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Scented Geranium

Pelargonium, although commonly referred to as geraniums, or scented geraniums are aptly described as living potpourri for the home. They are not grown for their flowers so much as they are for their scent. Most are native to South Africa and became popular with Victorians when the colonists brought them back to Britain with them. Unlike other garden plants that are fragrant only when blooming, scented geraniums are fragrant all year long if not dormant. The scent is contained in small beads of oil produced in the glands at the base of the leaf hairs. Bruising or crushing the leaves breaks the beads and thus the plant releases its scent. All are wonderfully fragrant and have a distinctive smell, but I’ll leave it to your nose to pick your favorite.


Harvest and Use: Scented geraniums are a lovely addition to fresh cut bouquets. Their long stems of foliage will keep for 2 to 3 weeks. During Victorian times this foliage was a favorite in tussie-mussies, which are traditional, small bouquets from fresh cut flowers because of their fragrance. Historically, they have been used in the perfume industry, especially the rose-scented one as they are much less costly.


NOTE:  The Master Gardeners do not recommend using any plant in cooking if it has not been properly identified.

Scented geraniums, like culinary herbs, have a place in the kitchen. Layer leaves in sugar to flavor. Line the bottom of a cake pan with leaves before pouring in the batter. Dunk bunches in apple jelly before removing from the heat. The leaves can be added to fruit punches, vinegars, salads, and marinades. They combine well with lemon verbena, lemon basil, lemon balm, and mints. Try steeping rose scented, lemon, or ginger leaves in black tea for a treat. Add cloves and slices of lemon and orange to hot or iced tea. Freeze in ice cubes to add to cold drinks later. The flowers can be few but also add a lovely touch when used to embellish something created with scented geranium leaves.


Cultivation: Scented geraniums are not difficult to grow. By following a few easy tips, they will flourish. They grow best in temperatures that range from 50 to 60 degrees at night and 65 to 75 degrees during the day. In frost-free areas they can be grown outdoors all year. They like a fast-draining soil and full sun. When grown in a pot, use a soil-less mix of half peat moss and half perlite or a “potting soil”. Garden soils tend to pack down and drain too slowly, depriving the roots of oxygen. They like a slightly acid soil close to a pH of 6.5.


They do well in dry areas where other plants might have difficulty surviving. Pathways edged with scented geraniums give off their fragrance when passerbys brush against them. Their varied leaf shapes, texture, color, and variegation make them ideal for a window box. Try combining them with nasturtiums, pink or purple petunias, trailing verbenas, and ground ivy. Don't crowd the plants as they like good air circulation. In frost areas, they can be grown as annuals or brought in during winter. They do well on a windowsill. Do not bring them in after the night temperature drops below 45°F, as they will be shocked by the warmth, causing leaves to yellow and drop. Scented geraniums need only four hours of sunlight. In lieu of this, fluorescent lights mounted a few inches from their tops will provide enough light. Repot your scented geraniums every 2 years.
Scented geraniums are a bit fussy about over watering, which, like for most plants promotes soil-borne diseases/pests and soft weak plant growth. Water only when the top of the soil feels dry. Water until it runs out the drainage holes. This not only wets the soil, but flushes out salts left from fertilizers. Never let the pot sit in a saucer of water for any longer than 10 minutes, and keep water off foliage and flowers to prevent the spread of diseases. Watering in the morning on a sunny day keeps leaves from being wet all night.


Scented geraniums like a lot of fertilizer such as magnesium. A teaspoon of Epsom salts will provide enough magnesium for good growth. During the growing season from April to October, fertilize with 15-15-15 or 15-30-15 mix, applying half the recommended amount every second watering. Except for the few that are compact, scented geraniums need to be pinched and pruned for a full shape, otherwise, they become leggy. Snipping off the tip of a growing stem will force it to grow at the nodes. Pruning should begin once the plant is 4-5 nodes or 6" tall. Snip off the tip with sharp scissors or a razor blade. Shoots will grow within 2 to 3 weeks. Once the plant is shaped to your liking, allow it to bloom. This will take 6 to 8 weeks. Thereafter continue removing browned leaves, excessive growth, and spent flowers. If you wish to propagate new plants, allow the plant to grow beyond where you regularly trim. New growth should be 4 to 5 nodes in length. The best time of the year to prune is late winter/early spring.


Propagation: Most scented geraniums are hybrids, therefore few can be grown from seed. Species to grow from seed are: coconut, apple, lemon, old-fashioned rose, and peppermint. The best way to propagate hybrids is from stem cuttings. It takes about 6 weeks for roots to form.


1. Fill a 2 ½-inch pot with soil-less mix for each cutting that you plan to take. Very lightly settle the mix with your fingers and then water the pot until the excess trickles out the drainage holes. The soil should now be ½ inch below the rim of the pot.
2. Select a healthy, established stock plant from which to take the cuttings.
3. Select actively growing shoots that are firm, not floppy. You can take cuttings throughout the growing season, but success is more certain in spring and fall. Don't use the older, woody (brown) portions of the stem. Each cutting should include at least three stem nodes, but four or five are better. A node is the point on the stem at which the leaves are attached.
4. With a single-edged razor blade (especially good for thick stems) or very sharp, scissor-type gardening shears, make your cut just above a node on the stock plant. If the stems are long enough and you need more propagating material, you can also take cuttings below the tip. Don't leave a stub: it can become a target for disease.
5. Re-cut the stem to just below its lowest node. This is the spot where root formation is best.
6. Remove the leaves from the stem that will be under or close to the soil surface. Dip stem including area where leaves were removed in rooting hormone and tap off excess. It is best to bury at least two or three nodes. Also remove any stipules that are found at the base of the leaf stems, since these can rot if buried.
7. With a sharpened pencil, make a hole in the center of the soil-less mix deep enough to bury the lower nodes and insert the cutting. Settle the soil around the cutting by gently re-watering the pot.
8. Place the potted cuttings in a spot out of the wind and direct sun. If the weather is cool, place them on a heating mat. Rooting is quickest and most successful when the soil temperature is 70 to 80 degrees. The soil should be kept evenly moist throughout the rooting season.


Pests: Scented geraniums are not bothered by pests when grown outdoors, but should be monitored for fungus gnats which eat the roots and look like tiny “fruit flies” evident when you move the plant. Watch also for aphids, whiteflies, spider mites, and mealy bugs indoors. Most pest problems can easily be resolved with consistent application of your chosen plant insecticide. Fungus gnats can be treated with Bacillus thuringensis (BT) subspecies israelensis variety (not your ordinary garden variety BT) by either breaking up a “mosquito dunk”, diluting the crumbs with water and watering solution into soil or by using the ‘crumbles’, now available commercially. The nymphs of these gnats live in the soil and eat your plants roots. The presence of this pest in any plant is indicative of over watering so you will want to change your watering practices. Bottom watering, allowing the plant to sit in a pan of water for 5 minutes, wicking up moisture will almost always prevent this pest.


Because of the numerous varieties of scented geraniums now available many people are collecting them.They can often be found at local plant sales and privately owned specialty nurseries. Enjoy collecting your assortment, this list should get you started and don’t forget to ‘stop and smell’ the flowers along the way.
?   'Almond’
?   'Apple’
?   'Attar of Roses' - a cultivar of P. capitatum
?   'Citriodorum' (lemon scented leaves, rose pink flowers)
?   'Crowfoot Rose' - a cultivar of P. radens
?   'Dolly Varden' (variegated leaves, scarlet flowers)
?   'Dr. Livingston' - a cultivar of P. radens
?   'Fieryflower crane's bill’
?   'Frank Headley' (cream vareigated leaves, salmon pink flowers)
?   'Fringed Aztec' (regal group - white & purple fringed flowers)
?   'Gemstone' (scented leaves, pink flowers)
?   'Ginger' - P. x torento
?   'Grace Thomas' (lemon scented leaves, pale pink flowers)
?   'Grey Lady Plymouth' - a cultivar of P. graveolens
?   'Joy' (pink & white frilled flowers)
?   'L'Élégante' (ivy-leaved, trailing, white and purple flowers)
?   'Lady Plymouth' (P. graveolens variegata - small mauve flowers)
?   'Lara Candy Dancer' (scented leaves, pale mauve flowers)
?   'Lara Starshine' (aromatic leaves, lilac flowers)
?   'Lemon’
?   'Lemon Balm' - a hybrid: P. x melissinum
?   'Lime' - a hybrid: (P. x nervosum)
?   'Mabel Grey' (lemon-scented leaves, mauve flowers)
?   'Mrs. Quilter' (bronze leaves, salmon pink flowers)
?   'Nutmeg’
?   'Old Spice’
?   'Peppermint’
?   'Prince of Orange' - a hybrid: P. x citrosum
?   'Prince Rupert' - a cultivar of P. crispum
?   'Radula' (lemon & rsoe scented leaves, pink & purple flowers)
?   'Rose’
?   'Royal Oak' (balsam scented leaves, mauve flowers)
?   'Scarlet’
?   'Southernwood
?   'Spanish Angel' (lilac & magenta flowers)
?   'Strawberry’
?   'Sweet Mimosa' (balsam-scented leaves, pale pink flowers)
?   'Tip Top Duet' (pink & wine-red flowers)
?   'Voodoo' (crimson & black flowers)



Nutmeg geranium. (photos by Jennifer Baumbach)
Nutmeg geranium. (photos by Jennifer Baumbach)

Rose geranium.
Rose geranium.

Posted on Tuesday, October 16, 2012 at 9:16 AM

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Webmaster Email: kmchurchill@ucanr.edu

Pelargonium, although commonly referred to as geraniums, or scented geraniums are aptly described as living potpourri for the home. They are not grown for their flowers so much as they are for their scent. Most are native to South Africa and became popular with Victorians when the colonists brought them back to Britain with them. Unlike other garden plants that are fragrant only when blooming, scented geraniums are fragrant all year long if not dormant. The scent is contained in small beads of oil produced in the glands at the base of the leaf hairs. Bruising or crushing the leaves breaks the beads and thus the plant releases its scent. All are wonderfully fragrant and have a distinctive smell, but I’ll leave it to your nose to pick your favorite.

Harvest and Use: Scented geraniums are a lovely addition to fresh cut bouquets. Their long stems of foliage will keep for 2 to 3 weeks. During Victorian times this foliage was a favorite in tussie-mussies, which are traditional, small bouquets from fresh cut flowers because of their fragrance. Historically, they have been used in the perfume industry, especially the rose scented one as they are much less costly.

Scented geraniums, like culinary herbs, have a place in the kitchen. Layer leaves in sugar to flavor. Line the bottom of a cake pan with leaves before pouring in the batter. Dunk bunches in apple jelly before removing from the heat. The leaves can be added to fruit punches, vinegars, salads, and marinades. They combine well with lemon verbena, lemon basil, lemon balm, and mints. Try steeping rose scented, lemon, or ginger leaves in black tea for a treat. Add cloves and slices of lemon and orange to hot or iced tea. Freeze in ice cubes to add to cold drinks later. The flowers can be few but also add a lovely touch when used to embellish something created with scented geranium leaves.

Cultivation: Scented geraniums are not difficult to grow. By following a few easy tips, they will flourish. They grow best in temperatures that range from 50 to 60 degrees at night and 65 to 75 degrees during the day. In frost-free areas they can be grown outdoors all year. They like a fast-draining soil and full sun. When grown in a pot, use a soil-less mix of half peat moss and half perlite or a “potting soil”. Garden soils tend to pack down and drain too slowly, depriving the roots of oxygen. They like a slightly acid soil close to a pH of 6.5.

They do well in dry areas where other plants might have difficulty surviving. Pathways edged with scented geraniums give off their fragrance when passer-bys brush against them. Their varied leaf shapes, texture, color, and variegation make them ideal for a window box. Try combining them with nasturtiums, pink or purple petunias, trailing verbenas, and ground ivy. Don't crowd the plants as they like good air circulation. In frost areas, they can be grown as annuals or brought in during winter. They do well on a windowsill. Do not bring them in after the night temperature drops below 45°F, as they will be shocked by the warmth, causing leaves to yellow and drop. Scented geraniums need only four hours of sunlight. In lieu of this, fluorescent lights mounted a few inches from their tops will provide enough light. Repot your scented geraniums every 2 years.

Scented geraniums are a bit fussy about over watering, which, like for most plants promotes soil-borne diseases/pests and soft weak plant growth. Water only when the top of the soil feels dry. Water until it runs out the drainage holes. This not only wets the soil, but flushes out salts left from fertilizers. Never let the pot sit in a saucer of water for any longer than 10 minutes, and keep water off foliage and flowers to prevent the spread of diseases. Watering in the morning on a sunny day keeps leaves from being wet all night.

Scented geraniums are heavy feeders of magnesium. A teaspoon of Epsom salts will provide enough magnesium for good growth. During the growing season from April to October, fertilize with 15-15-15 or 15-30-15 mix, applying half the recommended amount every second watering. Except for the few that are compact, scented geraniums need to be pinched and pruned for a full shape, otherwise, they become leggy. Snipping off the tip of a growing stem will force it to grow at the nodes. Pruning should begin once the plant is 4-5 nodes or 6" tall. Snip off the tip with sharp scissors or a razor blade. Shoots will grow within 2 to 3 weeks. Once the plant is shaped to your liking, allow it to bloom. This will take 6 to 8 weeks. Thereafter continue removing browned leaves, excessive growth, and spent flowers. If you wish to propagate new plants, allow the plant to grow beyond where you regularly trim. New growth should be 4 to 5 nodes in length. The best time of the year to prune is late winter/early spring.

Propagation: Most scented geraniums are hybrids, therefore few can be grown from seed. Species to grow from seed are: coconut, apple, lemon, old-fashioned rose, and peppermint. The best way to propagate hybrids is from stem cuttings. It takes about 6 weeks for roots to form.

1. Fill a 2 ½-inch pot with soil-less mix for each cutting that you plan to take. Very lightly settle the mix with your fingers and then water the pot until the excess trickles out the drainage hole. The soil should now be ½ inch below the rim of the pot.

2. Select a healthy, established stock plant from which to take the cuttings.

3. Select actively growing shoots that are firm, not floppy. You can take cuttings throughout the growing season, but success is more certain in spring and fall. Don't use the older, woody (brown) portions of the stem. Each cutting should include at least three stem nodes, but four or five are better. A node is the point on the stem at which the leaves are attached.

4. With a single-edged razor blade (especially good for thick stems) or very sharp, scissor-type gardening shears, make your cut just above a node on the stock plant. If the stems are long enough and you need more propagating material, you can also take cuttings below the tip. Don't leave a stub: it can become a target for disease.

5. Re-cut the stem to just below its lowest node. This is the spot where root formation is best.

6. Remove the leaves from the stem that will be under or close to the soil surface. Dip stem including area where leaves were removed in rooting hormone and tap off excess. It is best to bury at least two or three nodes. Also remove any stipules that are found at the base of the leaf stems, since these can rot if buried.

7. With a sharpened pencil, make a hole in the center of the soil-less mix deep enough to bury the lower nodes and insert the cutting. Settle the soil around the cutting by gently re-watering the pot.

8. Place the potted cuttings in a spot out of the wind and direct sun. If the weather is cool, place them on a heating mat. Rooting is quickest and most successful when the soil temperature is 70 to 80 degrees. The soil should be kept evenly moist throughout the rooting season.

Pests: Scented geraniums are not bothered by pests when grown outdoors, but should be monitored for fungus gnats which eat the roots and look like tiny “fruit flies” evident when you move the plant. Watch also for aphids, whiteflies, spider mites, and mealy bugs indoors. Most pest problems can easily be resolved with consistent application of your chosen plant insecticide. Fungus gnats can be treated with BT subspecies israelensis variety (not your ordinary garden variety BT) by either breaking up a “mosquito dunk”, diluting the crumbs with water and watering solution into soil or by using the ‘crumbles’, now available commercially. The nymphs of these gnats live in the soil and eat your plants roots. The presence of this pest in any plant is indicative of over watering so you will want to change your watering practices. Bottom watering, allowing the plant to sit in a pan of water for 5 minutes, wicking up moisture will almost always prevent this pest.

Because of the numerous vari