How to Grow Cranesbill — Erodium

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Erodium — commonly called cranesbill or heron’s bills–is a genus of low-growing subshrubs that bear flowers similar to species geraniums. Erodiums are tough plants that form dense foliage tufts and can grow in rocky and other less favorable conditions.

Erodiums are valued for their attractive foliage and long flowering period. Leaves are roundish and dark green with scalloped edges. The 5-petaled flowers appear profusely in umbels. They are cup-shaped and just 1/2 inch wide and range from pink to purple and occasionally yellow or white.

Erodium is a very good choice to grow in rock gardens, troughs, or alpine gardens. There are 60 species in the Erodium genus. Taller and more robust species are a good choice for a herbaceous border.

Erodium, commonly called cranesbill or heron's bill
Erodium, commonly called cranesbill or heron’s bill

Get to know Erodium 

  • Plant type: Perennial 
  • Growing zones and range: Zones 5 to 8
  • Hardiness: Hardy to Zone 5
  • Height and width: Low growing, 3 to 18 inches (8-46cm) tall; most grow 8 to 10 inches (20-25cm) wide 
  • Foliage: Dainty looking, but a tough plant, forming dense foliage tuft.; long-stalked, roundish, dark green leaves .3 inches (.75cm) long with scalloped edges.  
  • Flowers: Profuse, cup-shaped flowers, .5 inch (1.3cm) wide, with five petals that are pink to purple, and sometimes white or yellow, that are notched at tips, followed by seedpods that resemble heron’s bill. 
  • Bloom time: Summer. 
  • Uses: Good for rock gardens or as edging plants, and also go with trailing plants in tubs or planters; good as a small-scale ground cover.   
  • Garden companions: Geranium cinerum, other rock-garden plants. 
  • Common name: Heron’s Bill, cranesbill 
  • Botanical name: Erodium species
  • Family name: Geraniaceae 
  • Origin: Mountains of Europe and Central Asia

Where to plant Erodium 

  • Plant Erodium in full sun or light shade.  
  • Plant Erodium in dry, somewhat alkaline, gravelly soil.  

When to plant Erodium 

  • Sow Erodium seed in early spring.  
  • Divide established Erodium in spring.
  • Root basal stem cuttings in late spring or early summer.

Planting and spacing Erodium 

  • Space Erodium 8 to 10 inches (20-25cm) apart depending on the variety.
  • Sow seeds 1/8 inch deep in containers or in evenly prepared garden soil. 
 Erodium flowers
Erodium flowers

How to water and feed Erodium 

  • Give Erodium regular water.  
  • Fertilize Erodium in spring with an all-purpose, organic fertilizer.

How to care for Erodium 

  • Erodium benefits from winter moisture protection.  

Erodium pests and diseases 

  • Erodium can develop stem rot or leaf gull. 
  • Erodium has few garden pests.  

Erodium propagation 

  • Divide Erodium in early spring.   
  • Separate small offshoots of Erodium with a bit of root attached in midsummer. 

Erodium varieties to grow 

  • Erodium chamaedryoides grows 3 to 6 inches (8-15cm) tall and 12 inches (30cm) wide; dark green leaves with scalloped edges; profuse cup-shaped .5 inch flowers can be white or rose pink and rosy-veined; good small-scale ground cover.
  • E. chrysanthum has pale yellow flowers and silvery, fernlike foliage. 6 inches (15cm) tall. Zones 6 to 8.  
  • E. corsicum has pink blooms on mat-forming plants. 3 inches (8cm) tall. Zones 4 to 8.  
  • E. manescaui has purple flowers; blooms all season. 8 to 12 inches (20-30cm) tall. Zones 6 to 8.  
  • E. petraeum crispum (E. foetidum) has white flowers with lavender veins and a conspicuous purple spot on one petal. 
  • E. variable has large wavy leaves and dark red flowers with purple-red veins all summer long. 5 inches (13cm) tall. ‘Roseum’ has deep pink flowers. To 3 inches (8cm). Zones 5 to 8.    

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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