Geranium / Cranesbill Planting Guide

Whether you call them perennial geraniums (this side of the pond) or cranesbills (Europe), these are plants that give their all and grow beautifully across the country. They’re dependable, low maintenance, not the food of choice for insects, rabbits or deer, and the flower from spring through frost. Easy to love.

Choosing a Growing Site

Geraniums do well in full sun to partial shade sites. In the hottest parts of the country, select a site that enjoys some shade in the afternoon. Geraniums are excellent choices for use as flowering, weed-chocking groundcovers in areas that are partially sunny and partially shady.

Soil Prep

Average, moderately fertile soil with medium amounts of moisture will be fine for geraniums. Soil that drains poorly and allows water to puddle will encourage root rot. Adding a slow release fertilizer when you plant can be helpful if your soil is a bit lean.

When to Plant Cranesbills

Plant geraniums outdoors in spring when frost danger has past and soil has warmed. These perennial plants can manage cold temperatures fine when establish; it’s just during their settling in period that they need protection from freezing. As with most other dormant perennials, planting as soon as the soil is warm is recommended.

Geraniums are sometimes available in the fall for autumn planting. The plants require 6-8 weeks to establish roots before hard winter freezes occur in order to survive their first winter, so timing is a consideration for autumn planting.

How to Plant Geraniums

Your geraniums will be shipped bareroot, in a dormant state. Dormancy means the plant is not in actively growing; it’s been held in a cool, dark setting similar to winter garden conditions and is “sleeping”. Bareroot means that the soil has been washed from the roots; there is no risk of introducing any soil-borne diseases into your garden, and the plants are lighter and cleaner to ship.

When you plant your geraniums they’ll break dormancy and “wake up”. Roots will start growing in a few days and top growth will be visible in 1-3 weeks. Fall planted geraniums will develop roots in the cool, but not frozen, soil and will sprout top growth in spring.

Dig a hole 6-8” across and deep, and mix in a couple scoops of compost. (A few scoops is good, lots more can be too much and not good.) Fan out the roots in your planting hole and place the crown (area from which leaves will sprout) level with the garden soil. Refill around plant with soil, tap down to eliminate any big air pockets and water well. Space your plants so they have enough room to grow and spread a bit. Allow 12-18” between plants.

During the Season

Geraniums need very little care during the growing season. There is no need to deadhead. Feel free to snip side branches to shape or control spread.

Insider Tips

  1. Giving your geraniums a haircut mid-summer will tidy up the plants and will prompt a fresh burst a growth and early fall flowers. With a pair of ordinary shears, trim 2-4”, shaping as you go. Okay, maybe there’s a reason you’re not a hairdresser. Not to worry, it’ll grow back.
  2. Perennial geraniums spread by seed and by rhizomes. These plants are not aggressive and can be easily kept in check by trimming or pulling unwanted plants.
  3. Open form rose bushes make great partners for cranebills. The plant’s forms and colors tend to be complimentary. Perennial geraniums are also excellent partners for ferns and astilbes.
  4. Geraniums are also excellent choices for spilling over rock walls and path edges.
shop cranesbills
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Success Snapshot

Light: Full sun to partial sun

Soil: Average

Depth: Plant level with garden soil

Water: Average moisture

Uses: Containers, borders, foundations and walkways

Tip: Site to soften stone pathways

GUIDE: Geranium/Cranesbill Planting Guide

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