Get acquainted with some scent-sational geraniums
By Dawn Pettinelli - UConn Home & Garden Education Center
Featured Article - posted Wed., Jan. 25, 2012
There are many beautiful houseplants, but most are not noted for their scent. One group of plants that are both attractive and delightfully fragrant is the scented geraniums. Imagine just rubbing a few leaves and having the air around you filled with the pleasant aroma of lemons, roses, coconuts, pine or mint!
Scented geraniums are native to South Africa. They were brought to Europe in the 1600s by sailors and quickly became popular as houseplants, ingredients in sachets and teas, and as astringents. They followed the early Colonists to this country and have been grown and loved ever since. Thomas Jefferson even brought some scented geraniums to the White House.
Victorians were quite enamored with scented geraniums. They added the fragrant leaves and blossoms to potpourris and bouquets, used them in cakes and jellies, and made them into ointments and poultices. Demand for rose-scented geraniums peaked in the mid-1800s. The French found they could substitute the essential oil from this species of scented geranium for the much-prized Attar of Roses.
Scented geraniums still remain popular houseplants for their fragrance, interesting leaves and flowers, and ease of culture. They are quite content on a sunny windowsill planted in a potting mix with good drainage. Like most herb plants, they prefer a just slightly acidic to neutral pH, so add about one tablespoon of limestone per quart of potting mix.
Generally, scented geraniums are purchased as plants. That way, you can pet and sniff them and make sure their fragrance is pleasing to you. Some species tend to get rather large, up to 3 feet high and wide. Plants can be pinched on a regular basis to keep them shorter and bushier. Other species, like the apple- and coconut-scented, stay smaller and are suitable for hanging baskets. If your plants get too large, cuttings can be taken and new, smaller plants can be started.
Once the cuttings form roots, they can be potted up and the older, woody parent plant can be discarded. Or use it in the garden once the weather warms up. Many species of scented geraniums also make interesting and tough bedding plants.
Do avoid over-fertilizing the plants with nitrogen. This nutrient stimulates green, leafy growth and the geranium’s scent becomes diminished. Use a commercial, water-soluble fertilizer that has been diluted to half strength every two to three weeks during periods of active growth.
The fragrance of some species of scented geraniums is quite discernable; others are more mixed and may best be described as woodsy or spicy. Favorites include the upright lemon geranium (Pelargonium crispum), the pine-scented (P. denticulatum), the everblooming coconut-scented (P. grossularoides), the very intense apple-scented (P. odoratissimum), the refreshing peppermint-scented (P. tomentosum), and of course, the delightful rose-scented Attar of Roses.
If you are looking for easy-to-grow and unique houseplants, perhaps scented geraniums can add a little spice to your life! For information on growing scented geraniums or any other gardening query, call the UConn Home & Garden Education Center (toll-free) at 877-486-6271, visit www.ladybug.uconn.edu, or get in touch with your local Cooperative Extension Center.