When you’re thinking about your spring containers and considering petunias, impatiens, osteospermum, and licorice vine, don’t forget about fragrance. Give those big red geraniums a pass this year and find a scented geranium instead. The aromatic leaves come in all flavors, from rose to coconut to lemon to peppermint, which will add another dimension to your patio experience. Scented geranium foliage comes in a range of shapes—some rounded, some like maple leaves, some ferny and finely cut. The flowers are pretty, too, though smaller, paler, and more delicate than the blossoms on more traditional bedding geraniums.
Common name: Scented geraniums
Botanical name: Pelargonium spp. (see below)
Plant type: Typically grown as annual
Zones: Annual in most zones
Height: 1 to 3 feet tall, depending on species
• Sun: Full sun to part shade
• Soil: Average to rich, well-drained, neutral to slightly alkaline
• Moisture: Average
• Mulch: Mulch to help preserve moisture in the soil.
• Pruning: Deadhead to encourage more blooms; pinch to encourage a bushy form.
• Fertilizer: None needed.
• By seed and cuttings
Pests and diseases
• In poorly drained soil, vulnerable to stem and root rot.
• May attract mealybugs, spider mites, whiteflies, or other pests.
• The point of having scented geraniums is their fragrance, so plant them near a patio or walkway where you’ll brush by them often.
• Though the flowers of scented geraniums aren’t as striking as those of other geranium groups, the plants are still valuable in containers, window boxes, and hanging baskets, where they provide a lush green backdrop and the surprise of strongly aromatic foliage.
• Use dried leaves in potpourris.
Species and cultivars
• The leaves of P. ‘Attar of Roses’ have such a strong rose scent that they’re often used to supplement actual rose petals in perfumes.
• P. ‘Clorinda’ has cedar-scented leaves and dark pink flowers.
• P. crispum has lemon-scented leaves and pale purple flowers.
• P. grossularoides has coconut-scented leaves and magenta flowers.
• P. ‘Mabel Grey’ has lemon-scented leaves and purple flowers.
• P. odoratissimum has apple-scented leaves and white flowers.
• P. tomentosum has peppermint-scented leaves and white flowers.
All in the family
• The genus Pelargonium contains about 280 species, mostly from South Africa.
• The annuals we call geraniums are in the Pelargonium genus, and the perennials that we call cranesbills are in the Geranium genus. Both genera are in the geranium family, Geraniaceae, along with several other genera.
Where to buy
• Mountain Valley Growers, Squaw Valley, CA, 559-338-2775, www.mountainvalleygrowers.com
• Hobbs Farm Greenery, Hope, ME, 207-763-4606, www.hobbsfarmgreenery.com
• Herbfresh.com, Fallbrook, CA, 760-451-1189, www.herbfresh.com
(Text by Elizabeth Noll, photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden’s Kemper Center for Home Gardening)