Summer darlings

Geraniums are easy, forgiving, and versatile

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Regal types

These are grown for their flowers. Regal geraniums (also known as Martha Washington geraniums or Lady Washington pelargoniums) are big, shrubby plants with stiff dark green leaves and showy 2- to 3-inch-wide blooms in rounded clusters. Colors include red, orange, pink, purple, mauve, and white. Most have darker markings of some sort, sometimes in dramatic, near-black shades. The regals have a shorter bloom period than ivy and zonal types, but hybridizers are working on that. In the meantime, try longer-blooming 'Georgia Peach' or 'White Champion', says Jack Tipich, a San Pedro hobbyist known for his prizewinning regals. Regals love sun, and they're usually grown in pots.

Geraniuim growing tips

SOIL. Geraniums tolerate most garden soils, as long as they provide good drainage. If your soil is particularly heavy, amend it with compost or pumice. To improve the drainage of potting soil, mix in some additional perlite.

WATER. Irrigate bedding plants when the top inch of the soil is dry. Water container plants when the soil surface is dry to the touch. Regals are a little thirstier; irrigate whenever soil approaches dryness.

FERTILIZER. Add a balanced slow-release fertilizer to the potting soil or bed area at planting time. Then supplement periodically with a liquid fertilizer at half or quarter strength.

PESTS AND DISEASES. As a group, geraniums are fairly trouble-free. Ivy geraniums have virtually no pest problems or diseases wherever they are grown. The same is true of scented types in most areas.

Rust can be a problem with zonal types. If it occurs, pick off afflicted leaves or spray with a fungicide labeled for rust control.

Various budworms are an annoyance in mild-winter areas. They nibble holes in leaves and drill into flower buds, spoiling the blooms. Their favorite targets are zonal and scented types with soft leaves. At the first sign of damage, spray with Bacillus thuringiensis (BT). Repeat every seven days until the problem dissipates. Or grow ivy or scented types that aren't bothered by budworms.

Sources

For unusual scented, fancy-leaf zonals, and other geraniums rarely found in nurseries, try these mail-order sources.

Geraniaceae. (415) 461-4168 or www.geraniaceae.com.

Goodwin Creek Gardens. (800) 846-7359 or www.goodwincreekgardens.com.

Katie's Scenteds. (562) 619-6266 or www.katiesscenteds.com.

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