by Don Janssen, Extension Educator
Geraniums are excellent plants for patio containers
For summer long color in a sunny garden, window box, hanging basket or patio container, the National Garden Bureau says it's hard to beat geraniums. They're hard to beat but easy to care for. A site that receives at least six hours of full sun daily, a well drained soil, and regular watering and fertilizing are the keys to good luck with geraniums.
Choosing which ones to plant may be the most difficult part. Single, semi-double and double-flowered cultivars in white, pink, salmon, red, lavender, rose, coral and bicolors; plants with scented leaves and fragrant flowers; ivy-leaved types ideal for hanging baskets and window boxes; and plant heights ranging from dwarf to tall are some of the options.
Look for healthy, dark green leaves free of spots, yellowing or pests, and compact plants. Plant them at the same depth or a little deeper than they were growing in the cell pack or pot. Geraniums in beds and borders should be spaced 8 to 12 inches apart. In containers, they combine well with dusty miller, lobelia, petunias and other sun-loving annuals.
Geraniums prefer a rich soil with good drainage and a fair amount of organic matter. Heavy feeders, they'll need fertilizing every two to four weeks with a balanced water-soluble fertilizer such as 10-10-10 or 20-20-20. An alternative is to apply a timed-release fertilizer at planting.
Water regularly during dry weather. Check the soil in containers daily and water if it's dry to a depth of 2 inches or more. Mulching plants in beds and borders will help conserve soil moisture and control weeds.
Geraniums are relatively pest free, but a couple of diseases can become garden problems.
Botrytis, an airborne fungal disease that appears when days are warm, nights are cool and plants are dripping with dew in the morning. It causes flowers to mold and turn to brown mush. At the first sign of moldy flowers, remove the whole blossom or, if necessary, the whole plant.
Xanthomonas, a bacterial disease, can be carried into the garden on infected plants. One of the early symptoms is leaf spotting; lower leaves eventually turn yellow and then brown but don't drop off. The plant then wilts as the bacteria plug up the plant's vascular system, preventing water from moving up the stems from the roots. Then the plant dies. The only treatment is to dispose of infected plants.
As fall approaches, plants can be lifted from the garden, cut back and potted, or cuttings can be started for growing indoors over the winter. To encourage compact growth and promote flowering use fluorescent fixtures to supplement natural light.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office