My Pelargonium collection & some mythbusting

by Lala

I began to take an interest in Pelargoniums after I received some plants as gifts from my family and my friend Peter in 2016. I’ve known these South African plants as “Geraniums” for most of my life, but with my collection came the knowledge of the correct name. I worked at South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs at the time, and through my work I also became aware of the medicinal and cosmetic uses of species pelargoniums.

A Pelargonium I spotted on a hike at a farm along the South Africa-Lesotho border, 2017. It had a ginger fragrance.

These plants are very easy to care for (I share my tips later in the post), do well in pots, bloom reliably and provide interest in the garden for many months. This is a group of plants that would be a rewarding addition for new gardeners.

Pelargonium “Regal Knight”

My in-laws gave me the elegant, velvety Pelargonium “Regal Knight” from Kraaibosch Nursery in the Western Cape province, South Africa. The flowers are deep maroon, almost black in low light & indoors. I haven’t seen many photographs of Pelargonium “Regal Knight” online. If you come across my post and have a Regal Knight of your own, please share your photos.

I wish I had a photo of the leaves saved somewhere. These photos are from my garden in South Africa. I’m currently in Shanghai.

On the subject of leaves, some Pelargoniums are valued more for their leaves than their flowers. For some, the value is in the fragrance of the leaves, while for others, it is the beautiful leaf patterns that make the Pelargonium special.

Pelargonium “Mrs Pollock”

Mrs Pollock is a bright and brash Pelargonium, seen here starting to flower.

I first saw Pelargonium “Mrs Pollock” on Twitter. I loved it right away. The person who posted it was in the UK, so I didn’t expect to find this particular plant in South Africa. To my surprise, a few months later I found a single pot of this Pelargonium at a very small nursery I used to frequent, as it was on the route between home and the office.

Beautiful leaf markings of Pelargonium “Mrs Pollock”.

Of course I snapped the plant up. The flowers bloomed fully by late September in Gauteng.

While the leaves are the main attraction, the flowers are also stunning, being nearly neon red.

Scented Pelargoniums

Next are the fragrant beauties. My first scented Pelargonium is one we’ve known as “Rose scented geranium”. My friend gave me several large cuttings from his plants, which he grew in pots. This was in winter. I planted the almost bare stems in pots with sandy garden soil. Shortly after that, I got myself Pelargonium citrosum, which as the name implies, has a citrus scent. By spring, they were in full leaf and blooming.

Pelargonium citrosum on right. Rose geranium on left with buds.
Moth on the Rose scented Pelargonium.

Something of interest is that the citrus scented Pelargonium has been marketed as a mosquito repellent, far and wide. Here in China it is sold for that purpose from spring time. However, citronella oil actually comes from various types of Lemongrass (Cymbopogon sp), not Pelargoniums. Research shows that Pelargonium citrosum is not effective against mosquitoes.

Matsuda et al., (1996) study of Pelargonium citrosum efficacy as mosquito repellent.

Pelargonium care

In South Africa, I grow these plants more or less like my outdoor succulents.

  • I grow Pelargoniums outdoors in full sun, all year in South Africa. For the cold Shanghai winter, they will be in a mini greenhouse
  • I have them planted in pots, in well drained soil, leaning towards the sandy side.
  • I don’t water Pelargoniums often. They receive rain and then additional water on extremely hot days.
  • If the Pelargonium loses many leaves in winter and looks scraggly, I prune it back to a third of its original size.
  • During winter, I hardly water the plants. They grow back beautifully in spring.
Pelargonium buds in spring in Shanghai.

My tips for taking care of pelargoniums are just that, tips that have worked well for my plants. Consider your climate, light conditions & the state of your plant, to determine what will work best.

Happy gardening.

Pelargonium I photographed at Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens, 2017.

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