The common name ivy geranium (or ivy-leafed geranium) is given to various cultivars and hybrids derived from Pelargonium peltatum, one of several species that are commonly referred to as "annual" or "garden" geraniums. The P. peltatum varieties have a trailing habit that is ideally suited for hanging baskets, window boxes, and other containers. Like regal geraniums or scented geraniums, ivy geraniums are not members of the geranium genus at all, but rather belong to the Pelargonium genus of evergreen perennials native to South Africa. Like other Pelargonium species, it has large, fleshy lobed leaves and flower umbrels that extend on stalks. Ivy geraniums, though, have trailing, cascading stems that can be as much as 5 feet long. Pelargoniums are tender perennials that are usually grown as annuals, except in tropical regions (zones 10 to 12). Plants grow rapidly during the warm spring months, which allows you to fill up large containers or baskets with smaller, less expensive plants that mature quickly.
In their usual role as container annuals, ivy geraniums are planted in spring and will quickly begin flowering right up until frost. Like other Pelargonium species, ivy geraniums contain mildly toxic geraniol and linalool compounds that can cause gastrointestinal and skin irritation in people and animals. Cats are especially susceptible.
|Common Name||Ivy geranium, trailing geranium, ivy-leafed geranium|
|Botanical Name||Pelargonium peltatum|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous, perennial|
|Mature Size||1–2 ft. tall, 3–5 ft. wide|
|Soil Type||Moist, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral, alkaline|
|Bloom Time||Spring, summer, fall|
|Flower Color||Pink, red, white|
|Hardiness Zones||10–12 (USDA)|
|Native Area||South Africa|
|Toxicity||Toxic to people, toxic to pets|
Ivy Geranium Care
Ivy geraniums have somewhat different cultural needs than the more prevalent zonal geraniums grown so widely as bedding plants. Ivy geraniums like milder temps than zonal geraniums, and if they are grown in conditions warmer than 85 degrees, they will require a partial shade location. And ivy geraniums require more consistent moisture than zonal geraniums, which are often quite tolerant of dry, blazing conditions.
Beyond this, ivy geraniums are very easy to grow and have few problems. The long repeating bloom period makes them a favorite wherever lots of color is wanted in a cascading, trailing plant.
Full sun is necessary for good leaf color and flower production. Partial sun can help plants cope in regions with high summer temperatures, but four to six hours is best for ample blooming.
A loam or sandy loam provides the drainage and root aeration that ivy geraniums need. Having a rich soil is not as important as loose, draining soil. Potted plants do well in standard commercial potting mix; some growers like to mix in some additional sand or perlite. Ivy geraniums like relatively neutral soil with a pH from 6.5 to 7.5.
Ivy geraniums like regular watering, but not soggy conditions. Garden plants thrive on about 1 inch of water per week but you should allow the surface of the soil to dry out between waterings. Potted plants, however, may require watering several times a week, as they will dry out faster. These plants do not tolerate temporary dryness in the way that zonal geraniums do.
Temperature and Humidity
As a South African native, ivy geranium plants like moderate temperatures in the summer. A heatwave will not kill the plants, but flowering will slow or stop during the dog days of summer. You will know if the temperatures are too hot for ivy geraniums, as the new leaves may look pale or even white in response to the heat.
Average to low humidity is best for thriving ivy geraniums. High humidity can set the stage for fungal diseases.
Ivy geraniums are not heavy feeders, but a light, continuous feeding will increase the bloom count of the plants. A convenient way to provide these nutrients is by planting ivy geraniums in potting soil that is pre-enriched with fertilizer. These potting mixes will feed plants with a slow-release fertilizer for one full growing season. Another option is to offer them a soluble plant food every two weeks when watering. For the amount to use, follow the product label instructions.
Types of Ivy Geranium
There are more than 75 named cultivars of ivy geraniums, with new ones introduced every year. Some recent favorites include:
- 'Crocodile' ivy geranium plants have unique foliage with white veins.
- 'White Mesh' also has bright white veins in the green leaves.
- 'Royal Amethyst' has early lilac flowers on heat-resistant plants.
- 'Temprano Butterfly' is bright pink with a high petal count.
- 'Mahogany' produces bicolor red and white flowers.
Some other common varieties that remain popular include: 'Sybil Holmes', 'Beauty of Eastbourne', 'King of Balcon', 'Amethyst', 'Cornell', 'Salmon Queen', and 'Mexicana'.
When your ivy geranium starts to look leggy, prune it back by about half. This will create a more dense, bushy plant, and will also spur a new flush of blooms. Old plants grown as perennials in frost-free areas can get woody, and may need to be cut back severely in the spring to rejuvenate plants.
Clipping off spent flower heads will prompt new blossoms well into fall.
Propagating Ivy Geranium
Most commercial ivy geraniums have been created by asexual reproduction—by rooting stem cuttings—and this is also the best way to propagate your own plants. It can be done at almost anytime, but many people like to start new plants in fall, starting them indoors to overwinter them. Here's how to do it:
- Take a 3- to 4-inch cutting using scissors you have dipped in alcohol to sterilize. Remove the lower leaves.
- Dip the cutting in a rooting hormone, then plant in a small pot filled with moistened sand. Place the pot in a bright location but out of direct sunlight, and keep the sand moist.
- Pot up your cutting into a larger pot filled with standard potting mix when new growth appears, after about four to six weeks. If growing the cutting indoors over the winter, give it plenty of sunlight.
How to Grow Ivy Geranium From Seed
You can grow ivy geraniums from seed collected from your plants, but you are assured of exact duplicates only if the parent is a pure species. Hybrids and named cultivars often do not "come true" from seed, though the results may still be interesting. However, the 'Tornado' series and the 'Summer Showers' series are two cultivars that are offered as seed.
The best method is to sow the seeds in seed flats filled with seed-starter mix under glass or plastic covers at a temperature of about 74 degrees Fahrenheit. Cover the seeds with a bare covering of fine compost—some light helps speed germination. After seedlings sprout and true leaves have formed, they can be transplanted into their own pots filled with commercial potting soil.
Seeds are best started indoors in mid to late winter. Seeds germinate in about a week and will reach flowering size in about three months.
Potting and Repotting Ivy Geraniums
Because of their long trailing habit, ivy geraniums are more common for container culture than as garden bedding plants. It's best to use relatively large containers that hold a good amount of commercial potting mix, as this will retain sufficient moisture. Ivy geraniums look stunning spilling from window boxes or urn planters. The stems have a tendency to break off easily, so site your containers away from high traffic areas where they won't get knocked or brushed by people or animals.
When handling ivy geranium plants during the potting process, try to hold the plants by the root ball. Although succulent and thick, the brittle stems will snap off easily if you grasp the plant by the stem base, and you could end up losing several stems from breakage.
If you are growing potted ivy geraniums as perennials, they will need to be repotted into larger containers every couple of years as they become root-bound. Or, you can take stem cuttings to root, then discard the older plants in favor of the new ones.
Because ivy geraniums are normally grown as annuals, it's normal to simply pull them out of their pots and discard them at the end of the season. But it is also possible to grow them as perennials by bringing container plants indoors for the winter. Ivy geraniums do not make attractive year-round houseplants, but if you cut back the foliage by about one-third and find a very sunny but relatively cool location (55 degrees at night and no more than 70 degrees during the day), the plants can survive the winter in order to return outdoors in the spring.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
Ivy geraniums are largely trouble-free when grown outdoors where air circulation is good, but when potted plants are brought indoors to overwinter, a variety of common pests can appear, including mealybugs, spider mites, thrips, and fungus gnats. Insecticidal soaps or neem oil can effectively treat these pests.
Leaf spot fungal disease can afflict plants that are overwatered, especially in poorly ventilated spaces.
How to Get Ivy Geraniums to Bloom
The prescription for great blooming ivy geraniums is relatively simple:
- At least four hours of sun daily
- Consistent moisture (not too little, not too much)
- Regular feeding, either through time-release fertilizer mixed with the soil, or a light feeding with water-soluble fertilizer every two weeks
- Deadhead and pinch back stems to stimulate new growth and more flowers
Common Problems With Ivy Geranium
Ivy geraniums are prone to one notable disorder—edema caused by varying moisture levels. Edema causes the plant to develop corky spots on the underside of older leaves, caused by rupturing plant cells. If you see this symptom, adjust your watering schedule to irrigate more often but in smaller quantities.
Older plants may get woody and sparse over time. If so, simply prune them back severely and wait for new growth to fill in. This is most common with potted plants that move between indoor and outdoor locations over several years. This may also be a sign that the plants need to be repotted into larger containers.
What is the difference between ivy geraniums and zonal geraniums?
Zonal geraniums have larger, round leaves and an upright habit compared to ivy geraniums. Some zonal geraniums have a dark band on the foliage, which adds to their ornamental quality when not in bloom. Zonal geraniums are more tolerant of hot, sunny conditions, while ivy geraniums need carefully controlled watering.
How can I use ivy geraniums in the landscape?
Ivy geraniums are most commonly used in hanging baskets or window boxes, but they can also be combined in mixed containers, blended with other annuals that offer contrasting texture and color. Ivy geraniums can also be used as a ground cover or cascading plant for draping over retaining walls.
Why are these plants called geraniums when they belong to the Pelargonium genus?
Originally, these plants were lumped together in the same genus as the plants we now think of as cranesbill or perennial geraniums. But in 1789, a large group of species in the Geranium family were reassigned their own genus, the Pelargoniums. To this day, however, the common name persists, incorrectly used for plants that no longer belong to the Geranium genus.
Pelargonium peltatum. North Carolina State Extension.
Pelargonium pelatum. North Carolina State Extension.
Ivy Geraniums. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
Wyman, Donald. Wyman's Gardening Encyclopedia. MacMillan Publishing Company, 1986.
Bird, Richard. The Propagation of Hardy Perennials. Batsford Ltd. Publishing, 1994.
Growing Geraniums Indoors. Clemson Cooperative Extension.