoor geraniums at least six hours of sun a day.
No matter your growing area, you have to tend to these pretty plants from time to time. Each spring, prune the geranium back to get rid of long, leggy stems (the ones with little leaf growth along the stems). Top-dress the container with compost to enrich the compacted soil in the container. Get the plant used to being back outside on a calm day and under cover of some afternoon shade. Eventually, you can move it to a more permanent summer spot.
It’s fairly simple. Just water when the top of the soil feels dry and deadhead spent flowers. Or cut some fresh ones to enjoy inside. The round, delicate flowers look pretty floating in a shallow cup or bowl.
If you’re ambitious, you can grow geraniums from seed. Here are some tips from Gardener’s Supply Company.
Cranesbill, the Actual Geranium
The common name for the hardy, actual Geranium is Cranesbill. It is a perennial, low-growing geranium with small, single blooms. The native geranium to temperature regions makes a great groundcover in Southwest regions down to zones 3 or 4. Most cranesbill plants grow in a low, spreading mound and produce delicate flowers in summer. Some have autumn color as the foliage changes. Rozanne geranium is a new cranesbill discovered in England that spreads in a rambling manner around the garden and produces pretty purple veined flowers.
Teresa Odle is the editor of African Violet Magazine, a freelance editor for BobVila.com, and author of a blog on low-water gardening in the Southwest. Teresa trained as a Master Gardener in Albuquerque, N.M. She grew up in the Phoenix area, and has lived in the mountains of northern New Mexico. Teresa and her husband now attempt to manage four acres of land in zone 6B of southeastern New Mexico. The land includes a large xeric garden, herbs and vegetables, and a small orchard that borders the Rio Ruidoso in Lincoln County. Teresa’s blog, Gardening in a Drought, won a 2016 national award for best writing in digital media from the Association for Garden Communicators.