The name “Geranium” usually evokes the showy rounded blooms that shout out from window boxes and hanging baskets every summer. But there is a whole group of Pelargonium species and varieties grown for their leaves’ fascinating texture and wonderful fragrance produced when rubbed or crushed. Most are modest-blooming, South African natives and many have flavors strong enough to use in cooking.
Scented geraniums are NOT hardy on our area but are typically brought indoors before the first frost to be treated as houseplants, wintered over (as with Fuchsias) or grown as annuals. Varieties range from 9 to 36 inches tall. While the blooms are not spectacular like other Pelargoniums, many are attractive in shades of red, white, maroon, pink and lavender.
Scented geraniums need rich, well-drained soil and full sun, except mint geraniums (P. tomentosum) which do best in part shade. Avoid locations of extreme summer heat, cold or wind. Water with a drip hose, or long-spouted watering can, to keep water off the foliage. Water thoroughly, then let dry between waterings. Fertilize with a water-soluble fertilizer once a month.
Bring indoors before frost to a sunny window and water sparingly. Cutting back to a few inches of stem will prevent plants from becoming straggly. You can also take cuttings in late summer and root them indoors over the winter. Watch for whiteflies or mealybugs and treat with insecticidal soap if they appear.
“Keep ‘em where you can smell ‘em” (and easily maintain them). Good in containers or window boxes near where you spend a lot of time. If planted near entries or walkways, you’re more likely to brush against them and release their fragrances. Some work well as hanging basket subjects or groundcovers; others as standards or topiary. Individual tags may suggest best uses.
Leaves (and flowers, although generally less fragrant and flavorful) can be added to canned or baked fruit recipes, sauces and teas. Leaves added to the bottom of a tin or pan will infuse muffins or cakes with flavor (remember to remove the leaves before serving). Flowers make a nice salad garnish.
Repeat these tips for another season of indoor color.