Wild Things…
Spotlight on Scented Geraniums
By Karen Vizzi
   The next few weeks will continue to provide color and greenery for the gardener’s soul as we decorate our homes with holiday plants. But what’s a plant lover to do during the dark and dreary days of winter? 
   Well, I like to spend quality time with one of my favorite group of plants – scented geraniums. These herb-like plants have the unique quality of smelling like something other than what they are, when the leaves are cut or bruised. Right now, my collection contains rose, apricot, apple, lemon, chocolate mint and coconut scented plants. They also come in other “flavors” like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and strawberry, just to name a few. Each of the varieties has a different shaped leaf and, if given proper light, will produce tiny flowers. These little flowers are pretty, but insignificant. It’s really the scented leaves that make the plants so appealing.
   Unlike bedding geraniums, which actually belong to the pelargonium family, scented geraniums are true geraniums. They require little care and are very tolerant of the dry conditions inside most homes during winter. Mine get watered every week to ten days, with only a weak fertilizing during summer months. One demand of these plants is strong light, and even under the best conditions, they will get leggy. But for me, this is where the fun begins. These plants can take frequent and severe pruning, which yields a bunch of deliciously fragrant leaves to use in potpourri, garnishes or just plain sniffing. Most of the plants will remain as compact as you want to make them, but I once transplanted a chocolate mint variety directly into the garden where it grew to the size of a small shrub! However…scented geraniums have no wildlife habitat value, and most would not survive our winters, so I suggest keeping them as houseplants.
   Scented geraniums are also generally pest-free. The strong oils contained within the leaves are usually distasteful to most critters. Occasionally, I will spot a whitefly or two, which I promptly squirt with the standard alcohol and water spray. Scented’s are also excellent plant material to use for making standards or topiary. Standards are plants that have been trained into the shape of small trees. They are very fashionable in decorating these days, and we’ll talk about how to make them in an upcoming edition of Wild Things.
   My collection of scented geraniums has grown over a long period of time. Occasionally I find them in the herb sections of garden centers in spring, but the best selection is available through mail order greenhouses and herb farms. A quick search of the Internet will give you several sources. Either way, this is one group of plants that you don’t want to be without during the long winter.

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