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Fragrance on the Windowsill

My scented pelargonium before pruning

Fragrance in the garden is very important to me. This is easy to arrange in the outdoor  garden where I can grow lilacs, dianthus, mock orange, Oriental lilies, night scented stocks and honeysuckle as well as my hardy roses.

Fragrance in the indoor garden is a little harder to come by, but scented pelargoniums, commonly called geraniums, provide many fragrances.  It is not the flowers that are fragrant; indeed most scented geraniums have modest flowers. It is the leaves that release fragrance when they are brushed or given a bruising pinch.

I don’t have many houseplants, but I do have two scented geraniums. One is delightfully citrusy, and one seems to be merely ‘pungent’.  I don’t remember how it was labeled when I bought it. I can’t believe that I bought one labeled pungent when I could have my choice of rose, peppermint, strawberry or chocolate.

While I bought my scented geraniums because I liked the scent, many people consider their other attributes when making a choice. My citrus geranium has familiar velvety round lobed leaves, but the pungent variety has deeply divided leaves.

Others have foliage that is crinkled, small, large, edged with gold, blotched, upright or trailing. Some, like the Pelargonium crispums, are considered suitable for topiary or for growing as a standard, like a little tree. Take your pick.

I don’t know of anyone local who sells scented pelargoniums (please let me know if you do) but I found three online nurseries that have good selections: Geraniaceae, Goodwin Creek Gardens and Davidson Greenhouse. I took a brief tour through their fragrant offerings.

‘Attar of Roses’ with its notched leaf and compact growth is the most popular and strongly scented of those with rose fragrance. ‘Silverleaf Rose’ has more deeply cut foliage edged in silver, and ‘True Rose capitum’ is an antique variety dating back to 1690 with a paler rose fragrance.

‘Chocolate Mint’ has heavily felted foliage splotched with brown and a sprawly habit; ‘P. citronellum’ has the strongest lemon scent, reddish pink flowers and hairy foliage; and there is a whole family of P. crispum that has small crinkled leaves and a lemon scent. P. fragrans ‘Snowy Nutmeg’ has the appropriate fragrance and green foliage splashed with cream.

‘Pink Champagne’ is one of the largest scented pelargoniums, with a slight citrusy fragrance, but big pink flowers. If you want showy flowers along with fragrance this may be the choice for you. ‘Candy Dancer’ has deeply cut green foliage and lemon rose fragrance. P. grossulariodes is known as the coconut geranium because of its strong scent. It is particularly suitable for hanging baskets.

Scented geraniums are not difficult to grow. They are not hardy in our climate, but they are happy to be grown in pots that can be brought indoors for the winter. They love full sun and don’t mind going dry in their pots.  I grow all my pelargoniums, scented or otherwise, outdoors in pots. Because of my limited space I tend to bring in only the scented ones.

Scented pelargonium after pruning

I cut back the scented geraniums when I brought them in the house, but they continue to grow and have gotten leggy because of the reduced sunlight. I just cut them back again.  I can use the leaves to make a sachet for my drawers, but I am also taking some of the cut off stems to make new plants.

This is not the ideal time to take stem cuttings because plants do not have the energy they will have later in the spring. However, since I have cut them back anyway I have nothing to loose.

The newest and most tender stems cannot be used for cutting. I chose stems that will break cleanly when snapped, and I choose lengths of stem that have two or three nodes, the spot on the stem where leaves will form.

It is important to keep everything very clean. My clippers have to be clean and they must make a clean cut, with no ragged or torn edges, to remove the stem from the plant and any leaves from the node that will be buried.  Since I only have a few stem cuttings I’ve put dampened perlite into a couple of small clean plastic flower pots. To avoid damaging the stem I poke a hole in the perlite with a pencil or bamboo skewer, insert the stem so that the node will be covered. Firm the perlite around the stem so that it is securely upright. Foliage of separate cuttings should not be allowed to touch. I finished with a little water so the perlite is uniformly damp.

Some people use a rooting hormone when they are working with cuttings, but I have never done this.

Roots will form more easily if the cuttings can be put in a little greenhouse made of supports that will support a plastic bag so that it will not touch the foliage. This arrangement should be put where it will get good light, but not direct dun.

It will take a few weeks for roots to form. After about three weeks one cutting can be checked by gently digging it out with the blade of a table knife or something similar. You can then judge how much longer the cuttings need before they can be transplanted.

I will tell you if I have any success with my stem cuttings, even though it is not an ideal time of year.

1 comment to Fragrance on the Windowsill

  • Hi Pat,
    Thanks for all this great information. I have some scented geranium in a large container outdoors(mixed with other plants). It has bright chartruese and red leaves and blooms of red. Down here they do best in sunny conditions but seem to like the cooler months of autumn and spring.Our summers make them want to retreat.

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