Geraniums are popular plants well suited to Portugal, and you will see their colourful splashes on balconies and in gardens alike. Different species have different foliage and different flowers, and all have bright blooms wherever they're planted, whether in garden beds or in pots, planters or containers. There’s a fact or two about these flowering plants that will surprise, and maybe inspire you to revisit these cheerful blooms. Novice gardeners might like to learn more about these flowers, so read on and try your hand at planting some this season. Few plants offer as many options, and with over 300 species, they’re available in a wide range of bloom colours and types, foliage and even scent. They range in size from a compact 6 inches to several feet of blooms.

What Are Geraniums?

This popular garden plant is hiding a secret – it isn’t a true geranium. Garden geraniums, also known as annual geraniums, are actually from the genus Pelargonium. Originating in South Africa, they made their way to Europe in the 17th century, where they remain popular. Now there are between 250 and 300 species of them, from which have developed many thousands of varieties, and it is a truly versatile plant.

Seeds or Cuttings?

While it is possible to grow some types of geraniums from seed, stem cuttings are the most popular way to propagate them. Make the cut just below a leaf node and four to six inches down from the stem tip. Snip off the lower foliage, leaving two or three leaves at the top, so you have three to four inches of bare stem. Remove any flower or leaf buds, as they might direct energy away from root formation.

When to take cuttings

They don’t really have a dormant period during winter, so can be taken any time during the season, but April is the perfect time to take cuttings. Success relies on light, warmth and watering for the best results - warmth and longer daylight hours produce stronger plants.

Geraniums are drought-tolerant

These plants love bright sunny climates and moderate watering, as long as they are planted in well-draining soil. They're relatively low-maintenance, and excellent choices for container gardening. But high summer heat can take its toll on these plants, and many common geraniums stop blooming in sizzling weather, a condition known as ‘heat check’, but will resume blooming when the worst heat has passed. And they thrive when they're contained in pots! Containers are a great home for geraniums, as pots keep the plants under control and can also be easily moved to ensure geraniums are receiving enough bright sunlight. Some geraniums grow best with a bit of afternoon shade as well.

Pruning Geraniums

Annual geraniums that are planted outdoors don’t require pruning, but regular deadheading can help prevent disease and increase production. Simply pinch off the entire flower stalk after the flowers fade and remove dry leaves from the plants. If you keep any indoors, they will grow ‘leggy’ and thin, so regularly prune by pinching the growing points to encourage branching.

What plants grow well with geraniums?

Geraniums are beneficial companion plants because they repel many insects and pests, and are a traditional companion for roses. You can also plant them with other plants that often become pest targets, such as corn, grapes and cabbage.

Many geranium species have heavily scented leaves

Geraniums are known for their aromatic green foliage, the fragrance of which varies from plant to plant. The plants’ common names usually refer to the fragrance of their leaves: Almond geranium (P. quercifolium), apple geranium (P. odoratissimum), lime geranium (P. nervosum), nutmeg geranium (P. x fragrans 'Nutmeg'), peppermint geranium (P. tomentosum). Other geraniums produce a fragrance that smells like roses and lemons. Some even smell like strawberries.

Are they edible?

Apparently so - both the flowers and aromatic foliage of geraniums are edible. Just give them a good rinse before using in any recipe. Leaves can be used to flavour meat, chicken or fish dishes, and even desserts. Petals are also wonderful in salads if you’re making a dressing with vinegar, and dried or fresh leaves can be made into tea.


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan