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Hardy Geranium Guide: How to Grow & Care for “Cranesbill Geraniums”

Our Guide to Hardy Geraniums - Everything you will ever need to know! Tips for growing and caring for “Cranesbill Geraniums”
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Are looking for a resilient species of perennials which will add some color to your garden without requiring too much effort on your part? You cannot go wrong with Hardy Geraniums. These plants belong to the Geranium genus which includes 422 species of plants, ranging from perennials to annual or biennial plants.

Geraniums are a popular choice for gardeners because they are easy to grow, and they can easily adapt to different growing conditions. They have a hippie vibe which goes great with informal gardens, but they can also be placed in margins or flower beds and arranged in an elegant way that will fit more formal garden styles.

About Hardy Geraniums

  • The name of this species comes from the Greek word “geranos” which means crane. The name refers to the seed pods specific to some of the plants in this species.
  • These plants are often called true geraniums or cranesbill geraniums to distinguish them from pelargoniums. They are often confused with the Pelargonium geraniums which belong to the Geraniaceae family.
  • The Hardy Geranium family contains about 70 species and 700 varieties. The Royal Horticultural Society recommends 10 varieties for their ease of growth: Ann Folkard, Ballerina, Kashmir White, Dilys, Mavis Simpson, Orion, Mrs. Kendall Clark, Wageningen, Renardii, and Jolly Bee.
  • These plants can be found in most temperate regions, and they are very popular in the eastern part of the Mediterranean region. They thrive in USDA zones 4 to 9.
  • Certain types of geraniums have been used in alternative medicine. Such is the case of the Geranium Maculatum, the Wood Cranesbill, or Geranium Robertianum. It is the roots and underground stems of the plants that are often used in herbal medicine, although some of the above-ground parts can also be used.
  • They can be used to treat dysentery, mouth ulcers, and sore throat. It is also common to use the fresh leaves to rub on insect stings or to repel mosquitos.
  • Even though geranium plants are very resilient, they can be attacked by pests, specifically the larvae of different moths like the mouse moth or the ghost moth.
  • Cranesbill Geraniums are not toxic to humans and pets. However, their counterparts, Pelargonium Geraniums can be toxic to dogs, so be mindful of the differences between these two species.
  • Most Geranium species can be mixed with other plants, but some tend to be a little invasive so make sure to check the characteristics of each species before adding it to your garden.
Hardy Geraniums
Hardy Geraniums

Hardy Geraniums Features: An Overview

  • Geraniums have lush foliage which adds a lovely texture to any garden. Their palmate leaves feature several clefts and a circular shape. The leaves have a dark green shade and a citrusy fragrance that repels mosquitos.
  • These plants burst with flowers in spring, summer, and autumn. The flowers are small but numerous. They have 5 petals, and their colors range from white to different shades of pink, purple and blue.
  • The petals feature veins in a darker shade. To differentiate the Cranesbill geraniums from the Pelargonium geraniums, keep in mind that the petals of the Cranesbills have 5 similar petals dispersed in a circular shape whereas the Pelargonium flowers have two thicker upper petals and 3 lower slimmer petals.
  • It takes about 2-3 years for these plants to mature and reach their top size. They have bushy foliage that can grow up to 90 cm tall and about 70 cm in diameter. Their size depends on the variety, with most species reaching a top height of 50 cm. Due to their height, they are usually the second row in borders or flower beds or they are used as edging plants near rhododendrons or smaller trees.

Growing Hardy Geraniums

Cranesbill geraniums are versatile and can grow even in the most inhospitable of places. They can grow in full sun, but also partial shade or even full shade. Most species thrive in the morning or the afternoon soon, but if the soil is moist enough, some species can also thrive in direct sun exposure.

While it is essential to keep their soil moist, you must make sure that they benefit from good drainage. They prefer chalky, loamy, clay, or sandy soil with a neutral pH, but they will adapt well to most garden soils. These plants will also adapt to any humidity level. Nonetheless, a highly humid environment will make them more susceptible to diseases. Moreover, mildew and rust can damage the plants so be careful with the containers that you use.

The Plant Lover’s Guide to Hardy Geraniums, From Amazon

Most gardeners will cut-back the foliage of these plants after the first flush of flowers. This will encourage the plants to produce fresh foliage and flowers within the same season. You can give them some liquid fertilizer to encourage new growth. However, during autumn, there is no need to cut them, as their foliage gains attractive rusty shades.

Geraniums do not require a lot of pruning. Some species will spread across the soil creating a cover. They sometimes tend to let leggy in optimal growing conditions, so you may need to do a little maintenance if you do not want a wild garden. On the other hand, the ground cover created by these species will keep most weeds at bay. Deadheading is also recommended if you do not want to find young plants everywhere in your garden. If you have a very small garden avoid the Oxonianum and the Geranium pratense varieties because they can be very invasive.

Planting Hardy Geraniums

These colorful plants die in autumn and regrow in spring. As such, for optimal development, it is best to plant new flowers in late autumn or early winter. Most gardeners buy bare-root plants which are cheaper than containers and can be found in most garden shops. These are young plants that are dug during their dormant stage. They have the soil is washed from their roots and they are sold in moist packaging.

You need to plant bare-root plants in containers as soon as they arrive. When planting them, dig a hole big enough to accommodate the root ball. Add some planting compost to the base of the hole and use a fork to spread the compost in the soil. When planting the geranium, make sure it is planted at the same depth that it was growing so that the stem is not submerged too deep in the soil.

You can move the new plants outdoors after a few weeks. Unless your soil is extremely poor in nutrients, there is no need to improve it, as these plants survive in most garden soils.

Purple Geranium Cranesbill
Purple Geranium Cranesbill

Watering Hardy Geraniums

True geraniums need to be watered regularly, especially during their first year. They also need a lot of water in dry seasons. It helps if you add some much around the base of the plants in late spring. This will keep the soil moist, but it will also keep weeds at bay.

Watering frequency depends on the sun exposure, so make sure to water the plants located in full sun more frequently. If you are unsure of how often you need to water them, simply check the soil and only water when the soil is dry. Keep in mind that overwatering can cause fungal diseases.

Propagating Hardy Geraniums

Cranesbill geraniums are great self-propagators and they can grow in harsh conditions. So do not be surprised if you find new plants even in the cracks of your garden paving. However, if you want to control their distribution in your garden, you can propagate them yourself. You can do so through seeds, by rooting stems in water, through semi-ripe cuttings in summer, or through root division during the growing seasons.

Growing from seeds can be quite a time-consuming task so we advise you to opt for a quicker method. If you choose to propagate through stem cuttings, make sure to cut the stem below the node where the leaves attach to the stem. Trim any flowers that the stem may have and only leave two or three leaves at the top of the stem. Place the cuttings in an opaque container and change the water every few days. You should see some steady roots in 3-4 weeks. The roots should be 3-5 cm long when you plant them.

Semi-ripe cuttings need to be older with a hard base but a tender and green tip. Place them in small pots with a sandy soil mix and allow them 1 or 2 years to mature before planting them outdoors.

In Conclusion

The colorful flowers and the lush foliage of Hardy Geraniums will add a joyful vibe to any garden. They are commonly used in flower beds or borders. In flower borders that get full sun exposure, you can pair geraniums with marigolds or gerbera daisies. The good news is that geraniums can also be placed in containers on patios or balconies. You can make mixed containers and add some plants with colorful leaves such as sweet potato vines. You can also pair them with asparagus fern or ivy.

Cranesbill geraniums are suitable for different garden styles such as cottage gardens, courtyards, English gardens, or any type of informal garden. Due to their resilience, they do not require sophisticated gardening skills, so they are suitable even for beginner gardeners.

Are you growing Hardy Geraniums? Share your experience in the comments below!

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Miruna is an experienced content writer with a passion for gardening. She is the proud owner of an outdoor rose garden and an indoor collection of tiny succulents. She bought her first succulent 10 years ago - an adorable Echeveria Setosa. Now she owns more than 100 succulents and cacti of different colors, shapes, and sizes. Miruna is a versatile writer and, as you might have guessed, her favorite topic is gardening. Contact miruna@gardenbeast.com

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