Perennial Geraniums Make Great Groundcover Plants

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Perennial Geraniums Make Great Groundcover Plants
Sarah Browning, Nebraska Extension Educator
Perennial Geraniums Make Great Groundcover Plants
Purple cranesbill geraniums make great groundcover plants. Image by Pixabay.

Hardy geraniums are a great ground cover plant for sunny or partially shaded areas, but they are often confused with the beautiful annual geraniums found at the garden center in spring. Technically, annual geraniums are in the genus Pelargonium, while the hardy geraniums are true Geraniums. However, hardy geraniums are great perennial plants that deserve to be used more in Nebraska gardens.

Perennial geraniums are easy to grow. Most perform best in full sun to partial shade and prefer average, well-drained soil. If the location is too shady, plants will become taller, more open, less compact and they'll bloom less.

Deadhead spent flowers to keep plants looking nice. In spring, remove any dead foliage to get plants ready for another growing season.

Garden-worthy Geraniums
The Geranium genus contains over 250 different species, but here are a few All those mentioned below are hardy to at least Zone 4.

Image of 'Wargrave Pink' geranium flowers. G. endressii 'Wargrave Pink', commonly known as Endress' geranium, is a vigorous plant with salmon-pink flowers held above the mounded foliage. The leaves are 3-5 inch wide, shiny green and deeply divided. Plants flower from early summer through fall. Height 15-18 inches.

'Wargrave Pink' flower pictured left, image by Magnus Manske - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

G. himalayense 'Gravetye' is also known as lilac geranium. Plants grow 12 inches in height. This cultivar is more compact and less unruly than others in the species. In fall, the foliage turns bright orange and red. Plants have the largest flowers, 2 inches across, in a bright blue coloration with reddish centers and dark veins.

G. sanguineum, is commonly known as bloody cranesbill and is the most often planted type of perennial geranium in Nebraska gardens. Plants reach 9-12 inches in height. 'Album' has clear white flowers and grows 8-12 inches tall. 'Alpenglow' has rose-red flowers on 8 inch plants. 'Ankum's Pride' has pink flowers with darker veins. G. sanguineum var. striatum is often sold under the name 'Lancastriense' or 'Prostratum'. It has a compact growth habit of 6-8 inches tall, with light pink flowers and crimson veins.

Picture of Biokovo Geranium'Biokovo' Geranium
The Perennial Plant Association (PPA) is a professional horticulture trade organization dedicated to improving the perennial plant industry by providing education to enhance the production, promotion and utilization of perennial plants. Each year PPA selects and promotes the Perennial Plant of the Year. Selection of plants is simple; PPA members nominate plants for consideration and then vote for the best plant, usually out of three or four plants on the ballot. Plants are nominated based on several criteria, such as suitability to a wide range of climatic conditions, multiple seasons of ornamental interest, low maintenance, pest resistance, availability, and ease of propagation.

'Biokovo' geranium, Geranium x cantabrigiense 'Biokovo', is this year's selection, and it also known as cranesbill Biokovo. It is a naturally occurring cross between G. dalmaticum and G. macrorrhizum, found growing in the Biokovo Mountains in the Dalmatia region of present day Croatia.

'Biokovo' geranium pictured right, image from the Missouri Botanical Garden. 

Both parent Geraniums, G. dalmaticum (4-8" height) and G. macrorrhizum (15-18" height), are low growing, ground cover plants. Biokovo geranium follows in their footsteps and makes an excellent 6-10" high ground cover.

Image of bloody cranesbill flowers, Geranium sanguineum.

It blooms in late spring with 5-petaled white flowers, about 3/4 inches across. The flowers have a pink blush and darker pink stamens, giving the effect of a blushing pink geranium. The foliage is medium green and is semi-evergreen. In fall, the leaves provide a scarlet to orange coloration.

A related cultivar, G. x cantabrigiense 'Karmina' has deeper red flowers, almost raspberry in color. Reddish fall foliage coloration.

If you've been looking for a pretty groundcover plant, give hardy geranium a try!

Featured image from Pixabay. Image left of Geranium sanguineum, bloody cranesbill flowers, picture from Missouri Botanical Garden. 

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