"What makes a lemon smell like a lemon?”
Heather Godard Key, director of Fibrex Nurseries and the pelargonium queen, gives us the complete lowdown on pelargonium care in this tip-tastic episode
Things we talk about in the episode:
Why we love pelargoniums
scent of leaves
musky stringent smell
the easiness of them
The National Collection of Pelargoniums
Heather’s growing history
Learning about pelargoniums, ferns and ivies
The difference between pelargoniums and geraniums
Same family, different genus:
Genus: Pelargonium (southern hemisphere, tender, succulent or woody shrubs)
Genus: Geranium (northern hemisphere, cranesbill. Hardy, herbaceous perennial)
You can’t hybridise between the two - most definitely two different things!
Geranium for pelargonium is WRONG because it’s misleading
If you can’t say pelargonium, just call them pellies
Pelargoniums are really tough in the right environment
Replicate SA in the UK
Loam based, open, free draining compost
Good light, even over winter
No darkness, no dinginess
In England that’s difficult, but not impossible
In a cool environment - Strip off a lot of the leaves which they don’t need because they’re not growing and you’re not watering.
Zonals, decoratives, uniques, scenteds can have majority of leaves lower down taken off, leaving just the growing tip
Gets rid of mildew, mould, botrytis etc at the same time - bonus!
Allows good airflow which is essential
Keeping pelargoniums indoors as houseplants
Avoid a kitchen or bathroom environment - too damp
Sitting room, living room, porch,
Close to window or on windowsill.
Natural daylight - doesn’t have to be direct sunlight
Tomato feed like Tomorite
First feed of season should be a balanced feed but otherwise Tomorite as soon as you see fresh young growth
Zonal pelargoniums are still used for bedding - can look stunning
Key is to mass-plant with just one colour. Colour match with neighbouring plants
Key group within zonals: Bold series - good chunky, strong growing with short stems and lots of flowers which are shatter-proof.
Use decorative, uniques and scented for gap-filling too!
Attar of roses, Grey Lady Plymouth in a mixed border -
Chocolate peppermint and Tomentosum at Wisley - looked amazing
Potting compost magic formula; John Innes no. 2 and multi-purpose compost half and half
Re-pot in spring and you don’t need to feed for a month because of JI
You cant over-feed a pellie!
Feed every time you water
If you want to get flowers like you see in the shows then you have to feed them! They’re on steroids
Young cuttings - single stem. Once rooted and growing, pinch out top leaf and newest bud. Leaving a couple of live axils below means it will start to branch out. It’s not about height, it’s about body.
Keep pinching out
Fibrex takes cuttings in August through to April. The pinching out happens throughout, until February. From buds, flowers will appear in six weeks. Pinching out is instinctive and takes practice, but not a lot of time if you’ve got a few pots outside the door.
Pelargoniums LOVE to flower. If you take off the untidy ones it will grow more as soon as possible. If you leave them, the plant slows down.
Heather deadheads every plant, every week - LOTS of work! Not so for a few pots.
Snap bottom of flower stem between fingers and it will come off naturally
Prepare your pot, 9 -12 cm Sterile seed compost and perlite or grit for drainage, Pat mixture down and saturate with water. Take cuttings, 2 inches at most depending on variety. Heather takes tip cuttings with one or two leaf nodes. Strip bottom leaves off, leaving growing tip and a couple of leaves at top. After 4-5 days give another drink. 5-10 cuttings in a 9cm pot. Cuttings really do like company. Heather pushes her cuttings straight in - no dibber and no rooting hormone.
Heather likes to keep the leaves touching in the nursery.
Leaving pelargoniums in pots over winter
Start in September to prepare them by feeding them with a general purpose feed
Stops them from flowering. Take a third off in Autumn and strip the leaves. Re-pot in spring with fresh compost, fluffing up the roots. Water in lightly. After a couple of weeks, general feed and then put outside. Night temps should be around five degrees - leave till mid may or end of may.
If you want them to continue flowering in a conservatory then just keep feeding tomato food.
Windowsill with radiator is fine as they like a dry environment
Best are dwarves and miniatures for permanent flowering as they won’t outgrow their space.
Other overwintering ideas:
Hanging the upside-down. Used to be done. It’s a bit extreme and not entirely necessary. You can leave in the compost just ease off on the watering.
Pests and diseases.
The whitefly clap.
Use invigorators rather than insecticides. SB invigorator gives the plant extra and has ammonia which whitefly hate.
Good for spider mite too. Spidermite like dry environments
Greenfly like the soft young growth. Squish.
Pelargonium starter-kit for newbies
- Scented: Attar of Roses. The gorgeousness of it!
- Decorative: Ashby. Strong, easy, free-flowering, big and beautiful, and EARLY.
- Specie: Austral. From Tasmania. Borderline hardy. Dark green, with delicate white flowers
What makes a lemon smell like a lemon?
Pelargoniums have over 120 volatile chemicals in the leaves. Hence the huge variety of scents and flavours
Best houseplant pelargonium: Fragrans because of fresh fragrance and height. Delicate, pretty, delightful.
May 1st national collection is open free of charge, but you can visit whenever you like.
Pellie party! Smelly pellie jelly! Turn up!
Links, Plants and important stuff we mention:
Tomorite tomato food
Heather’s top three for beginners:
Houseplant favourite: Fragrans