I grew up surrounded by geraniums. Late each autumn my nonna and my mom would take geranium slips and place them in jars of water. Once rooted, they made their way to small pots where they would spend the remainder of the winter in our windowed porch. Colours or varieties were usually labelled after their source. PO red were from a slip taken from our old post office on Bernard Avenue, in Kelowna. BK were a two-toned variety taken from Burger King, of an undisclosed location. A swap with neighbours always gave new varieties a place in our gardens. One such geranium was labelled AB (American Beauty) by my mom. It was actually a geranium that my Nonna grew, and that I still propagate, at least 60 years later.
After visiting Italy in 2000 and in 2017, I can now attest to their wide spread culture in Italian gardens. Geraniums are low-water consumers, so they grow well in pots on balconies and in flower-boxes under windows. There are over 400 types of flowers that we refer to as ‘geraniums’. These ‘geraniums’ came to Europe, from South Africa, by Dutch traders during the early 18th century. Many people confused the new ‘geraniums’ with the wild geraniums (Cranesbill) that grew throughout Europe. These new geraniums belong to the genus Pelargonium, whereas the true, wild geranium belongs to the genus Geranium. The Cranesbill, wild geraniums, are year-round hardy in Kelowna, whereas the Pelargonium geraniums that are now prevalent in Italian homes need yearly propagation.
I no longer use the “rooting in water” method of propagation. Rather, I have a two pronged routine, both using sterilized potting soil. Just before the first frost, I begin by cutting down all the old foliage. I sort through these cuttings and remove a number of slips. A slip is a growth that joins the main stem, just above a leaf node. These are not cut, rather snapped off. Snapping them off at the leaf node, leaves the active rooting area attached. Cutting them off, eliminates this natural rooting area. I leave these slips exposed to air for several hours to a day, to allow them to callous over. The slips are then hosed down to eliminate any pests being brought indoors for the winter. They are placed in new or a sterilized potting mix and watered very sparingly. These new geranium plants are given away, swapped with neighbours or brought to our Garden Club plant sale next spring.
The second routine for me, is to dig out the main plant roots… these will be my new plants for next year. All dead or older stems are removed, leaving several of the younger stems for my new plant. To prevent insects from coming along, all soil is removed from the plants. Cutting back the roots and removing any of the older woody roots ensures my geraniums continue to stay young and thrive. The plants are then repotted in soil and kept watered only enough to keep them alive. I am fortunate to have a small greenhouse attached to my workshop, but this method also works in a room with grow lights or even in garages with little or no light that is kept just above freezing. By next spring I will have well established pots of geraniums ready to be placed outside and I will also have many new slip geraniums ready to go.
There are many traditions, and much folk lore associated with geraniums. A single potted geranium, presented to someone as a housewarming gift, represents well-wishes for happiness in life. Geraniums have healing properties and reduce stress, so they are often associated with good health. Geraniums are also the birth flower for the astrological sign of Scorpio… perhaps that is why this Scorpio has such a fondness for these beautiful flowers.
Most lovely things by Annie Diamond, July 23, 2014
Facts about geraniums that gardeners should know, by Southern Living editors, April 11, 2022
The meaning of a red geranium by Danielle Smyth, April 29, 2021
Geranium flower meaning by Sara Trimble, May 1, 2022
Geranium ‘Patricia’ (Cranesbill) from Gardenia Creating Gardens
Life-long Gardener Don Rampone shares his tips and advice for gardening