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"Growing the Many Different Hardy Perennial Geraniums"

Late spring and early summer is the season for hardy perennial geraniums. Unlike annual geraniums (which are botanically pelargonium, not geranium), perennial geraniums come back year after year.

There are over 250 different species of perennial geraniums. The common name of hardy geranium is cranesbill which refers to the beak-like fruit that forms following the flowers. Hardy perennial geraniums are wonderful garden plants that grow well in shade or sun. There are native species that grow wild at the edges of woodlands and there are many nice varieties that have been developed from the native species.

Hardy perennial geraniums form a handsome mound of foliage that ranges in size from a compact clump under six inches high and wide to nearly three feet high and wide, depending on species. All have palm-shaped, or palmate, leaves. Some are more deeply divided than others and the leaf color varies from light green to blue gray, to deep green. Many also have attractive fall foliage and even when they are not in bloom they are attractive in the garden.

Geranium sanguineumThe flowers of hardy perennial geraniums are single and made up of five petals that overlap each other, giving them a rounded appearance. Flower color includes magenta, rose, pink, violet, lilac, blue, purple, and dark purple. Some species have attractive veining on the petals and others have a dark-black center that contrasts nicely with the flower. They begin blooming in mid to late spring and continue blooming into summer.

Geranium cinereum 'Ballerina'One of the smallest hardy perennial geraniums is Geranium cinereum 'Ballerina.' It forms a compact mound of foliage just four to six inches high. It spreads about a foot wide. Its leaves are divided into five to seven wedge-shaped lobes that are divided almost to the base of the leaf and each of the wedge-shaped lobes are further divided into three lobes for about one-third their length. It bears large, two-inch-wide flowers in mid spring that nearly obscure the attractive foliage. The flowers are lilac pink with a dark center and purple veins. The flowers of this variety bloom for many weeks from mid spring to summer. Because of its small size, it's a good choice for the front of the flower bed or in a rock garden.

Geranium sanguineum 'Album'One of the more common hardy perennial geraniums is Geranium sanguineum. It's a very adaptable species, growing well in sun or shade. Plants grown in sun will be more compact than those grown in shade with this species. It's very free flowering, blooming from spring to summer. Varieties of this species generally form mounds a foot high with thick, slightly-divided, basal leaves and thinner, deeply-divided stem leaves that are green in summer and change to crimson red in autumn. The flowers of the species are magenta, but there is a nice white form called 'Album' that bears crisp-white flowers. It forms a wide mound of flowers and foliage that grows 10 to 18 inches high and at least as wide.

Geranium macrorrhizum 'Ingwersen's Variety'Geranium macrorrhizum is one of the oldest species of hardy perennial geraniums having been in cultivation as early as 1576. Originally grown for its essential oil (Oil of Geranium) this species has large, six- to eight-inch-wide, aromatic leaves that have a distinct medicinal smell when crushed. The large rounded leaves have seven divisions that are cut two-thirds of the way down. Each of the seven divisions are shallowly lobed. The species bears inch-wide, purple-magenta, rounded flowers with dark-red sepals that are puffled up, like a small balloon. The flowers are borne on hairy stems and bloom in spring. This geranium spreads by underground stems to form a wide mound and it's an excellent groundcover for a sunny to partially-shaded spot in the garden The variety 'Ingwersen's Variety' grows just eight to 10 inches high with a nice spreading habit. It bears pale-pink flowers with dark-pink sepals in spring and early summer.

Pernell Gerver's Gardening Q & Aby Pernell Gerver

"Help for Non-Blooming Lilacs"

Q. I have two lilac bushes side by side that have been in over five years and have never bloomed. What has to be done, if anything, to get them to bloom? Thank you!

A. Non-blooming lilac is very common and I've received many questions on the subject. For the best bloom, a healthy lilac will produce the most flowers in full sun, but even those lilacs growing in partial shade will bloom if other conditions are right. You should do a soil test to check the pH level to make sure it is in the right range for lilac. That alone can prevent a lilac from blooming. Once the pH is in the right range, the lilac oftentimes will bloom. It would also help to fertilize regularly with Electra Plant Food, an organic, slow-release fertilizer that really makes things grow and bloom. I use it on everything to promote blooming. I use Electra Plant Food first, then three weeks later I apply Electra Bloom Food. I alternate between the two all season long.

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