HomeArticle Index

Other Articles
in this Issue

Fall Seminar - The Informed Home Gardener
Shop Our Garden Marketplace at The Informed Gardener Fall Seminar
Meet the Marine Room's Ron Oliver
2011 Master Gardener Calendar - Coming in October
The Cool-Season Vegetable Garden: Peas
Plant tests bring "Arboretum All-Stars" to Home Gardeners
An "All-Stars" Experience: Learning about Natives by Trial-and-Error
The Bagrada bug: A new pest in San Diego County
Easy-care scented geraniums fill the garden with fragrance and beauty

Find Past Articles

Check out the Master Gardener Pest Notes

Subscribe to our mailing list

See us on Facebook

Easy-care scented geraniums fill the garden with fragrance and beauty

By Aenne Carver

old-fashioned rose
Old-Fashioned Rose

Scented geraniums add a sweet dimension to your garden and ask for little back.  Get to know these Victorian favorites and you will understand why they became coveted specimens in British hothouses.  Today, scented geraniums are gaining renewed popularity because they are waterwise and tolerate poor soil, pests leave them alone, and they have uniquely scented leaves.

Initially found in South Africa, scented geraniums were shipped to England by plant hunters during the 19th century and they became the it plant among collectors.  At formal dinners, hostesses passed bowls of warm water and lemon-scented geranium leaves to freshen hands between courses.  Thomas Jefferson grew several varieties in his Virginia gardens.

Indeed, they are practically the perfect plant, maintenance free, delightfully scented, and never scrawny looking like many drought tolerant plants.  Even gardeners with brown thumbs - or super tight water restrictions - can grow scented geraniums.

Except for freezing temperatures, scented geraniums tolerate nearly anything.  Their basic needs are simple: well draining soil, at least four hours of sunlight, and selective pruning.  The exceptions to the sun requirement are varieties with large fuzzy leaves such as peppermint geranium (Pelargonium tomentosum) and chocolate mint (Pelargonium tomentosum ‘Chocolate-mint’).  These types will grow in shade or sun in coastal gardens, but in inland gardens they perform best in afternoon shade. 

Over-watering is a problem for any variety of scented geranium, so when in doubt, just don’t water because they hate soggy roots.  Drought suits them better than excess water.

As far as feeding scented geraniums, any balanced fertilizer works, but they do well without any food.  If you remember, aim to feed them monthly in the warm months, especially potted scented geraniums.

Yummy scents; various sizes

These fragrant plants range in size from six-inch rosettes, to shoulder-high shrubs.  The low growing varieties have round-shaped leaves with tiny flower sprays almost year round.  These wee scented geraniums cascade out of containers, and are one of the few plants which survive summer heat with limited water in hanging baskets. ‘Apple’ (Pelargonium odoratissimum) and ‘Nutmeg’ (Pelargonium X fragrans) are two such petite geraniums.


On the other end of the scale, tall scented geraniums make good hedges, or can stand in at the back of the border.  Their leaf size also varies from the tiny leaved ‘Lemon’ (Pelargonium crispum) to the large leaved ‘Old-Fashioned Rose’ (Pelargonium graveolens). 

Although grown for fragrant foliage, many scented geraniums have the bonus of attractive flowers, like ‘Red Rose’ (Pelargonium sp.) and ‘Apricot’ (Pelargonium scabrum ‘M. Ninon’).  However, most scented geraniums bear only small mauve blooms in the spring.

Pruning is vital for all larger scented geraniums.  They grow fast and become sprawling unless they are kept well trimmed.  In fact, the only essential care your scented geraniums need is pruning about twice a year.  The first pruning should be close to Labor Day, and prune large geraniums hard.  Take each stem back to three good leaves, and make certain to keep some foliage on every stem, because a bare stem may die. 

The final trimming, done near Thanksgiving, should focus on rambling or scruffy growth left over from the first hard pruning.  While small sized, round leaved, scented geraniums do not need a hard pruning, their shape and vigor benefits from a light fall trim.

Winter pruning is not a good idea because most scented geraniums set their flower when evening temperatures hover in the 40s.  Therefore, late pruning removes flower buds, and hard pruning then may even kill the plant.

Reading the names of scented geraniums is almost a culinary treat.  Look for mouthwatering choices like ‘Coconut’ (Pelargonium grossularioides), ‘Ginger’ (Pelargonium ‘Torento’) ‘Strawberry’ (Pelargonium scarboroviae), and ‘Lime’ (Pelargonium nervosum).

These flexible plants are suited for seaside gardens, hot inland patios and everywhere in between.  Place scented geraniums where garden visitors will brushed them to release scent, like by a gate or path.  Long lasting, cut scented geraniums are superb in floral designs where their special aroma gives bouquets an extra oomph.

These low maintenance plants have edible tasty flowers and leaves - so toss flowers on fruit salads and on top of ice cream.  The large leaves, especially peppermint (Pelargonium tomentosum) are ideal for lining appetizer trays.  Adventurous cooks make scented geranium jelly and pound cake infused with these plant’s exotic scents.

- Aenne Carver is a Master Gardener, writer and lecturer. Visit her Web site, www.thethriftygardener.com.

Sources for scented geraniums

    • Pearson’s Gardens & Herb Farm, 1150 Beverly Drive, Vista. Phone (760) 726-0717.  They are open to the public seasonally, and by appointment, so call before you drive there.  However, someone is usually available Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Go to www.pearsonsgardens.com and click on shop online to view their extensive scented geranium list.

    • Summers Past Farms, 15602 Olde Highway 80, El Cajon. Phone (619) 390-1523.  The farm is open Wednesday-Saturday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.; on Sundays they open at 10 a,m.  They are closed Mondays and Tuesdays.  For more information, visit www.summerspastfarms.com.

    • City Farmer’s Nursery, 4832 Home Ave. at Euclid Ave., San Diego. Phone is (619) 284-6358. This nursery is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.; Sunday from 9 a.m. 3 p.m.  Visit www.cityfarmersnursery.com for additional details.