Although not as popular as the common flowering geranium, scented geraniums make excellent additions to the garden. They are prized for their aromatic leaves and colorful foliage. The plants come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Their presence beautifies flower beds, and they are ideal for growing in containers.
Scented geraniums are categorized by their scent, which is released from the aromatic oils within the plant when you rub the leaves between your fingers or brush against the plants. Common scents are of rose, mint, lemon, pine, peppermint, or fruit such as apple, apricot, or pineapple. Others have a chocolate, coconut or nutmeg scent. One of the most popular cultivars is 'Attar of Rose' which has the scent of an old-fashioned rose. Another variety has a citronella fragrance and has been advertised as the "mosquito geranium," although its ability to repel mosquitoes has not been proven. Scented geraniums are commonly used for flavoring beverages, preserves, desserts, and other dishes, as well as for use in potpourris.
Scented geraniums do best grown in well-drained soil and in full sun or partial shade. However, during the heat of the day, the plants should be provided some shade to prevent scorching. Plants grown in containers dry out more quickly than those planted in the ground; therefore they should be monitored to be sure that they receive adequate water. Consistent pruning, especially on smaller-leafed varieties that have a tendency to become leggy, encourages dense growth. Use pruning snips or your fingers to remove stem tips above a leaf on the green part of the stalk. Leave several leaves on the stalk because the plants will branch out from these points. The plants require minimal amounts of fertilizer; an application of a general fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, a few times during the growing season will help them thrive.
Scented geraniums are easily propagated. Cuttings can be rooted in a glass of water, but will root especially well when placed in a soil-less growing medium. Take 6-inch cuttings, strip off the lower leaves, and dip the cuttings into rooting hormone. Keep the soil medium damp. After a few weeks, gently tug on the plants. If there is resistance, then the cuttings have formed roots and can be potted.
Because scented geraniums are not frost-tolerant, they should be brought indoors before the first fall freeze is forecasted. They can be grown as houseplants by placing them on a window sill or in a location that receives plenty of sunlight. Home heating systems reduce humidity levels and can rapidly dry out indoor plants, so be sure to check moisture levels frequently. Another way to overwinter the plants is to allow them to go dormant. Dig them up and store each one separately in its own paper bag in a location that is cool, has moderate levels of humidity and is out of sunlight. In the spring, repot them and take them outside after all danger of frost has passed.
Scented geraniums are low-maintenance plants with attractive features that add fragrance to the garden throughout the growing season. They might be the perfect plants to provide extra interest in your garden this year.
Timothy Daly is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent with Gwinnett County. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or firstname.lastname@example.org.