- Hardy geranium, cranesbill (Geranium)
- Growing Geranium (Cranesbill)
- Perennial Geraniums – Front of the Border Heroes
- Will the real Geranium Please Stand Up?
- Geraniums in the Garden
- Our favorite Geraniums
- Geranium sanguineum ‘Spinners’ (Cranesbill ‘Spinners’)
- By Any Other Name…
- Cultivation and Propagation
- Nurturing Nature
- Geranium Plant Facts
- No-Fuss Blooms
Hardy geranium, cranesbill (Geranium)
Hardy geraniums – sometimes referred to as cranesbills – are among the most popular garden perennials. And it’s easy to see why. They’re easy to grow, take a wide range of conditions, are tough and need little in the way of care and attention.
The flower colour ranges through strong or subtle shades of violets, blues, pinks, magenta and white, and many have attractive veining in a contrasting stronger colour. Many varieties flower for months on end throughout summer and well into autumn, and some start flowering as early as late spring. The flowers are generally quite small, but produced in huge abundance to almost cover the plants when in full bloom.
The hand-like foliage of many varieties is also highly attractive in its own right, producing various quilting, veining, and colour blotching. And, as many of the commonly grown varieties are low growing, their dense carpet-like foliage makes them good ground cover plants.
They are cold and frost hardy, so shouldn’t be confused with the very closely related pelargoniums, which aren’t and are used mainly as summer bedding plants.
How to grow hardy geraniums
There are varieties that will grow in full sun, partial shade and even quite dense shade. As a general rule, they tend to do best in early morning and afternoon sun, although some, such as Geranium sanguineum and Geranium pratense and their varieties thrive in full sun, providing there is adequate moisture in the soil.
Geraniums need a well-drained, fertile, and moist soil.
Hardy geranium varieties
There are around 70 species and 700 varieties of hardy geraniums, so there’s at least one for every garden, every gardener and every situation!
This is the top 10 as recommended by the Royal Horticultural Society:
- Geranium Ann Folkard
- Geranium (Cinereum Group) Ballerina
- Geranium clarkei Kashmir White
- Geranium Dilys
- Geranium Mavis Simpson
- Geranium Orion
- Geranium pratense Mrs Kendall Clark
- Geranium x oxonianum Wageningen
- Geranium renardii
- Geranium Rozanne (Gerwat)/Jolly Bee
Planting hardy geraniums
Hardy geraniums can be planted at any time of year, although planting from autumn to late winter will ensure the plants establish well and will flower prolifically in their first year. Bare-rooted plants are also available from mail order suppliers for planting from late autumn to late winter.
Dig a good sized hole, big enough to easily accommodate the rootball. Add a layer of organic matter – such as compost or planting compost – to the base of the hole and fork it in.
Place the rootball in the planting hole and adjust the planting depth so that it is planted at the same depth as it was originally growing and the top of the rootball is level with the soil surface.
Mix in more organic matter with the excavated soil and fill in the planting hole. Water in well, apply a granular general feed over the soil around the tree and add a 5-7.5cm (2-3in) deep mulch of well-rotted garden compost or bark chippings around the root area to conserve soil moisture and help keep down weeds.
Suggested planting locations and garden types
Flower borders and beds, patios, containers, city and courtyard gardens, cottage and informal gardens.
How to care for hardy geraniums
Most hardy geraniums are easy-going plants that don’t need much in the way of attention.
Water well during the first year whenever the weather is dry. In subsequent years, watering during prolonged dry periods may be needed to keep plants growing well.
Mulching around the plants in late spring will help to conserve soil moisture and help keep down weeds.
For the best displays, feed in early March with a controlled-release feed.
After the first early flush of blooms has faded, plants may start to look untidy with scrappy growth. Most benefit from a trim after the first flush of flowers, which freshens up the foliage and also encourages further flowers. Simply go over the plants with a pair of shears or secateurs to remove the old, untidy growth, or harder if necessary to 5-7.5cm (2-3in) above ground level.
Then give them a feed with a liquid plant food to encourage new growth and further flushes of flowers. Trimming back and feeding can be repeated after every flowering to extend the flowering period of many varieties well into autumn.
In late autumn, the foliage of most geraniums will fade with the onset of colder weather. Cut off any remaining stems and leaves to tidy up the plants, and they’ll produce fresh new growth the following spring.
Hardy geranium plants grow larger over time, spreading and developing into big clumps. These can be divided by cutting them in half or quarters with a sharp spade. This can be done in autumn, or in spring as they start into growth. Divide them every 3 to 5 years to keep them growing and flowering strongly.
Spring, Summer, Autumn
Spring, Summer, Autumn
Full shade, Partial shade, Full sun
Chalky, Clay, Loamy, Sandy
Moist but well-drained
Between 13-90cm (5-36in) depending on variety
Up to 90cm (3ft) depending on variety
Growing Geranium (Cranesbill)
Latin Name Pronunciation: jer-ay’nee-um
Geranium is a variable genus of hardy perennials that offers up profusely blooming plants for many situations. The lobed foliage can be as interesting as the flowers, which come in vibrant as well as more subdued shades of true blue, lavender, pinks and white. These plants bear little resemblance to the tender container plants known as Scented Geraniums, Zonal Geraniums, and Martha Washington Geraniums (these belong to the same family, but a different genus, Pelargonium).
Light/Watering: Light shade to full sun in the North and part shade in the South will allow these plants to reach peak performance. Most adapt well to short periods of dry conditions, and all respond to regular watering. Geranium sanguineum and its varieties tolerate drought, especially in cooler climates.
Fertilizer/Soil and pH: Geraniums thrive in average, well-drained soils that are slightly acid to neutral and will benefit from a light application of balanced, granular fertilizer in early spring. Short, dry periods are tolerated by most.
Pests/Diseases: No serious pests or diseases occur in this hardy group.
Reflowering: With the exception of Bigroot Geranium (G. macrorrhizum) and Bloody Cranesbill (G. sanguineum) varieties, Geraniums have a tendency to sprawl after bloom. Cut plants back hard, to 2-3 inches above soil level, after the first wave of bloom. They will respond with a fresh crop of foliage that looks attractive through the season, and possible sporadic reblooming depending on variety.
Dividing/Transplanting: Cranesbill rarely needs dividing; it is possible with some plants to separate out divisions and replant in spring or early fall. Transplant with care in early spring.
End-of-Season Care: Cut back in autumn after several killing frosts, if desired.
Calendar of Care — Geranium
Early Spring: Apply a light application of balanced or slow-release fertilizer or side-dress with compost and organic amendments when new growth appears. Supplement nitrogen during periods of prolonged rain to counter natural leaching. Water well if it is unseasonably dry as most prefer an evenly moist soil. Transplant now, if needed, and in some varieties, small pieces with roots may be removed from the edges of the plant for propagation.
Mid-Spring: Taller or sprawling varieties benefit by support with brushy twigs or interwoven, slender stakes.
Late Spring: Water if extended dry periods occur.
Summer: Groom plants by removing yellow or dead leaves. If plants are overtaking their allotted space, cut back to three inches; the new foliage will look lovely for the rest of the season.
Fall: Cut foliage back to soil level. After the ground is frozen, mulch to protect plants from heaving out of the soil in winter.
Perennial Geraniums – Front of the Border Heroes
One of our favorites in the mixed border, these fragrant and versatile beauties willliven up any perennial garden.
Geranium sanguineum “New Hampshire Purple” forms a mound of lush foliage and flowers
Geraniums are frequently used by garden designers, but have somehow been overlooked by most homeowners planting their own gardens. Their dense mounds of lush foliage start early and last long after other foliage has faded. White, pink or purple flowers bloom abundantly in May and June. Some varieties even bloom into October! Foliage is evergreen in some species giving them year-round interest. With a wide range of species and cultivars, there is a geranium that will thrive in almost any northern garden.
Will the real Geranium Please Stand Up?
When most of us hear the word “geranium”, we think of the bright red flowers of the annual “geraniums” we saw as potted plants at our grandmother’s house.
These annual plants are actually pelargonium, not true geraniums
This ubiquitous house plant is actually a pelargonium, a cousin of the true perennial geraniums we’ll introduce you to here.Perennial geraniums (actual members of the genus Geranium) are quite different plants. We’re going to introduce you to a group of lovely, versatile, and fragrant garden perennials that are a must-have for any mixed border garden.
Geraniums in the Garden
The genus Geranium includes over 400 species (sometimes called “Cranesbill”) and endless cultivated varieties.We’ll introduce you to the few cultivars that will really perform in your garden.Most geraniums are low growing, mounding plants that are at home in the front of the border.Some are semi-evergreen and most have foliage that has a unique spicy scent.Flowers range from white to pinks and purples.
Geranium sanguineum “Max Frei”
So, why do we love geraniums so much?Here’s a short list of what makes them so valuable:1) Fragrant foliage that looks good all season long, 2) Blooms that are numerous, long lasting and reliable, 3) They grow vigorously in a wide variety of conditions and 4) Deer don’t like them!This is a list not many perennials can duplicate.Geraniums even look great in mass plantings or by themselves mixed with complimenting perennials.
While these little beauties are easy to care for and almost fool proof in the garden, there are a few things to watch out for.Geraniums have been so cultivated in recent years, there are some underachieving cultivars on the market.It seems the market has drifted towards creating more interesting flowers and has sacrificed habit and foliage along the way.The major problem with some of the “popular” cultivars is that they tend to either get too tall, and collapse or, they develop a lanky creeping habit that needs frequent trimming.We’ll guide you to the tried and true varieties that really work starting with some of our very favorites.
Our favorite Geraniums
Geranium sanguineum “New HampshirePurple” – This is an old standard among the perennial geraniums. It’s become a little hard to find these days due to the onslaught of new cultivars flooding the market, but it’s worth the effort to find it.
Flowers of Geranium sanguineum “New Hampshire Purple”
“New Hampshire Purple” is one of our all-time favorite perennials.This geranium quickly creates mounds of deep cut foliage 12-18 inches high and is covered in magenta flowers from late May to late June. It even flowers sporadically after that, until frost.’New Hampshire Purple” prefers sun, but it can also take some shade.It will clump generously, so it is very easy to divide and spread around the garden (but don’t worry, it’s never invasive).New clumps grow quickly into flowering mounds.The only drawback to “New Hampshire Purple” is that it sometimes gets a little too tall and will collapse a bit in a good rain.If this happens, don’t worry, you can just wait a few days for it to recover or you can give it a trim and within a week it will be flushing out new growth.
Geranium sanguineum “Max Frei” – This is more or less a compact version of “New Hampshire Purple”. It prefers sun and
Geranium sanguineum “Max Frei”
produces virtually the same magenta flowers, but it grows much more slowly and stays a compact 6-12 inches.This means that you never have to worry about it collapsing in the rain, but you will also need to be more patient if you want to divide it and spread it around the garden.If filling in large areas is your goal, then stick with “New Hampshire Purple”.If you want a more tidy, compact plant that never looks messy, then go with “Max Frei”.
Geranium macrorrhizum “Bevan’s Variety” – This geranium prefers some shade but can tolerate some sun and even dense shade.“Bevan’s Variety” is typically considered a ground cover,
Geranium macrorrhizum “Bevans Variety”
but it can stand on its own as a perennial in a mixed border.It also looks great in mass plantings in the shade.It has a compact habit of lush, semi-evergreen foliage that has a strong spicy fragrance.Rose pink flowers are borne on stems that rise slightly above the mounding foliage for an elegant effect.Bloom time is late May to early June.The bloom period is much shorter than the Geranium sanguineum varieties, but the beautiful foliage more than makes up for its short bloom time.You never have to worry about “Bevan’s Variety” looking messy or unkempt.It always looks tidy and lush, even after the first few frosts. It also divides very easily and grows quickly. For shady spots, this is the geranium we suggest.
Geranium X cantabrigiense “Biokovo” and “Karmina” – These geraniums are similar to Geranium macrorrhizum “Bevan’s Variety”, but the foliage is smaller and
Geranium X cantabrigiense “Biokovo”
tighter, forming very dense, fragrant green mounds of about 6 to 8 inches. “Biokovo” has white flowers, while “Karmina” has rose pink flowers.Otherwise, they are virtually identical. Bloom time is long, from late May to late June. “Biokovo” and “Karmina” can grow in both full sun and part shade and perform equally well.Like most geraniums, they divide very easily and grow quickly.They look great on rock walls or in mass plantings.
Geranium X cantabrigiense “Karmina”
Note : We have found the cultivar Geranium X cantabrigiense “St. Ola” to be virtually identical to “Biokovo”, so you can use them interchangeably.
Geranium X “Rozanne” – This is geranium is undoubtedly the most popular in recent years.Its fame is due to its unusually long and prolific bloom period.“Rozanne” produces a profusion of purple flowers with white centers from late May to mid October.It’s truly a marvel among its peers.However, it does have a few serious drawbacks.It grows extremely fast and can become long and leggy almost approaching the behavior of a vine.It’s also rumored to have a relatively short life of just a few years.It does best in full sun, but flowers almost anywhere.If you want lots and lots of flowers, then “Rozanne” may be for you.Just be prepared to either enjoy the messy, leggy habit or trim it regularly to keep it in check.
Geranium “Rozanne” blooms from May to October
You will find many, many more varieties of perennial geraniums on the market, but these few will fill almost any garden need and will be reliable and relatively easy to find.Many newer varieties will have more interesting flowers, but may not be as vigorous.Try geraniums in mass plantings, or on the edges of stone walls.They look great almost anywhere.And, more importantly, they look great all season long.Not many perennials bloom in May and still look good for the rest of the season.They are a must for every garden with deer problems.Geraniums are among the few perennials I have never seen a deer eat!
So, go ahead and try out one (or more!) of these geranium varieties in your garden.You won’t be disappointed!
Contributed by Paul Orpello, Compton Horticulturist, Morris Arboretum
One plant that never ceases to impress me is the Geranium. It has been a noteworthy garden perennial for over a hundred years. Personally, I don’t know if it is the engaging floral display or the captivating primal scent. There is something about its magical sultry allure that draws me to put one in almost every garden design I create.
Geranium, or cranesbill, has more than 400 species. Its botanical name comes from the ancient Greek, for crane, due to the resemblance of the fruit capsule to a crane’s bill. Not to be confused with the genus Pelargonium, whose common name is also ‘geranium’ but used as an annual bedding plant. For the purpose of this article, I am referring to the genus Geranium or ‘hardy geranium’.
Hardy geraniums come in a variety of heights, forms, and colors. There is one to suit almost any garden. With dissect, or cut-leaf, foliage they are generally low mounding in shape and come in shades of pink, purple, or white. Similar to most early summer flowering perennials, most species will benefit from a hard cut back immediately after the first flowering.
Geranium sanguineum, bloody cranesbill, is a species that has rightfully gained its own attention with American gardeners. G. sanguineum is 6-12” in height and can spread up to 18-24” in width. It is tolerant of a wider range of soil conditions and temperatures than other Geranium species. Blooming from May –August, these plants are superb in the front of the border or used in masses. G. sanguineum boasts a fantastic free-flowering floral display and excellent mounding growth habit. Though its rich magenta colored flowers can be intimidating to some, I find their flamboyantly flashy flowers absolutely outrageous if paired properly with the right combination of plants. Their exceptional drought tolerance keeps them on my list of essential full sun edging plants.
The variety of G. sanguineum cultivars in the trade can make it a bit overwhelming. While the straight species is an excellent garden worthy plant in its own right, there are a few cultivars I find extremely useful in the garden. G. sanguineum ‘Album’ offers a welcomed white flower form. Try “newer” cultivars like ‘New Hampshire Purple’ and ‘Tiny Monster’. Their larger flower size, aggressive growth, and purple flower shades are an extremely welcomed improvement. Geranium x ‘Dilys’, an interspecific hybrid (G. sanguineum x G. procurrens), touts the same great characteristics as the G. sanguineum cultivars with increased spreading and weaving capabilities creating a seemingly endless free-flowering summer display.
To find Geranium sanguineum at Morris Arboretum, visit the Pennock Garden in the heat of the summer. A cultivar I have used with great success; ‘John Elsley’, named after the horticulturist of Wayside Gardens, can be found interplanted amongst Lavandula x ‘England’. This splendid combination is just one of many featuring geranium here at the Morris Arboretum. Visit our displays for inspiration and try a Geranium you favor in your own garden this season! Happy gardening…
Geranium sanguineum ‘Spinners’ (Cranesbill ‘Spinners’)
Geranium sanguineum ‘Spinners’
‘Spinners’ _ ‘Spinners’ is a herbaceous perennial with green leaves and intense purple-blue flowers in spring and summer.
Clump-forming, Mat Forming
Purple, Blue in Spring; Purple, Blue in Summer
Bright-green in Summer
Capsid bug , Rose leaf-rolling sawfly , Vine weevil
Remove stems once flowered and old leaves to encourage the production of new leaves and flowers.
Basal cuttings, Division
Geranium sanguineum ‘Spinners’ (Cranesbill ‘Spinners’) will reach a height of 0.8m and a spread of 0.6m after 2-5 years.
Best planted in most moderately fertile soil (apart from waterlogged) in either full sun or partial shade. Shade is tolerated.
Chalky, Clay, Loamy, Sandy (will tolerate most soil types)
Moist but well-drained, Well-drained
Acid, Alkaline, Neutral
Partial Shade, Full Sun
North, South, East, West
Zone 9, Zone 8, Zone 7, Zone 6
Cranesbills, or hardy geraniums, are perennial members of the Geraniaceae family, one of many flowering genera within the family tree, which includes geraniums as well as close family members pelargonium and erodium.
Native to temperate regions around the world, these cheery plants can be found nodding in mixed woodlands, meadows, prairies, alpine meadows, and rocky slopes.
With a particularly heavy population in the regions of the eastern Mediterranean, it’s no surprise that its name comes from the Greek geranos for crane. And cranesbill is Old English for the appearance of the long, beak-like fruit capsule that forms on some varieties.
Photo by Lorna Kring
A mounding plant, the dark green leaves have a light, citrusy fragrance and a broadly circular shape, with five-petaled flowers in shades of blue, pink, purple, and white.
By Any Other Name…
This hardy garden classic is not to be confused with pelargonium. A close cousin in the Geraniaceae family, many of us think pelargoinium is the bedding plant we call geranium; but cranesbills are the true species in the geranium genus.
These plants are not to be confused with pelargonium, pictured here with red blossoms. Photo by Lorna Kring.
From the woodlands they call home, they’ve become residents of gardens worldwide, and prefer an environment similar to their original habitat.
This makes them ideal candidates for any areas that receive early morning sunlight with afternoon shade, or for areas with open shade from tall trees.
Given the right conditions, these garden stalwarts will put on a low-key display of charming pastel beauty from spring until autumn. And many also offer a second season of interest with foliage in bold autumn colors of burnished bronzes, browns, reds, and yellows.
These aren’t the flashiest of plants, and you probably won’t use them as the focal point in a bedding area. But few other plants can fill the position of “best supporting perennial” as perfectly.
Cranesbill has the height to fill the second tier behind smaller border plants, and it’s a natural flanking taller shrubs. It can also be used successfully to fill in shady spots, for underplanting trees and rhododendrons, as an edging plant, and as a mainstay in naturalized settings with mixed wildflowers.
For natural areas, Geranium maculatum is a woodland geranium native to eastern North America, and G. pratense is a meadow species – with the double-flowered cultivar ‘Plenum violaceum’ receiving the Royal Horticulture Society’s coveted Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
Cranesbill geraniums also make a good camouflage plant for covering any low-lying eyesores. Their extensive growth can be slightly trained to hide offending material, but their soft form won’t cause damage, or make accessing the spot difficult.
Cultivars of the low-growing G. sanguineum, such as ‘Ankum’s Pride,’ grow with terrific vigor for filling in problem areas, and for use as a ground cover.
Photo by Lorna Kring
A welcoming plant for pollinators, they’re largely pest and disease free – however, on occasion, they will suffer from powdery mildew, leaf spot, or bouts of rust.
Should these problems arise, ensure the growing area has sufficient drainage – they don’t like roots standing in soggy soil. And provide adequate air circulation, as they like to feel a breeze on their cheeks!
Cultivation and Propagation
Carefree in growth, this pretty plant can handle almost any soil. It prefers earth that’s rich and loamy with humus, a bit on the moist side, with good drainage – not waterlogged or overly saturated.
Cranesbills thrive in the light shade that comes from high treetops, and will be most successful in locations that provide part shade or full morning sun.
A long-living perennial, growth is slow in the first couple of years. But once a mound is formed, these plants put on a show that lasts from late spring until autumn.
The plants will lightly self-seed. Photo by Lorna Kring.
They also benefit from regular deadheading. By mid-summer, growth in some cultivars may be lagging – and your plump, pretty mound can look somewhat spent and leggy.
To rejuvenate, cut the mound back by one-half to encourage new flowers and prolong the season. Do this in one fell swoop, or shear two halves of the plant about two weeks apart to maintain some flowers while new growth forms.
Propagation may be done by collecting seed, stem rooting in water, semi-ripe wood cuttings in summer, or by root division in autumn or spring.
Collect seeds throughout the summer, then sow in spring or early summer for flowers the following summer.
Seeds may be collected mid-summer. Photo by Lorna Kring
Deadheading keeps the plant compact, but you’ll also lose seedheads this way. If you intend to start plants from seed, allow some pods to remain on the plant to mature in place.
Stem rooting allows some plants to develop roots in water – and cranesbill is one of those plants.
Remember all those teacups with plant cuttings on your Gran’s windowsill? There’s a good chance they were geraniums!
For strong, healthy roots, use a sharp knife to cut the stem just below the node where leaves attach to the stem. Trim off the lower leaves, leaving the top two or three in place. Remove any flowers as well – energy needs to be directed to manufacturing roots, not seeds.
Photo by Lorna Kring
Place several cuttings in an opaque container of water, and change the water every few days or as needed. An opaque container helps to protect and shade delicate new roots, which usually form in 3-4 weeks.
Place the container, with cuttings, on a bright windowsill or in a sheltered spot in the garden that gets a few hours of gentle sunlight each day, anywhere from 2 to 6 hours. Morning light or dappled shade works best.
Once healthy roots develop to about 1-2 inches, plant as for stem cuttings below.
Semi-ripe wood is selected from this year’s growth. The base of the cuttings will be older and hard, while the tip is still tender and green. Semi-ripe wood can be collected anytime from mid- summer until mid-autumn.
Place stem cuttings and root divisions in small pots with a light, sandy potting mix. You can also tuck them into a nursery bed for 1 to 2 years, or until they are mature enough to go into the ground.
For a flowering perennial, a balanced fertilizer of 10-20-10 can be applied in early spring, just as new foliage begins to show.
Give your plants a hard shearing mid-summer to maintain a compact form. Photo by Lorna Kring
And if your plant gets a good shearing in mid-summer, re-apply the fertilizer just as new growth begins to emerge.
As with most plants that enjoy some shade and moist soil, avoid over-fertilizing, as this is a main cause of sprawling, lanky growth.
Geranium Plant Facts
- Prefer light shade for best growth and flower production.
- A moist soil rich in humus is their growing medium of choice.
- Once established, they require little care outside of regular watering.
- Reliably winter hardy in Zones 4-9
- Annual growth 12-20 inches in height, with a spread of 18-24 inches.
- Seeds can be started in spring or summer for flowers the following summer.
- Many varieties have handsome autumn foliage.
- Will die back in winter.
Where To Buy
You can buy the top-performing ‘Rozanne’ variety online.
Named the Royal Horticulture Society’s “Plant of the Centenary,” it’s available from Nature Hills Nursery in 5-inch pots.
G. Pusilum ‘Blue Orchid’ Seeds
Or, you can start from scratch with seeds, available from Amazon.
The cranesbill geranium is everything we love in hardworking perennials!
Care and feeding requirements are simple, it works in multiple garden locations, and it reliably puts on a show of sweetly colored blossoms all summer long.
Photo by Lorna Kring
Just give it regular water, some afternoon shade, and a good shearing if it gets a bit too leggy. Other than that, this hardy plant stands on its own – making it a welcome addition to any garden!
What about you readers, any questions about the cranesbill you’d like answered? Drop us a line in the comments below. And don’t forget to check out this article on more of our favorite fragrant flowers and shrubs.
Photos by Lorna Kring, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Nature Hills Nursery and Amazon. Uncredited photos: .
About Lorna Kring
A writer, artist, and entrepreneur, Lorna is also a long-time gardener who got hooked on organic and natural gardening methods at an early age. These days, her vegetable garden is smaller to make room for decorative landscapes filled with color, fragrance, art, and hidden treasures. Cultivating and designing the ideal garden spot is one of her favorite activities – especially for gathering with family and friends for good times and good food (straight from the garden, of course)!