Q. What is the difference between seed geraniums and zonal ones? Are there other types?
A. Seed geraniums are a form of zonal geranium that has been grown from seed rather than from tissue cuttings.
Both have zones of color in the leaves (that's how they get the name "zonal"), but seed geraniums are usually more compact and are often the cheapest option. Varieties differ, but they usually have lots of 3- to 4-inch flower heads. Most grow about a foot tall and wide. They are a great option for a mass planting.
Plants labeled "zonal geraniums" can have flower heads up to 6 inches across and, unlike seed geraniums, often have double flowers. But, they usually don't have as many flowers as the seed varieties. The zonal plants grow more upright and can be up to 18 inches tall. As new varieties are developed, you will see fewer differences between the seed- and tissue-propagated zonal varieties.
There are two new kinds of zonals that you may see in garden centers. For something different, look for stellar and fancy-leaf varieties.
Some other types of plants commonly sold as annual geraniums are, ivy-leaf, regal and scented-leaf. Ivy-leaf geraniums have waxy leaves that, well, look like ivy. They trail and are great in hanging baskets.
Regal geraniums, such as Martha Washington, are commonly sold as houseplants. They need cool nights to flower.
Scented leaf varieties flower, but not as impressively as other types. They are grown for the leaves, which can smell like roses, lemons, apples or mints. There is one that smells like citronella and is supposed to repel mosquitoes, but there is no proof that it works.
To confuse things a little more, these plants are called geraniums but are actually pelargoniums. Pelargoniums can be overwintered indoors or grown as a houseplant. True geraniums, sometimes called hardy geraniums or cranesbills, are tough perennials that can be planted outside and, depending on the variety, are hardy down to zone three. Like pelargoniums, they are usually ignored by deer. They don't have big balls of flowers like zonal pelargoniums, but their smaller blossoms and pretty foliage are a great addition to our gardens.
Source: U of M Extension Master Gardeners in St. Louis County
Overview and Description
We know them as simply "geraniums". They are one of the most popular container plants, yet they are not really geraniums at all. Botanically they are Pelargonium. How's that for a mouthful? There are true geraniums, the perennial cransbills, but they look little like the annul plants we commonly call geraniums.
The confusion with the names can be traced back to disagreements between botanists over classification and is of little importance to most gardeners, except for the distinction that perennial cransbill geraniums will come back each year and zonal geraniums, those now classified as Pelargonium, are topical perennials usually grown as annuals.
They got the prefix "zonal" because of the markings on their leaves.
Zonal geraniums were discovered in South Africa and if you have a similar, tropical climate, you can grow them as perennials. Along with zonal geraniums, there are 3 more commonly grown types of Pelargonium:
Zonal geraniums are bushy plants, mainly used for containers and bedding. There has been considerable breeding done, particularly for size and abundance and colors of flowers, so there is a good deal of variety.
Botanical Name:Pelargonium x hortorum
Common Name:Geranium, Zonal Geranium
Hardiness Zones: USDA Hardiness Zones 9 -12. Zonal geraniums are basically tropical perennials. Although they are often grown as annuals, they may over-winter in zones as cool as Zone 7, if they have some protection and the winter is mild.
Sun Exposure: Full sun to Partial Shade. They will bloom best in full sun.
Mature Size: Size will vary with variety. There are some dwarf geraniums that will never get more than 5 - 6 inches tall and newer varieties being bred for height and spread. In general, most are between 5 - 24 inches (12 - 60 cm) H x 12 - 15 inches (30 - 38 cm) W.
Bloom Period: Zonal geraniums start blooming in mid-spring and will repeat bloom until frost. Deadheading the entire flower stalk after the flower fades will encourage more blooms.
Design Suggestions: Zonal geraniums have gotten a bad reputation by plant snobs. They've been considered garish and common. Too many of the brightly colored plants can start to look over the top, but these plants are excellent in all kinds of containers. The brighter reds are very elegant all alone and pair well with flowers in equally bright colors, like portulaca or nasturtium.
The softer pinks and salmons complement blue and purple flowers and the lavender shades really stand out next to the chartreuse foliage of Huechera or sweet potato vines.
Soil: Zonal geraniums are not terribly fussy about soil pH, but prefer a slightly acid soil of about 5.8 to 6.5. (It's essential that the soil be well draining - these plants don't like to be wet for long!)
Planting: You can start zonal geraniums from seed, cuttings or transplants. Taking cuttings was the traditional method of propagating geraniums and maintaining favorite varieties. If you choose to take cuttings, make sure you only use healthy, vigorous plants.
Starting Geraniums from Seed: Geranium can easily be started from seed, although the seed is usually for F1 hybrids. Seed geraniums are bred to be disease resistant and to bloom well in the heat of summer.
Start seeds 8 - 10 weeks before your last frost date. They can take up to 2 weeks to germinate and should be kept warm, 70̊ and 75̊F (21̊ - 24̊C), and moist in the process. Scarifying the seed before planting will help aid germination.
Harden off young plants before planting outdoors. They should begin to bloom about a month after being set out.
Zonal geraniums are not heavy feeders, but since they are usually grown in containers, a light feeding with your favorite fertilizer, every 2-4 weeks, will keep them vigorous.
Stressing them slightly by watering only after the soil has dried out completely for a day or two seems to encouraging more profuse blooming. Just don't leave them dry for so long they start dropping leaves and declining.
If you don't live in USDA Zone 9 or higher, your plants will need some winter protection. You can bring them in and grow them as houseplants, in a bright, direct light window. You could take cuttings in mid-summer and bring these smaller plants indoors, or you can over winter your geraniums in their dormant state.
Pests & Problems:For the most part, zonal geraniums are not prone to insect pests, when grown outdoors. Indoors, aphids and whiteflies can become a nuisance.
There are a few fungal and bacterial diseases to look out for, mainly
Special thanks to the National Garden Bureau which named Pelargonium its 2012 Plant of the Year and provided research for this article.
BY: MARIE IANNOTTI
Black Leg of Geranium
M. Grabowski, UMN Extension Educator
Black leg is a stem infection of Geraniums (Pelargonium spp.) that results in a distinctive black discoloration of stems. As infected stems rot, they become soft and often bend over. This disease is caused by several species of the water mold Pythium. Pythium spp. are soil dwelling organisms that thrive in wet conditions and can survive in infected plant debris and soil. Black leg symptoms often start at the soil line and move up the plant.
To avoid black leg, inspect all geraniums prior to purchase and select only healthy symptom free plants. If repotting geraniums, use new clean potting mix and new pots or pots that have been cleaned with a solution of 10% household bleach. Take care to keep tools, watering cans, and hose heads off the floor and away from dirt and plant debris. Pythium spp. can be introduced into clean potted plants by tools that have contacted contaminated dirt or plant debris. Do not over water plants.
If plants do become infected, they will not recover. Discard the plant and the potting mix. Clean the pot with a solution of 10% household bleach before reusing it.
Source: Black Leg
Is it a Geranium? Is it an Erodium? No it's a Pelargonium!
One of the most confusing generic names to any gardener is Geranium. Anyone familiar with temporary planting schemes will know the popular Bedding Geraniums. This is the rather misleading common name for hybrids of the genus Pelargonium (mainly derived from Pelargonium zonale). To distinguish them, true Geranium are often called Hardy Geraniums. Most species and hybrids of true Geraniums are able to tolerate several degrees of frost, and therefore can live outside all year round, even in cold climates. So you cannot talk just about a geranium, you have to clarify whether you mean a Bedding Geranium or a Hardy Geranium, ie. Pelargonium or Geranium respectively.
Fortunately, the two genera are quite easy to tell apart. Geraniums have flowers with 5 more or less identical petals, usually arranged in a flat or bowl shaped. Pelargoniums also have 5 petals but they are arranged 2 above and 3 below. The 2 upper petals are usually larger and broader than the lower 3 (indeed in some species the lower 3 are even missing). So Geranium flowers have radially symmetric flowers (actinomorphic), whereas Pelargonium flowers have a single plane of symmetry (zygomorphic).
This brings us on to Pelargonium incarnatum, which grows here at Phillipskop Mountain Reserve (Phillipskop Mountain Reserve is 246ha (608 acres) in size and occupies the southerly slopes of the Klein River Mountains just to the east of Stanford, on the Western Cape of South Africa). In almost every genus there is one species that refuses to obey the rules. This species of Pelargonium has perfectly radially symmetric flower. So how do we know this is a Pelargonium and not a Geranium (for there are a number of true Geranium species that grow in South Africa)? One way is to count the stamens. A true Geranium will have 10 fertile stamens (have anthers with pollen) whereas Pelargoniums will always have 7 or fewer. The remaining stamens in Pelargonium are modified in some way but always lack an anther. In Pelargonium incarnatum one can clearly see just 5 fertile stamens.
Source: Pelargonium Incarnatum
Geranium ecuadoriense is a perennial that reaches just 3-5cm tall. Leaves are rosettes, 10 by 5.5cm, ovate-cordate, shortly and rather silky-down, greyish-white with petioles 2.5cm long. Flowers are white or pale rose, winter in the wild. In other respects the plant resembles G. sericeum. Ecuador, Chimborazo, on mobile scree near the edge of the eternal snows at 4000m.
SOURCE: G. ecuardoriense
Over the last month I have been watching with anticipation the formation of a giant head of flowers on an old favourite plant in my garden, Geranium maderense. This is a very old species of geranium classified as a “true geranium” differentiating it from the many modern hybrid varieties in cultivation today.
As the name suggests, Geranium maderense hails from the island of Madiera on the north- west coast of Africa. It is a sub-tropical climate with relatively low rainfall and a rocky, craggy landscape. I first encountered this plant whilst touring in the UK back in the late 1980’s. It was growing on St. Michaels Mount, a tiny island land mass off the Cornish coast where an old monastery is now a tourist attraction only accessible at low tide. When I returned to Melbourne I was determined to find this rare beauty to try and grow it for myself but at that time it was barely known here in Australia. By good fortune I was able to get hold of a seedling from a friend who worked in a large private collectors garden in Toorak and my fascination for the plant has continued to grow ever since.
Geranium maderense is a giant among geraniums, growing to a height of 120-150cm tall by 120cm wide. It is a mound forming evergreen perennial (meaning it does not go into dormancy) with deeply divided hand sized lush green leaves. The foliage alone is textural and interesting but it is the huge flower head that is the real head turner. From early spring a giant beach ball sized head of purplish pink florets, each approximately 3cm across explodes like a firework and is a stunning sight. Each little floret has a dark purplish throat and is covered in tiny inflorescent hairs all along the stem which glisten in the sunlight. The anticipation of these huge flower heads is the sort of thing that tests a gardeners’ patience as it takes two years for a young seed grown plant to reach flowering maturity.
Another unique feature of this plant is the formation of props by the lower, older leaf stalks (petioles) which turn downwards toward the ground and serve to prop up the heavy stem whilst also returning water to the root zone around the plant. This is probably an evolutionary adaptation resulting from the poor quality soils where the plant comes from and the fact that it has a surprisingly small root system comparative to the plants’ size.
Geranium maderense makes a stunning addition to a garden and looks especially pleasing when planted in drifts under the canopy of overhanging trees. It does best when protected from afternoon sun and prefers a well drained loamy soil with moderate water requirements.
Unfortunately it is not an easy plant to find in nurseries as there are hardly any growers who produce it. This puts it in the “collectors plant” category so don’t be frustrated if you can’t find it easily. You may stumble upon it one day and I guarantee the wait will be worth it.
Article by Kevin Mankey
Source: A Garden Event Worth Waiting For
If you're a true geranium lover, you're probably spending time looking online at all the pictures you can find of these amazing plants. If you live in the US like me, you're seeing plants you've never seen here - and probably never will - and zonartics are in that category. I started seeing some really gorgeous, unusual plants from Australia labeled as "zonartics" - and I had no idea what that meant. Well - here's the skinny from the man himself - Cliff Blackman, from Victoria, Australia!
Developing the Lara Zonartic Hybrids ( 1985-2006)
The Yellow Light at the end of the Tunnel
Cliff Blackman, Victoria, Australia
From the presentation to the International Pelargonium and Geranium Conference,
October 2006, Geelong, Australia
The possibility of breeding a yellow pelargonium cultivar has been on the wish list of many growers and breeders ever since the red flowered zonal “geranium” became popular in the 19th century.
The Lara zonartic hybrids that are shown here are some of the results during 22 years of breeding with hybrid plants that were initially raised from crosses of a zonal or a zonal/ ivy cultivar as the seed parent and the species Pelargonium articulatum as the pollen parent. There have been many interesting flower forms and colours produced from this line of breeding. This is possibly the first occasion that this species has been used for hybridizing with zonal varieties or other species.
Pelargonium articulatum is indigenous to Southern Africa. This pelargonium species is "characterized by an underground rhizome consisting of alternating thick and thin portions". Generally there is little stem growth above soil level. It has a deciduous nature - with early leaf senescence, which is very unappealing at the time the flowers are blooming. The pale yellow flowers are attractive; the few flower stems produce only 2 to 5 florets each and the flowering season is rather brief. These yellow flowers are the main attraction for breeding with this species, although the short nodal distance and the mild leaf scent are possibly useful characters. The deciduous nature is of doubtful benefit. There are other characters that are not suitable for breeding purposes such as the long thin petioles that tend to let the leaf blades droop. This is the growth behaviour when container grown in captivity far away from its natural habitat.
When a species such as Pelargonium articulatum has been combined with a zonal cultivar or a zonal cultivar that has an unknown percentage of ivy pelargonium genes in its lineage, there is a great deal of uncertainty about what the resulting hybrids will be like. In 1985 when the first cross-pollinations were initiated the main interest was whether there would be any yellow in the flowers from the contribution of the 50% articulatum genes.
This first hybrid seedling was raised in 1986. Their composition was 50% zonal & 50% articulatum. The resulting flowers were single and white with a pale reddish blush on the upper petals.
These are another 3 of the1986 original hybrid seedlings. They were partly deciduous; their form and habit is about midway between the parents. They have a non-symmetrical form and very irregular branching. The fact that articulatum did combine with a zonal type cultivar to produce a new hybrid breed was itself an exciting development.
The method of plant breeding that has been used during this period is the selection of the parents and the controlled transfer of the pollen onto the stigma of the intended seed parent and of course raising the seedlings.
Any progeny of the plant world will have inherited half of its genetic make up from each parent. This combination of both parent’s genetic heritage will generally produce plants that are mid-way between the appearance and habit of the parents, though sometimes there can be a dominance of habit inherited from either one of the parents. This factor becomes more apparent when there are numerous hybrid seedlings raised, as it is then possible to compare the visual differences of the form, flowers and growth habit. Up to the present date there has not been two of these hybrid seedlings exactly alike; in fact they all have a unique individuality that is demonstrated by their visual differences.
In the year of 1987 several hybrid seedlings with (25% zonal and 75% articulatum) in their composition were raised; the best of these had single pale yellow flowers that faded in a few days. During the following 7 years, there were many hundreds of these hybrids raised with varying percentages of zonal and articulatum in their composition. The year 1993 gave a start to changes and improvement in the flower form & colours. The year 1994 produced the first semi-double yellow flowered hybrid 94171 but this had a much too high, almost 80% of Pelargonium articulatum in its composition that gave this seedling an irregular form. However this was a significant step towards developing a desired yellow flowered cultivar and did confirm that the yellow in the flowers of articulatum can be inherited by its hybrid offspring.
The flower of 94171 has about the same colour as the flower of species P. articulatum
This is part of the Zonartic Family Tree, showing the line of descent to seedling 94171 - the first semi-double, yellow zonartic. Three of the originating parents are at the top of the Lineage Tree. 'Lara Purnal' - 'Princess Fiat' and 'Millfield Gem'. Then two seedlings from combinations of these parents: ‘Lara Classic’ and ‘Lara Polka’ were crossed with P. articulatum the pollen parent in November 1985. ‘Lara Signal’ was used later. These are the original ingredients of the Zonartic hybrids. !f you follow the line of descent to 94171 you will notice that articulatum is introduced into the line 6 times during that period, also when it was used as a seed parent or pollen parent. The seed parent is always shown on the left side of the combination.
The Coined Name Zonartic
It was about this year, 1994 that the name of ‘zonartic’ was coined; this name was made up from the ‘z-o-n’ of zonal and the ‘a-r-t-i-c’ of articulatum, forming the name ‘zonartic’. [The name of ‘Lara’ had been accepted and registered as a plant breeder’s prefix about 1976].
At this point in 1994 it was briefly thought the development of a yellow flowered commercial cultivar was possibly just around the corner, but then; because of the form and habit of these hybrids which do include some unwanted characters inherited from species articulatum - it was soon realized this could be many years away. However the arrival of the semi-double yellow flower with 9 to 11 petals was a big improvement on the appearance of the yellow flowers and was definitely an encouragement to continue on the journey.
There was no quick way to improve the form and at the same time produce seedlings with yellow flowers. Each year the parents for the next years seedlings were selected to produce hybrid plants that could possibly have yellow flowers, but seeking to have a minimum percentage of articulatum that is needed to obtain this result. The percentage of articulatum has been a useful reference point in the selection of parents. With these hybrids the different percentages of this species and the zonal parent proportions in each individual seedling can produce quite different forms – also that a high percentage of yellow genes are necessary to produce seedlings having yellow flowers. With the early combinations they generally required at least 65% of this species. At that period the flower colour permanence was not as good. This has improved over the years by selecting for this habit.
Another direction being used at the same time was to select parents to work towards an upright symmetrical form and habit, but having a maximum percentage of articulatum in its composition that will allow this result. The seedlings of the two directions were often selected and combined for the following generation of seedlings.
During the process of endeavoring to obtain a suitable yellow flowered cultivar there were many surprising and welcome spin-offs. The year 1993 was the beginning of this period when there were very surprising and appealing changes to some of the flower forms and colours including bi-colours and tri-colours, also the individual flowers were larger on these hybrids than previously seen on the average zonal cultivar. This development was rather fascinating and did broaden the overall objective to include working towards any of the new flower forms and colours that were on the increase. But here again there was always a need for a better plant structure and habit.
Because of the necessity to change the plant form to a more symmetrical and upright structure it was found beneficial to introduce more of the zonal influence into the zonartic line and at the same time try to maintain the yellow flowers.
Selection of the parent plants is one of the most important requirements in the desire for getting improvements or decreasing any of the unwanted habit. Of course when there are multiple changes required, as is the case with the hybrids of articulatum – a change does sometimes go one step forward with the flower colour but one step back with the petiole length or early leaf senescence or plant structure or the size and number of florets. There are so many characters that can be affected by the large gene pool that have been inherited by these hybrids, any of which can influence the resulting seedlings in this ongoing development process - possibly some of these characters are linked, making it more difficult to separate the wanted features that go into the make up of a new range of cultivars.
The whole exercise of breeding and hybridizing plants is basically by taking advantage of the opportunities that nature can and does offer. The process can be assisted by creating a situation or condition that gives this possibility a chance to happen. This may be considered to be just a trial and error procedure and to some extent it is because this is unknown ground and can only be travelled by anticipated results, possibilities, choices and selections in a methodical regime.
When attempting cross-pollinations and also when trying for a reciprocal cross of the selected parents it is often necessary to repeat many of the same crosses to obtain viable seed. There is always a possible failure because of an incompatible factor with what are otherwise normally fertile cultivars. For this reason it is important to also use several similar pollen or seed parent alternatives that are mutually fertile to get positive fertilization results that will produce seeds that may include some with the required changes. The more seeds that can be obtained from suitable parents will certainly increase the chances of raising new plants that have the desired improvements.
There are a series of interesting times and exciting moments in the basic process of producing hybrid seedlings. The first in this cycle of events would be whilst making the cross pollination of the chosen parents. Usually within 24 to 48 hours the first indication of a successful fertilization is seeing the petals fall, the five arms of the stigma sometimes close together and the sepals close around the style, then usually after 4 or 5 days the ovarian beak commences to elongate. About 4 to 5 weeks later the harvesting of the ripened seed gives hope for the dream about the possible results. The first week in February is usually the time to start sprouting the new generation of seedlings – weather permitting! Two weeks later the majority of the sprouted seeds will have been transferred into small pots. There is not a long waiting period to observe any form change or petiole length reduction - as there are indications of these changes during the first 2 to 4 months of growth. After about 9 or 10 months from sprouting it is flowering time, this is certainly the most exciting period in the yearly breeding cycle – the culminating moment of the year’s hopes and the wonderful feeling when sometimes seeing a new and beautiful flower opening up. It is always more exciting if being seen for the first time. Each new creation follows with opportunities for attempting other creative combinations.
One of the more interesting outcomes has been the appeal of the flower forms and colours. Their longer pedicels can give a more open form of inflorescence, also the unusually long flower stem and their lasting quality has made some suitable for use as cut flowers.
To summarize with 7 essential ingredients for this journey would include:
1. Having a plant of P. articulatum #1571A from Stellenbosch in 1984 - this was kindly given by Dr. Piet Vorster.
2. The natural forces that are part of the creative environment are a necessary element in life’s many processes.
3. The ability of articulatum to combine with zonal type pelargonium cultivars when using controlled cross-pollination techniques.
4. Having hybrid progeny that are fully fertile and which are compatible with self-pollinations and new combinations with seedlings and parent plants of this new family.
5. Making sure all of the lineage and photographic details are recorded.
6. Having perseverance, time and luck with an overwhelming interest in the whole procedure.
7. Last but not least, a tolerant and encouraging wife.
Get in the zone with zonal geraniums. A true garden favorite, zonal geraniums are one of the most easily recognized annuals on the market—although most gardeners just call them geraniums. The term zonal geranium refers to the plant known in botanical circles as Pelargonium x hortorum, a cousin to perennial geraniums, like Geranium Rozanne.
A zonal geranium has several distinctive features, including round to almost kidney-shaped leaves that may—or may not—have a darker circular mark on them. The mark may be dark green or perhaps shades of burgundy. It’s this mark or zone that birthed the common name zonal geranium.
Flowers on zonal geraniums resemble spheres that stand atop sturdy stems. Colors encompass nearly the entire rainbow, except true blue. Today’s modern hybrids offer blooms in shades of pink, lavender, yellow, orange, rose and the classic red. Flower hues also include bicolor blends and petals with contrasting whiskers or spots. Some blooms have double petal counts, while others have pointed or ruffled petals. Variety is the consistent factor among zonal geraniums.
Plant breeders have created many types of zonal geraniums. Some hybrids grow from seed. These plants are typically smaller overall, opening single blooms and reaching smaller mature heights. The price point for seed geraniums is usually lower. Vegetatively propagated zonal geraniums are grown from cuttings. These plants are beefier in every way—plant size, flower size and price. Zonal geraniums grown from cuttings have semi-double and double blooms.
Growing zonal geraniums is a snap. These blooming beauties thrive in full sun, except in the hottest parts of the country, where the plants benefit from a little shade during the afternoon. In planting beds, tuck zonal geraniums into well-drained soil that’s been amended with plenty of organic matter. A slow-release bloom booster fertilizer helps keep the flower show going strong.
When planting in containers, including hay racks, hanging baskets, pots and window boxes, use a commercial soil-less mix developed specifically for use in pots. These mixes often include slow-release fertilizer. This gets zonal geraniums off to a solid start, but it’s a good idea to give plants a water-soluble bloom booster fertilizer starting about four weeks after planting. Feed zonal geraniums with bloom booster every two weeks throughout summer.
As flowers fade, snap their stems as close to the main plant as possible. During periods of prolonged rain, if flowers start to develop mold, remove them, even if all the individual blossoms aren’t open. Once botrytis mold attacks a zonal geranium, it’s tough to get rid of, especially if rainy, wet conditions persist. Removing any leaves or flowers showing signs of mold helps keep the disease from spreading.
This is a great article from Gardeners.com!
If you're a gardener looking for hope in the middle of an icy January day, there's no better balm than a geranium seedling. The tiny leaves have the characteristic rounded shape, with contrasting bands of maroon. Aw, shucks they're cute! But the power--the thing that tells you spring is coming and gives you hope – is in the smell, that one-of-a-kind geranium fragrance. Even in the dead of winter, those tiny leaves smell like summer on the porch.
Geranium seedlings, before being "potted up" to larger containers.
Many gardeners know about starting geraniums from cuttings. It's a great way to share treasured plants, and it feels thrifty. And gardeners love things that are thrifty. But if you start plants from seed, you get to choose from a range of colors: bright red, scarlet, bicolors, orange-salmon, coral, pink, white and lavender. And instead of feeling thrifty, you feel clever.
"There is no trick to growing geraniums from seed," says Valerie Ryan, who grows dozens of seedlings each year. "Patience and care is all that is needed." She usually grows 40 seedlings at home, but this year, she's planted another 200 that grow under lights in our Burlington, VT, call center, where she works.
What You Need Seeds: There is a wide selection available at garden centers and online. The key is to start early: You'll need 12 to 16 weeks to get flowering plants. Some varieties come in to bloom faster than others, so check the seed packets.
Pots and soil: Although you can start seeds in any container with good drainage and sterile 'potting soil,' it's a good idea to start with a multi-cell tray that's designed for seed starting. "We use the GrowEase system and have had almost 100 percent germination"' Valerie says. '"f 200 seeds, only two failed to germinate." For potting soil, use a sterile mix, such as Germinating Mix.
Light: Your seedlings will need light — lots of it. You can get pretty good results in a south-facing window, but it's easier to ensure ideal growing conditions by growing the seedlings under lights.
Fertilizer: Choose a water-soluble plant food, such as Easy Grow.
Fill your pots or planting cells with moistened potting soil. The ideal size is about 2-3".
Eventually, you will have to "pot up" your seedlings. In other words, you will transplant them to a larger pot once they have about three sets of leaves and the roots have filled the starter pot. Although it might seem wise to start with a larger pot, it's not. Seedlings seem to do better in close quarters.
Place one tiny seed in each pot and cover with a thin layer of moistened soil — just enough to cover the seed. Cover the pots with a piece of plastic wrap or — if you're using a seed-starter — put the clear cover on top.
Place the whole setup in a place that's warm, with bright, indirect light. Geranium seeds germinate best at 75 degrees F., so consider putting them on top of a refrigerator or using a Heat Mat. If the soil surface gets dry, use a mister to moisten it with water.
Watch for germination, which can take as few as three days or as long as four weeks. As soon as you see the first shoots of green, remove the covering and moisten the soil if it looks dry.
Move the tiny plants to a place that gets bright light, with temperatures in the 70s during the day and no lower than 60 degrees F. at night. Although you can grow them on a sunny, south-facing window, grow lights are best. Keep the bulbs no more than 6" above the plants, adjusting as they grow. Leave the lights on for 12 to 16 hours a day.
Once seedlings have been "potted up" to 4" pots, start fertilizing at full-strength.
Begin fertilization at this stage: once a week with liquid fertilizer that's mixed at half strength.
When the plants have three sets of leaves, transplant them to a 4" pot. Biodegradable Cowpots work well, but you can use anything that's about 4". "This gives the roots more room to grow," Valerie says. "Plus, you get more space between the plants, so air can circulate. Crowded plants are more susceptible to disease." Don't get thrifty by reusing old soil, which can harbor pests and disease. Use fresh potting soil, such as our Transplant Mix, which is sterile and drains freely.
Continue fertilizing the seedlings, but mix it at full strength and apply it at the rate recommended on the package. "I like our Plant Health Care," Valerie says.
When frost-free weather arrives, it's time to "harden off" the seedlings. Hardening off is simply acclimating plants to outdoor conditions. Seedlings grown indoors have been coddled — you've been giving them just the right amount of light, moisture and nutrients. Outdoor conditions are more challenging, with fluctuating temperatures and light levels, more variable soil moisture and wind. About a week before you plan to set the seedlings into the garden, start hardening them off. Place them in a protected spot outdoors (partly shaded, out of the wind) for a few hours, bringing them in at night. Gradually, over the course of a week to 10 days, expose them to more and more sunshine and wind.
How to Care for Fancy Leaf Geraniums
by Karen Carter, Demand Media
Fancy leaf geraniums (Pelargonium x hortorum) are commonly known as zonal geraniums. These perennials stay evergreen in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 and 11, but grow as annuals in colder climates. Reaching 1 to 3 feet tall, this shrubby mounded plant is made up of green leaves marked with contrasting colors. Clusters of red, purple, pink, orange or white blossoms appear on top of long stalks throughout the growing season. With the proper care, fancy leaf geraniums will provide a gardener with nearly year-round beauty. Here's how -
1. Locate the fancy leaf geraniums in an area with at least four to six hours of direct sunlight per day. On hot summer days, geraniums benefit from light shade. Either move potted geraniums into the shade or erect a sunshade in the afternoon. These plants prefer temperatures around 60 degrees Fahrenheit, but will do well in a range of temperatures.
2. Pour water on the soil around the base of the geranium until the soil is damp to the depth of the roots. Allow the top 3 inches of soil to dry before watering again.
3. Pinch off the ends of the stems while the plant is producing fresh growth in the spring. This encourages the stems to branch out, producing a bushier plant. When the flower clusters begin to dry out, deadhead the blossoms by snapping the tall stalk of the plant. Do not let the flowers dry out completely on the geranium plant since this will cause the plant to stop blooming.
4. Feed fancy leaf geraniums during active growing months, but do not fertilize them in the winter. Mix a water-soluble 10-10-10 fertilizer with twice the recommended amount of water for a batch of half-strength fertilizer. Water the geraniums with the fertilizer mixture every two weeks.
5. Overwinter the geraniums in a sheltered area for the winter. For potted plants, bring them indoors before the first hard frost and place them in a sunny window. Reduce watering, but do not let the roots dry out. Another option is to cut the garden plants back to 6 inches tall with pruning shears. Lift the plants from the garden with a shovel and place them in a box of peat moss located in a dark frost-free area. Replant them outside in the spring after all danger of frost has passed. (If you live in San Diego County, there's no need to uproot your plants during our typically mild winters!)