Pots of Pelargoniums Until Frost
Nothing says “summer” like a pot of scarlet pelargoniums on the porch. These old-fashioned plants with their scalloped, pungent leaves sport flowers that look like bright lollipops on thin stems. They can be grown in containers or set in garden beds and their distinctive upright form plays well off soft mounds of companion plants.
Pelargonium is the scientific name for what gardeners generally called geraniums; they have been popular in America since the late eighteenth century when Thomas Jefferson had plants shipped from France for his gardens at Monticello. In formal parks and gardens they are used in “bedding out” schemes, with blocks of red geraniums bordered by royal blue lobelia, and perhaps a tall pot of cannas in the middle as an exclamation point.
At home, more informal combinations add style and a blast of color throughout the summer. Plant these summer stunners so that all can see. Set a red zonal geranium – named for the dark band that runs through the leaves – in a pot along with a trailing selection of small-flowered petunias and a clump of the red hook grass (Unicina rubra). This follows the classic recipe for containers: something mounding, something spiky, something trailing. If it’s a large pot, multiply the number of each plant, instead of adding too many different plants.
Seek out the unusual at your local nurseries. Fancy-leaved pelargoniums bloom in loose sprays of flowers and come with variegated foliage. Look for ‘Happy Thoughts,’ which has cherry red flowers and cream-centered leaves; ‘Crystal Palace Gem’ with salmon-red flowers and chartreuse leaves; ‘Frank Headley,’ bubblegum-pink flowers and white leaf edges; and ‘Dolly Varden,’ red flowers with bands of white and maroon on the foliage.
Ivy geraniums spring from window boxes in Italy, and set against the creamy stone walls, they look magnificent. Create a bit of your own Italy by including an ivy geranium in planter boxes that run along deck railings or outside the kitchen window. Although their leaves are shaped like an ivy leaf, the resemblance ends there – ivy geraniums are not vines and will not try to swallow entire walls or run up the trunks of trees.
Pots of annuals can last for months with the proper care. Keep them looking good until the first frost by cutting off spent flowers and fertilizing containers every week or so with an organic blend. Use a dry product that you sprinkle on the soil or a liquid fish fertilizer that mixes in water. Keep an eye on soil moisture – pots can dry up in half a day in warm summer weather.
Plan for vacation by setting up a timed drip system for containers. If that’s far too organized, use this last-minute – but highly effective – method for watering while you’re away: a plastic wading pool. Set containers in the pool and fill with water that reaches a couple inches up the side of the pot. This short-term summer strategy will not drown the plants, because in warm weather, the water evaporates from the soil surface as well as the pool.
You will be on relaxing on a beach or hiking in the mountains while your container garden has its own tiny vacation, and when you return, those scarlet pelargoniums will be blooming to welcome you home.