Scented geraniums are colorful tender perennial herbs with a variety of aromas. The scent of these flowering herbs includes rose, peppermint, lemon, nutmeg, apple, and chocolate. Scented geraniums are not true garden geraniums like their common name infers; they are pelargoniums, mostly hybrids created for their bright colors, beauty, and fragrance. The leaves, flowers, and scented oils of many scented geraniums can be used as garnishes and in salads and for flavoring ice creams and desserts. Scented geraniums are easy to grow indoors and out.
Get to Know Scented Geraniums
- Botanical name and family: Pelargonium (scented leaf group)
- Origin: Pelargoniums originated in Africa; many scented geraniums are hybrids.
- Type of plant: Scented geraniums are tender herbaceous perennials.
- Growing season: Summer
- Growing zones: Most scented geranium varieties are hardy only in Zones 9 to 11, but they can easily be overwintered as houseplants, or grown as annuals.
- Hardiness: Scented geraniums cannot tolerate frost.
- Plant form and size: There are many cultivars of scented geraniums; some grow 12 inches tall or less; some grow as large as 2 to 3 feet tall and about 1 to 2 feet wide. There are also some dwarf varieties.
- Flowers: Scented geraniums have five-petal flowers—two larger upper petals and three smaller lower petals–that grow in clusters atop branching stems. The flowers range in color from white to shades of lilac and pink to red, often combining colors.
- Bloom time: Late spring and summer
- Leaves: Depending on the variety, there are many different leaf shapes, from smoothly round to finely cut and lacy, in shades from gray-green to lime green. Some leaves are broad and succulent others are thin; some are covered with fine hairs.
How to Plant Scented Geraniums
- Best location: Grow scented geraniums in full sun. Where the sun is hot and intense grow scented geraniums in the morning, not afternoon sun. When grown indoors, scented geraniums will need bright light.
- Soil preparation: Grow scented geraniums in well-draining, loamy soil. Scented geraniums will tolerate most average soils, but not wet soil. Soil too rich in nitrogen can lessen the strength of the plants’ essential oils and so lessen the strength of the fragrance. Scented geraniums prefer a slightly acidic soil pH of about 6.0 to 6.8.
- Seed starting indoors: Scented geraniums are hybrid plants most commonly grown from cuttings. Start cuttings at any time during the year indoors under fluorescent lights in well-drained potting mix.
- Transplanting to the garden: Set scented geraniums in the garden two or more weeks after the last frost in spring when nighttime temperatures are warmer than 55°
- Spacing: Space plants 12 to 18 inches apart depending on the variety. Give scented geraniums plenty of room to show off their colorful flowers.
- How much to plant: Grow several cultivars of scented geraniums.
- Companion planting: Scented geraniums can be grown in the herbs garden or in a perennial border. They can also be grown individually in containers.
How to Grow Scented Geraniums
- Watering: Scented geraniums grow best in soil that is just moist but not wet. Once established they are very drought tolerant, but a prolonged drought will cause the leaves to yellow, brown, and fall off. They will not grow well in wet soil.
- Feeding: Side dress scented geraniums with compost tea or a dilute solution of fish emulsion every 4 weeks during the growing season. Scented geraniums are light feeders; too much nitrogen will cause the plants to be less fragrant.
- Care: Pinch out faded blooms to encourage new flowers. Scented geranium can become leggy especially indoors or in too much shade. Pinch back growing tips regularly to keep plants compact and bushy. If plants get leggy you can prune them back by one-third.
- Container growing: Scented geraniums are easy to grow in containers. Choose a container at least 6 inches deep and wide. Plants more than one-year-old may need to be potted up to a larger container.
- Winter growing: Grow scented geraniums indoors in winter like you would other herbs. Place plants in a bright window or under fluorescent lights. Keep the soil just moist but littler fertilizer is needed.
Troubleshooting Scented Geraniums
- Pests: Scented geraniums are usually pest-free. Whiteflies, aphids, mealy bugs, and spider mites will attack weak plants. Control these pests with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil.
- Diseases: Crown and root rot can affect scented geraniums grown in soil that is not well-drained. Rust, a fungal disease, may attack leaves where air circulation is poor.
How to Harvest Scented Geraniums
- When to harvest: Pick individual leaves from plants any time during the growing season once plants are 6 inches tall or tall.
- How to harvest: Use a snip or garden scissors to harvest leaves. Do not tear leaves from branches; you may tear or break the branches.
Scented Geraniums in the Kitchen
- Flavor and aroma: The flavor and aroma of scented geraniums will vary by cultivar. Taste a leaf to know the flavor. Brush or crush a leaf to release the aromatic oils. Scented geraniums have glands at the base of their leaf hairs, where the scent is formed. Crushing the leaves releases the oil and the scent.
- Leaves and flowers: Scented geranium leaves can be used to flavor teas, jellies, preserves, syrups, butter, sorbets, and baked goods. When cooked, remove the leaves before serving.
Preserving and Storing Scented Geraniums
- Refrigeration: Use scented geraniums fresh.
- Drying: Dry scented geraniums and flowers on a screen. Later strip the leaves from the branch.
- Storing: Store dried leaves and flowers in an airtight container.
Propagating Scented Geraniums
- Seed: Scented geraniums are grown from cuttings, not the seed.
- Cuttings: Scented geranium are easily grown from cuttings. Use a knife or sharp scissors to take a stem cutting 4 to 6 inches long. Dip the cut end in a rooting hormone and plant in an organic potting mix. Start cuttings under fluorescent lights or in a bright greenhouse. Keep the soil just moist.
Scented Geraniums Varieties to Grow
- There are dozens and dozens of scented geraniums with an array of fragrances and flavor. Varieties are commonly categorized by their scents such as rose, mint, lemon, orange, apple, and chocolate.
Also of interest: