Something for everyone

Times Staff Writer

The time-honored way of starting geraniums is to admire a plant, then beg, borrow or steal a cutting. That said, there is no shame in buying one. Any garden center worthy of the name should have at least 20 types of pelargoniums. For old-fashioned varieties and a selection in the hundreds, visit the website of Killdeer Farms,, or call (360) 887-1790. To prevent option paralysis, approach the plants one group at a time, as follows:Scented: Name a scent and there is probably a geranium with an essential oil that mimics it. Fragrances include apple, lemon, nutmeg, chocolate, mint, balsam and rose. Citronella is famous for mosquito repellent. Can be used in lieu of box hedge for a pruned border. Because stems are more like shrub or tree wood, and less like succulents, they take longer to root. They tend to revert to wild-type traits, says Killdeer nurseryman Steve Barton.

Common, zonal or "horseshoe" pelargonium: The Matisse geranium, with voluptuous, banded leaves in the shape of torn circles. Ecstatic blooms come in every color but really should be lipstick red. Annuals in most of the country, shrubs in California, where succulent stems need clearing out every season. Some summer shade in ferocious heat. Can take seasonal water or stand irrigated spots. Breeders produce new hybrids every year. Check plant sticks carefully. Some breeds will remain compact window box plants, others can become bushes.

Regal (or Martha Washington) geraniums: These produce fancy foliage, what Barton describes as a "cucumber-type leaf." Every color, azalea-type blooms, whose blotchy throats, or nectar pads, evolved to attract insects. Hummingbirds appreciate them. Crossed with ivy geraniums for the fancier new balcony plants. Improved soil will produce yet more blooms.

Ivy geraniums (Pelargonium peltatum): They break down into dozens of cultivars that can have the shape of ivy. Can trail from 18 inches to 5 feet, create showers of blooms. Balcony plants, ground cover. Primary and pastel colors, it's got them. Stripes, ditto. Single blooms, double blooms. Just don't overload the balcony.

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