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Geraniums — Reliable, Versatile, Non-Demanding Plants

Few ground covers can compete with an outdoor bed of geraniums (Pelargonium). Who can walk or drive by geraniums in full bloom without stopping? They are real garden gems. When I spot such a display for the first time, I’ll immediately slow down if driving, then park to really take a gander (a leisurely look and walk). These versatile plants are not demanding, yet are reliable floral workhorses.

TAKING GERANIUM CUTTINGS

Started geraniums in pots are readily available at garden centres each spring, but keep in mind you’re limited to the varieties and colours they have available. If you’ve got a happy, healthy mother-host plant that’s overwintered indoors, consider starting your own.

Cuttings root and grow faster in warmth and brightness of summer; more so than in fall and winter. Slips taken in winter will reach blooming size by midsummer. The procedure is basically the same for all types of geraniums, whether they be regal, scented, zonal, fancy leaf, ivy leaf, dwarf or what have you. There are myriads of cultivars and colours.

Take 10-cm (three-or four-inch) young green-tip cuttings with several nodes. Use a sterile knife or cutting tool, making a good, clean, slanted cut. Cuttings any longer than that tend to give spindlier plants. For dwarf geranium varieties, cuttings of five cm (two inches) are sufficient.

ROOTING HORMONE

Remove lower leaves from the stub by breaking off, leaving two or three leaves at the top. Also pinch off any flower buds as cuttings require all available energy for root development. Give a light coating to the cut end with a rooting hormone powder such as Stim-Root No. 1 available from garden centres. It’s formulated to speed up the rooting process quickly on soft wood plants such as geraniums, begonias and coleus. A hormone stimulant is especially beneficial when cuttings are taken during winter and early-spring months.

Geranium cuttings from a healthy plant will root in any of several mixtures such as half sterile potting soil and half horticultural sand; or plain sand or a mix of plain garden vermiculite and peat moss with a transparent dome or similar covering. Pot up cuttings once rooted and keep leaves and stems dry when watering.

There is a belief among some gardeners that cuttings rooted in water only are weaker than those rooted in potting material. Regardless, some growers have a real knack for starting slips and cuttings in plain ol’ water without any hormone stimulation, regardless of time of year. This common approach is to simply place cuttings in a glass of melted snow water or tap water left standing for 24 hours first and replaced with fresh water regularly. Roots usually begin forming within two or three weeks. There are a few trickier and obstinate geraniums and other plants that may sometimes take several months before developing their first roots.

DO GERANIUMS REPEL INSECTS?

Well, not really and they can attract pests such as whiteflies, spider mites and aphids. However, white geraniums appear to be somewhat different and are especially disease and insect pest repellent. They serve as a trap plant among roses, grapevines, near corn and outer edges of the garden. There’s no explanation as to why white flowering geraniums work and other colours less so. Slugs do not like them. Even deer choose to find something else before nibbling on a white geranium. Japanese beetles die after eating white geranium leaves. Keep in mind that any trap plant, whether white geranium or otherwise, may not always perform consistently to your expectation.

While it’s not frequent, geraniums can sometimes fall prey to diseases such as bacterial leaf spot and stem rot. Leaves may wilt, drop and branches turn black. A fungal disease called botrytis blossom blight causes petals to crinkle and entire florets to turn dark and wilt. It can persist to the point that grey mould appears. Rogue out such infected plants and immediately treat healthy specimens with Bordo, a copper fungicide, or Funginex 6.5, or garden sulphur dust. Bear in mind that not all garden centres carry the same brands and lines of product.

HOMEMADE WILLOW WATER

… can be a rooting hormone wonder. Almost everyone has access to willows (Salix). I have placed branches of willow in water and before I know it, they have rooted. How so? Willows contain a natural hormone that stimulates root growth.

To make your own rooting hormone, gather some willow stems about the thickness of a cigarette. Cut them into one-inch lengths and then split each piece in half with a knife or pruner. Careful now — such tools are sharp. Pour a measure of boiling water into a heatproof container and add the prepared willow pieces. Allow this to steep overnight.

Next day, place the tips of your harvested cuttings in cooled willow water and let them soak for several hours; then pot up or follow rooting suggestions given. Dilute the leftover willow solution with an equal amount of more water. Use it to moisten the growing medium of your cuttings.

CHUTZPAH

… pronounced khoot-spuh, or hoot-spuh, is a Yiddish term derived from the Hebrew. Chutzpah is defined as audacity, gall, utter brazen nerve, incredible presumption, plus arrogance, such as no other word and no other language can do justice. Other meanings include discourteous, sauciness, shamelessness, cheekiness, forwardness and more gutsy nerve than a toothache. Perhaps you’ll agree the principal character in the following short story overstepped the boundaries of accepted behaviour and showed no shame with her striking example of both strong disapproval and a grudging admiration of the young man.

NOW THE SHORT STORY

An elderly woman sold pretzels on a street corner for 25 cents apiece. Each day at noon break, a young man left a garden nursery where he worked. As he passed the pretzel stand, he would daily leave the elderly woman 25 cents, but would never take a pretzel. This continued for more than three years. The two of them never spoke a word during that entire time. (You can imagine the total amount of money he left.) One day, as the young man passed the old lady’s stand and left his quarter as usual, the pretzel lady spoke to him. Without blinking an eye she said: “They’re 35 cents now!” Did it take a lot of chutzpah to utter such a final controversial statement?

Perhaps the following sums it up: Give me a sense of humour Lord, And grace to appreciate a joke, May I get some humour out of life, Then pass it on to other folk.

WORTHWHILE PRIZES TO BE DRAWN FOR IN MARCH

I make no promises, but you might — just might be one of the winners. Got some seed potatoes from Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes, Bluebell grape plants from Corn Hill Nursery, and $25 gift certificates and seed catalogues from T&T Seeds, Winnipeg; McFayden’s in Brandon and Early’s Garden Centre at Saskatoon. Send your name and mailing address to:

SINGING GARDENER Draws c/o Grainews

1666 Dublin Ave., Winnipeg, Man. R3H 0H1.

This is Ted Meseyton the Singing Gardener and Grow-It Poet from Portage la Prairie, Man. If a plant could pray what might it say? Guide the gardener who comes my way! Whether you be a gardener or not, may I say, thanks for coming my way and sticking close to the printed page. Your contract as one of my readers is renewed for another year. Work as though you don’t need the money, love others like you’ve never been hurt and garden your best even when nobody’s watching. My email address is [email protected]

About the author

Columnist

Ted Meseyton

This is Ted Meseyton the Singing Gardener and Grow-It Poet from Portage la Prairie, Man. I salute all gardeners and farmers who help make our world a little safer and more ecologically balanced, and who toil to provide health-giving produce to others who cannot produce their own. It takes all sorts to make a world. One half of the world doesn’t know how the other half lives. The best physicians are Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet and Dr. Merryman.

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