Varieties of True Geraniums and Tips for Growing Them

  • 01 of 06

    Where to Start?

    Gardening, planting of summer flowers
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    What's in a name?

    The term geranium is confusing. The first geranium most gardeners encounter is not a geranium at all. These fleshy leaved plants with long flower stakes and clustered blossoms are actually Pelargonium and although a relative of the perennial geranium, they are not considered true geraniums.

    True or hardy or perennial geraniums belong to the genus Geranium. You will sometimes see them referred to as cranesbill geraniums, because their seed pods do somewhat resemble a crane's bill, the Greek work for crane. They are low growing plants that spread by rhizomes. The foliage is often toothed and remains attractive. The flowers float on top of the plant, in shades of white, pink, magenta, purples and blues.

    The three most commonly grown species of geraniums are:

    1. Geranium clarkei. - Clarke's geranium is best know for the white flowered 'Kashmir White'. 'Kashmir White' is not the hardiest grower, but the white flowers and finely cut foliage seem to make it garden worthy. 'Kashmir Purple' is a more vigorous plant. It also spreads more vigorously.
    2. Geranium endressii - This is probably the most commonly grown cultivar of geranium and the one that put true geraniums on the gardening map. No photo of a renowned British garden seemed to be without a swath or 'Wargrave Pink' with its very vigorous growth habit and salmon pink flowers. 18-24 inches tall, this plant is an excellent border plant and should be on every gardener's hit list for geranium culture.
    3. Geranium sanguineum - This is a rapidly spreading geranium that makes a wonderful groundcover. It spreads, but it's not invasive and can easily be divided and shared. G. sanguineum is often referred to as 'Bloody Cranesbill' because the leaves turn a deep, blood red in fall. The flowers tend to be in the magenta - pink range. Varieties range in size from 3" 'John Elsley' to 2-ft. tall 'Splendens'.

    Hybrid Geraniums - The Newest Geraniums for Your Garden

    There are so many new hybrids on the market that don't fit into one of the standard species.

    • 'Johnson's Blue' was one of the first true blue flowers to can instant popularity.
    • 'Rozanne' isn't quite so eclectic blue, but it has a neater growing habit and blooms more repeatedly.
    • 'Patricia' grows just over 2' and has striking magenta flowers with a dark center.
    • 'Ann Folkard' is one of the earliest bloomers, with magenta flowers that repeat bloom throughout the season.

      Two newer releases featured here:

    • 'Double Jewel' has double-white petals with a lilac center. It's short and perfect for containers. And
    • Geranium oxonianum 'Southcombe Double' has double, pure pink blooms that resemble fluffy asters.

    Take a look at some of the variety in hardy geraniums.

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  • 02 of 06

    When You Think Cranesbill, You Think Geranium endressii

    Growing Geranium endressii
    Growing Geranium endressii. Marie Iannotti

    Geranium endressii is probably what most gardeners envision first, when they think about hardy geraniums. It forms mounds of deeply-cut, glossy green foliage that is topped with cup-shaped flowers in various shades of pink or magenta. Geranium endressii is a quick spreader and makes a wonderful groundcover or mass planting.

    The standard bearer of Geranium endressii is 'Wargrave Pink'. This particular geranium can be spotted in just about every photo of a British garden and it has proven to be widely adaptable in other areas as well.

    Geranium endressii is an early summer bloomer and stays in flower for several weeks. After the blooms fade, the whole plant should be sheared back to basal growth. It will fill in extremely quickly and you should get repeat blooms here and there throughout the season. The foliage remains evergreen in milder zones.

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  • 03 of 06

    The Bloody Cranesbill - Geranium sanguineum

    Bloody cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum var. Stratum)
    Anne Green-Armytage / Getty Images

    Geranium sanguineum has the unfortunate nickname of Bloody Cranesbill because its foliage turns a bright crimson in the fall. It is actually an attractive plant all season, in or out of bloom. The foliage is usually more distinctly cut than other geraniums, giving it a delicate appearance. The typical cup-shaped flowers come in shades of pink, magenta and white. Geranium sanguineum has one of the best bloom displays of all the geraniums. The flowers can completely hide the foliage and repeat bloom can be expected. Geranium sanguineum spreads less quickly than Geranium endressii and really requires little to no care.

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  • 04 of 06

    True Blue Geranium 'Johnson's Blue'

    geranium 'johnson's blue', june beaulieu
    Christopher Fairweather / Getty Images

    Geranium 'Johnson's Blue' was the first of the brilliant blue geraniums to catch gardeners' eyes. The Royal Horticultural Society gave it the Award of Garden Merit (AGM). The blue of its flowers is hard to photograph and is always more startling when you actually see the plant. The flower stalks can grow quite tall and will droop under the weight of the blossoms. Most gardeners don't bother to stake them, since it is still an attractive plant, even with its floppy habit.

    Cut back the flowers after the first bloom, to get sporadic repeat blooms. Often the whole plant can begin to look scraggly and a good shearing is needed to totally rejuvenate it.

    'Johnson's Blue' geranium is drought tolerant. It blooms best in full sun, but appreciates some afternoon shade in hot, dry areas. It's very disease resistant and a magnet for bees and butterflies.

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  • 05 of 06

    A Geranium That's Happy in a Pot

    Geranium 'Double Jewel'
    Geranium 'Double Jewel'. Photo Courtesy of van Bourgondien (

    Geranium 'Double Jewel' is a compact geranium with a more upright growing habit than you usually see in hardy geraniums. Growing a mere 10" in height, a single plant can easily fill an 8-10 inch pot and be perfectly happy growing there.

    Geranium 'Double Jewel' is talked about in more depth in this What's New profile from 2007.

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  • 06 of 06

    Double the Petals and Double the Bloom Period

    Geranium 'Southcombe Double' has pure pink, fluffy double blossoms that don't look like geraniums, at first glance. But it's every bit has hardy and easy going as its geranium cousins and has the bonus of blooming almost non-stop throughout the summer, into fall.

    There's more info on Geranium 'Southcombe Double' in the What's New profile for 2007.