Geraniums (Geranium and Pelargonium) are a popular flowering plant that is most commonly known as an annual—meaning it only blooms for one season and does not usually return the following year.
You’ve probably seen geraniums if you’ve noticed hanging baskets of brightly colored flowers in the summer. These plants are one of the most commonly used flowers in hanging basket arrangements, although they are also popular in flower beds and sometimes seasonal landscaping.
What Are Geraniums?
You may have noticed two different genus groups listed above (Geranium and Pelargonium), this is because the term ‘geranium’ is commonly used to refer to two different groups of similar plant groups.
Technically, and in a scientific sense, geraniums only refer to the approximate 300 species of hardy geraniums that belong in the geranium genus.
The hardy geranium is frost resistant and can grow as a perennial in growing zones five through eight, meaning it should come back year after year. These flowers are also commonly known as cranesbill and have five petals, all similar in size.
Although the term ‘geranium’ is supposed to refer to the geranium genus, it is more commonly used for flowers that fall into the pelargonium genus—it is confusing, but bear with me, we’ll get there!
Pelargoniums are the commonly found annual flowers that take over outdoor flower arrangements from late spring through early fall. These flowers are very popular within the United States, and summer just wouldn’t be summer without them.
Pelargoniums also have five petals, however, two of the five petals are often larger than the rest. The seed pod location, stem appearance, height, growing pattern, and growing zones are also different from a traditional geranium flower.
So, if pelargoniums are different from geraniums, why do we call them geraniums? It all comes down to a misclassification from when these flowers were first brought over from South Africa.
The similar appearance to the geranium created the initial confusion, which wasn’t sorted out until much later; by this time, the name had already stuck.
Although pelargoniums and geraniums have several differences and are in different genus groups, they do fall into the same Geraniaceae family group, explaining their similarities and the common confusion.
For the sake of this article—and in line with most others—we will use the term ‘geranium’ to refer to the Pelargonium genus, as it is the most commonly used.
What Are the Different Types of Geraniums?
While there are approximately 280 different species of geranium, most can be categorized into a group of six different types of geraniums, listed below.
Ivy geraniums, or geraniums derived from the pelargonium peltatum, are annual geraniums known for their long stems. While these geraniums are not categorized as ivy, the lengthy, trailing stems follow similar patterns as some ivy plants.
These annual geraniums are a particularly popular flower choice for hanging baskets, as the cascading stems can flow over the edges of the basket when hung. With ivy geraniums, you are likely to have blooms both in the planter and hanging over the edges of the planter, adding to the beauty of the floral arrangement.
As with most annual geraniums, ivy geraniums will generally bloom from late spring into early fall—frost schedule depending. The ivy geranium is a great choice for many gardeners.
Regal geraniums, or Martha Washington geraniums, are a hybrid plant created by crossing pelargonium grandiflorum and pelargonium cucullatum. These annual geraniums stand out with their bright, and often multicolored, blooms.
If you are looking for a geranium to make a beauty statement on your porch or in your home, the regal geranium or Martha Washington geraniums might be a good choice. When multicolored, the two colors will generally contrast each other, creating an eye-catching allure.
For example, bright white against hot pink, or burgundy against light pink are common color combinations for these geranium plants.
Regal geraniums are annuals and don’t tolerate frost, but they should bloom from late spring to early winter as with most other geraniums.
Interspecific geraniums are a type of geranium derived from the cross between an ivy geranium and a zonal geranium. These varieties of geraniums are most commonly found in deep red or crimson colors; however, you can also find them in oranges, pinks, and even purples.
By crossing an ivy geranium and a zonal geranium, plant breeders have discovered combinations that create the large blooms of a zonal geranium while keeping the trailing stems of the ivy geraniums—the best of both worlds!
Another advantage to interspecific geraniums is that they tend to be more heat resistant. While they are still considered an annual geranium, they can stay in bloom longer in places with extreme heat—in environments where other annual geraniums may start to wither or lose flowers.
Generally, interspecific geraniums will still bloom from the standard late spring to early fall, but if you’re in a climate that exceeds the standard growing zone from annual geraniums, you may still get some blooms in the heat of summer where you usually would not.
While all geranium flowers have a lovely fragrance, there are some whose leaves give off a pleasing scent as well; these geraniums fall into the scented geraniums category.
The leaves on scented geraniums contain oils that emit smells when brushed or crushed. Common fragrances include citrus, mint, floral (particularly rose), various fruits, and even some spices.
One downside to scented geraniums is that some species produce smaller flower heads, taking away from some of the visual effects that these plants are often grown for. While the flower heads may be small, the blooms still come in a variety of vibrant colors.
If you are wanting a certain scent of geranium but are also looking for those larger blooms, consider planting both side-by-side! Scented geraniums are versatile and fun – they’re especially pleasant in hanging baskets, where their fragrant foliage can waft into your home.
The bloom times of scented geraniums align with that of other annual geraniums, so your blooms should flower from each type of plant throughout the blooming season if you decide to plant more than one variety.
Zonal geraniums are perhaps one of the most common types of annual geranium grown.
Gardeners choose zonal geraniums year after year because of the larger-than-average flower heads and the nearly doubled amount of typical blooms during the blooming season.
While the flowers are the main talking point for this plant, it actually gets its name from the colorful striping (or zone) that can be found down the middle of its leaves.
While most annual geraniums can be grown from the seed, the zonal geranium must be started from a cutting of another zonal geranium plant. The cross-breeding that takes place to produce these flowers does not yield viable seeds to create new plants, they must be created by breeders or propagated from clippings—you don’t generally have to do the clipping yourself, nurseries will generally have them potted and ready to go for you.
While the bloom season is technically the same as other annual geraniums, you will likely see blooms much earlier in the season, as these plants will already be in a stage of growth that allows blooms as opposed to a plant that must start from seed to flower.
Fancy Leaf Geraniums
Fancy leaf geraniums are just what you would expect based on their name—yes, their leaves are fancy. These geraniums are technically just zonal geraniums that have been bred specifically for the markings on their leaves.
The distinguishing factor that makes a fancy leaf geranium more than a zonal geranium is the patterned or strikingly marked leaves, instead of just a stripe of color down the middle as most zonal geraniums have.
Besides the leaves being more defined on the fancy leaf geraniums, there is little other difference between that and a standard zonal geranium. The fancy leaf geranium might be a good addition to your home if you are looking for an annual flower that brings color and pizzazz beyond the blooming flowers—here, you get attractive flowers along with equally intriguing leaves.
Some Fun Varieties of Geraniums to Grow
With six main geranium types and approximately 280 individual species of geranium pelargonium, it can be difficult to narrow down which type you would like to grow for your home or landscaping. To potentially help you decide, here are some fun geranium species to try out.
Martha Washington Geraniums
Marsha Washington geraniums, or royal geraniums (briefly discussed above), have some of the most eye-catching blooms.
These are fun geraniums to grow because you will have deep, vibrantly colored flowers (often multicolored) growing on your porch or around your home throughout the blooming season.
Wood geranium, also commonly referred to as wild geranium, is a variety of geranium that is native to North America (most species are native to South Africa and other warmer climates).
This variety of geranium can be grown as a perennial in growing zones three through eight, meaning you can have a flowering geranium that comes back each season for the life of the plant.
Meadow geranium, or geranium pratense, is a perennial geranium in growing zones three through nine. This type of geranium is mounding, meaning the flowers grow in clusters, giving you more blooms per square inch when you plant these geraniums side-by-side.
Meadow geraniums are always a deep violet color that pops against their green foliage. This variety is also one of the tallest-growing geranium plants, making it a fun addition to any garden.
Mourning Widow Geranium
The mourning widow geranium gets its name from the dark maroon-colored blooms it produces. Most varieties of geranium will give you bright and vibrant colors, but this is the exception.
Dark colors are not always bad and can make a fun addition to your garden if you are already growing primarily bright-colored flowers. Another reason to grow the mourning widow geranium is they are one of the earliest blooming of all perennial geraniums.
Angel geraniums can be another fun addition to your garden or seasonal landscaping. While these geraniums are only perennials in growing zones nine through twelve, they can be grown as annuals in other growing zones. The flowers on the angel geraniums are what makes them stand out in a crowd.
Although the flower heads themselves are on the smaller side, each flower grows in a tightly formed cluster of many other flower heads, making them appear as one very large geranium flower. The angel geraniums are also vibrantly colored and are etched with white outlines, making the internal pink and violet colors pop.
The Buxton blue geranium is another perennial geranium that stands out against the rest. This variety had some of the most strikingly blue flower heads when it comes to geraniums.
The flowers form in a saucer shape and have darkly colored stamen that stands out against the blue petals. The Buxton blue geranium is low-growing, but has trailing stems, helping it cover large areas in blooms during the summer.
Annual Geraniums vs Perennial Geraniums
As previously mentioned, there are two genera of flowers that are referred to as geraniums. True geraniums are classified as perennials and can grow as such in zones three through nine (for most varieties).
Pelargoniums—which we commonly call geraniums—are more often grown as annuals, as they can generally only be grown as perennials in zones nine through eleven.
What Conditions Do Geraniums Prefer?
Thankfully, geraniums are generally fairly easy plants to care for; however, you may see more blooms on a plant that is kept in ideal conditions.
For the most part, geraniums do best in partially shaded areas that still receive a good amount of sunlight per day (around four to six hours daily). Most varieties of annual geraniums will start to wilt or will stop blooming if they become too hot, so too much direct sunlight can be hazardous.
When choosing soil for your geraniums, well-draining soil is going to be your best option to keep your plants happy and healthy. Most annual geraniums are grown in hanging baskets or planters where well-draining soil is necessary to prevent water saturation of the soil to take over the roots and harm your plant.
It is important to keep your geraniums watered well throughout the blooming season to ensure you receive the best yield of blooms as possible; however, you still don’t want to overwater your flowers.
As a general rule, it is time to water your geraniums once the top inch of soil has dried out. This could mean watering every few days or closer to once per week depending on the outdoor temperature and rainfall.
For more details, read our guide on how to care for geraniums.
What Type of Geranium is Best?
Deciding what geranium types are best will strongly depend on the goals you have for your geraniums—everyone is going to have different criteria. If you are looking for the types of geranium plants that will provide the biggest and most abundant blooms, a zonal geranium may be your best option.
If you are looking for a certain fragrance to have on your porch, perhaps there is a scented geranium that fits the bill. These types of geranium flowers are pretty easy to find no matter where you live.
It is hard to go wrong when choosing the best types of geraniums for your home, just consider your desires and take the plunge. The best pelargonium varieties for you may even be a combination of several different geranium plants all grown in the same vicinity; with 280 different kinds to choose from, you can create your own unique arrangement.
*image by EsinDeniz/depositphotos