Rosemary, thyme and lavender are everywhere in summer. There’s hardly a balcony without the ‘big three’ in its herb garden. What would it be like if, in addition, the delicious scent of chocolate could waft over balcony and terrace? If you could smell delicate roses without having to plant them, or if the aromas of apple, peppermint, lemon or balsam were in the air without needing a garden? There are plants which can do that. They are called scented geraniums.
Scented geraniums are among the modest stars on balconies and terraces. At first glance, they seem modest; they don’t reveal their secret with showy blossoms.
On the contrary: they keep it in their leaves. Only a gentle breeze or a soft touch releases their aroma. It surprises with sometimes fresh, sometimes spicy, lemony, balsamic or floral nuances of fragrance. Hundreds of varieties exist and each one has its own distinctive fragrance signature. The experts at Pelargonium for Europe (PfE) give tips on how to care for scented geraniums and show them off to their best advantage.
Why it's worth discovering scented geraniums
The geranium scent alphabet goes from A to Z, with everything from for apple-scented to lemon geranium and lots of species, hybrids and varieties worth discovering in between. Those scented geraniums with a lemon fragrance are said to help stop mosquito plagues on balconies and terraces. Those with a rose scent are said to have a mood-lifting effect. As an aromatic ingredient, scented geranium leaves add that certain something in the kitchen as well. They can be used in herbal teas, lemonades or salads – provided chemical pesticides have not been used. The aroma of all scented geraniums is created by essential oils. They are released when the tiny glandular hairs that cover their foliage are touched. The three best-known types of scented geranium are the rose geranium (Pelargonium graveolens), the peppermint geranium (Pelargonium tomentosum) and the lemon geranium (Pelargonium crispum).
Optimum positioning of scented geraniums
A good location makes it possible to brush past the foliage from time to time and breathe in the scent of the plants. Because many scented geraniums have a broad, upright growth habit, it’s best to plant them individually in attractive pots and arrange them in groups. On a flower staircase, for example, there would be room for several pots without the need for a huge balcony.
Original scented geranium varieties are only suitable for combinations to a limited extent. They still carry much of their wild heritage and have been selected more for their aromatic qualities than for a compact growth habit that can be combined. However, the commercial varieties have a decent growth habit and can be combined with other partners without any problems.
Caring for scented geraniums in summer
In summer, fragrant species need a sunny to semi-shady spot. A continuous supply of water is important, although occasionally drier soil will not spoil the fun of scented geraniums in the long term. High-quality balcony plant or geranium compost lays a good foundation for growth. As a rule, these types of growing media are pre-fertilised for six to eight weeks. After that, liquid fertiliser in half the usual concentration covers their nutrient requirements. Because they tend to have a broad growth habit, scented geraniums need plenty of space. When planting them, make sure there is enough space between the pots.
Tip: Regular pruning of the stems, which experts call ‘pruning’, leads to bushy growth.
Overwintering scented geraniums
Scented geraniums are among the plants that are worth overwintering. Frost-free at 5-10°C is how they prefer to spend the winter. Before putting the plants into an overwintering location (such as a greenhouse or conservatory), cut them back to a height of 15cm. It doesn’t matter that most of the leaves will be lost. In winter, water only when the soil has dried out completely. In March, remove any new shoots that have already appeared then, check the roots and generously cut out anything that has dried out or rotted, before repotting in fresh quality potting compost. Don’t worry, the plants can handle this. Then water them. In a warm spot of about 18°C with plenty of light, the geraniums will quickly grow new roots and leaves. After the last frost, you can put the plants outside.