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Drought-Proof Delights: Exploring the Charm and Resilience of Pelargoniums


Purple-pink pelargoniums in a terra cotta pot

I’m delighted with this new-to-me plant that I’ve discovered this year. I found it at my locally-owned nursery and I hope they have them again next year.


I picked up three plants in early spring that were covered with little purple-pink flowers. I pretty quickly realized that they were the type of plants that just always look good. They didn’t droop, the flowers didn’t drop, they just existed with very little effort from me.


I planted each of them in a pot and placed them in slightly different conditions: one went in the greenhouse, one went in the herb garden that gets about 5-6 hours of sun, and one went on the deck stairs that gets about 3 hours of sun. A month later, they all still looked good!


Purple-pink pelargonium petals up close

So of course I had to research this impressive little plant. I discovered the world of pelargoniums, which are similar-looking and often confused with geraniums. Pelargoniums typically have thicker, succulent-like leaves with varied shapes, while geranium leaves tend to be thinner and more uniform in shape. The pelargonium flowers have two upper petals that are distinct from the lower petals, while geranium flowers have five petals that are similar.


My plant app identified my variety as Regal Pelargoniums which typically have flowers in shades of pink, purple, or white. It’s a small, relatively compact plant that looks good in containers and prefers light shade. There are five more main varieties including Zonal Pelargoniums which have clusters of flowers atop long stalks and will tolerate a little light shade.


One of the most delightful features of pelargoniums is their aromatic leaves. They come in a variety of scents, including rose, lemon, mint, and fruity. Mine are lemon-scented!


High on my list of criteria for plants is drought tolerance and deer resistance, and pelargoniums are known for their exceptional drought tolerance. Their succulent leaves store water, allowing them to thrive in dry conditions. Their strong scents can deter deer and other animals, protecting them from grazing. I’ve found both of these to be true in my garden.


I’m always on the lookout for pollinator-attracting plants as well and the vibrant blooms of pelargoniums attract bees and butterflies who are drawn to the nectar-rich flowers.


Purple-pink pelargoniums up close at dusk

To keep them continually flowering, keep the soil moist (but not overly wet) and deadhead the faded blooms. In spring, feed every couple of weeks with a balanced plant food and when it begins to flower use a high potassium plant food throughout the summer.


In terms of hardiness, they thrive in warm climates and are not frost-tolerant and will die if left in freezing temperatures. The great news is that they make ideal houseplants and can be overwintered in cold climates. They can flower year-round if kept above temperatures of 50-55F (10-13C).


They are toxic to dogs and cats so if you don’t want to bring them indoors, they can overwinter in a garage or shed that is frost-free. Be sure they have dropped all their leaves and entered dormancy before overwintering them.


And if all this isn’t enough, they are relatively easy to propagate. While they can be grown from seed, it’s more common to grow them from stem cuttings and division. To propagate, take 3-4 inch cuttings from healthy plants, cutting just below the node, remove the lower leaves, and plant them in well-draining soil. Keep the cuttings moist and out of direct sunlight until they root.


It turns out that that many folks are enamored by these beautiful plants, as in my research I discovered The Pelargonium & Geranium Society!


If you see these in a nursery near you, I can’t recommend them enough!

 

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