How to grow Pelargoniums also known as non hardy Geraniums

Pelargoniums are non hardy garden plants often planted out as summer bedding. Commonly referred to as Geraniums, they are in fact different to the Hardy Geranium. Pelargoniums mostly originate from South Africa, and ideal growing conditions are dry, hot and sunny. 

Whilst we often see just a few in the garden centres, there are in fact 6 distinct types of Pelargonium. Angel, Ivy-leaved, Regal, Scented-leaved, Unique and Zonal. The Scented-leaved varieties are interesting, when the leaves are rubbed they emit a scent. There are many scents such as apple, cinnamon, citrus, lemon, lime, eucalyptus, ginger having really pungent leaves. Ivy leaved Pelargoniums tend to trail, Zonal are upright with attractive leaf markings, Angel and Regal are also upright varieties.

All Pelargoniums flower best in a really sunny spot, and will tolerate dry conditions bordering on drought should it arise. Pelargoniums should not be planted out until all risk of frost has passed, which will be mid to late May depending where in the country you garden.

Fushia Pink Pelargonium

Pelargoniums are both stylish and easy to grow, drought tolerant and they do not produce the mass of dead heading required by some summer bedding plants.

The best Pelargoniums are not cheap, which makes it a good idea to overwinter the plants. Next year you have a free plant, which will be more mature. 

Around Europe, we often see large Pelargoniums trailing from balconies and in containers. We can grow pelargoniums to a mature size in the UK if kept going year after year rather than thrown away as bedding at the end of the summer. 

Pelargoniums make great Conservatory plants

It can be tricky growing plants in a conservatory because, potentially, conservatories can get very  hot. An unheated conservatory will usually stay just above freezing, but in the summer, even with blinds, temperature soar. This is more so if you go away on holiday or even out for the day leaving it closed up, when you come back it is like walking into an oven.

Some conservatories have blinds, cooling fans, vents, and technology to try to cool the space, but truth is many conservatories get hot. My own conservatory is unheated and without blinds so it runs the gamut of temperatures from just above freezing to 40+, and in it Pelargoniums are the one plant which consistently thrive in these extremes of temperature. 

With the right watering and feeding regime, Pelargoniums will do well in a conservatory providing colour all year round.

During the summer, water Pelargoniums regularly and if very hot, every few days and feed once per week, Tomato feed is ideal. As temperatures fall off towards winter, stop feeding and reduce watering, keeping the plants on the dry side. 

How to Overwinter Pelargoniums

Pelargoniums are very sensitive to frost and cold weather and need to be overwintered in a frost free environment. In sheltered milder parts of the country, it may be possible to overwinter Pelargoniums in an unheated greenhouse. However, in most parts of the UK where frost, freezing temperatures and snow occur, Pelargoniums will need more protection,  and will survive in an unheated conservatory even through very cold spells.

Because the conservatory is sealed and weather proofed, it is several degrees warmer in an unheated conservatory over winter than an unheated greenhouse. Whether in the greenhouse or a conservatory, key to survival in minimal watering, so it keeps the plant on the dry side throughout the crucial winter months.

Last updated 17.01.2021