Hardy perennial geraniums are a mainstay of the cottage garden, and perhaps one of the easiest to grow is the classic wild Geranium maculatum. Also known as cranesbill (which refers to the Greek origins of the flower’s name, geranos, which means “crane”), wood geranium, or spotted geranium, the flowers range from white to dark pink, with bright green 5- or 6-lobed leaves that form a dramatic geometric starburst shape with serrated edges. The flowers bear tiny dark red seed capsules. Some types of wild geraniums also contain chemicals that act as a natural insect repellent, particularly against mosquitos.
This plant originated in Europe but has naturalized freely in North America and can be found throughout the Midwest, Northeast and western states, growing along woodland edges, in meadows and on the drier edges of wetlands. It’s fairly adaptable to different growing conditions. Though the flowers are slightly less showy than other hardy geranium varieties, and the stems are shorter (so they don’t wind in and out between other plants in the way some hybrid varieties do), they’re an excellent choice for woodland gardens, fern gardens, or as an easy ground cover for semi-shaded areas. It spreads via fleshy rhizomes, forming eye catching clumps of blooms that are easily divided. There are many varieties of perennial geranium related to this wild variety, but cranesbill are the vigorous classic that many cottage gardeners grow for their reliability and easy care. They’re well-loved by pollinators, especially bumblebees.
|Common Name||Wild geranium, cranesbill, spotted geranium|
|Botanical Name||Geranium maculatum|
|Mature Size||18-24 in. tall|
|Sun Exposure||Part sun to full shade|
|Soil Type||Moist, rich, acidic|
|Soil pH||4.5 – 6.8|
|Bloom Time||Early spring to late summer|
|Flower Color||Pinks, white, purple|
|Growing Zones||5-8, USA|
|Native Areas||Europe, North America|
Wild Geranium Care
Wild geraniums are very low maintenance. They’re not bothered by diseases or pests. Pollinators love them, and small wildlife may nestle in their shade in the heat of summer. Deadheading the flowers can extend the bloom season. If they start to spread, just dig them up and gently cut back the rhizomes (which can be replanted). Doing this in autumn after they’ve finished blooming will give your plants a tidy but full look the following spring.
Too much direct sunlight in summer might fry the delicate flower petals. Luckily these shade-lovers will bloom happily in partial to full shade, with dappled shade or morning sun being their most suitable sunlight situation.
Wild geraniums enjoy a rich soil environment: slightly acidic, loamy, well-drained and somewhat moist. If you have clay or sandy soil, or if the soil’s nutrients seem to grow “thinner” over time, add amendments such as peat moss, manure and/or compost.
If your wild geraniums are growing in a shady or semi-shaded area, and there is ample drainage and normal rainfall (for the temperate growing zones these plants prefer), you shouldn’t need to do any extra watering. If there’s a period of drought, water them well in early morning or at dusk.
Temperature and Humidity
Wild geraniums are fairly winter hardy in their comfort zone (USDA 5-8). However, prolonged cold temperatures might kill them; a covering of natural mulch for winter will help protect the roots from deep cold. Because they like a moist soil environment, they’re not bothered by excess humidity.
Use of a fertilizer is not usually necessary, but adding a bit of plant food suitable for plants that love acidic soil (such as Holly-Tone) in mid-spring will give the blossoms a boost and help produce more healthy buds as the season progresses.
Types of Wild Geraniums
There are hundreds of varieties of wild geraniums, and many hybrids. Some common cultivars of Geranium maculatum include:
- ‘Album’ has white flowers with a somewhat speckled appearance, with light brown seed capsules and light green leaves.
- ‘Espresso’ has pale pink flowers and dark reddish-brown leaves; the flowers are on the smaller side. Nice for color variety in the shade garden.
- ‘Elizabeth Ann’ is a lavender blue-flowering variety with dark brown leaves.
Propagating Wild Geraniums
The easiest way to propagate wild geraniums is to simply divide and replant the rhizomes in autumn or early spring. They tend to form new rhizomes at right angles which makes them fairly simple to divide. Replant the divisions (make sure your rhizome is at least 3-4 inches long), water every other day, and they should establish themselves quickly.
How to Grow Wild Geraniums from Seed
Seeds are available commercially, and can also be harvested directly. Seeds appear about a month after the bloom period is done; collect the tiny dark red capsules and place in a paper bag; they will then release the even tinier dark brown seeds. Store them in a cool dry place. Direct sow in late fall or spring.
How to Get Wild Geraniums to Bloom
The best way to extend the bloom season is to deadhead spent blossoms. If you find your wild geraniums aren’t blooming as much as they once did, there are a couple of things to try. First, be sure they have plenty of room to spread; if the rhizomes get overcrowded, or grow into a stone wall or other barrier, this will affect their flowering. Second, be sure the soil is rich enough: a light top dressing of manure or compost in mid autumn will keep the soil rich.
Flowers usually appear in April but some varieties may produce flowers in late March.
Although they can spread somewhat quickly, wild geraniums are very easy to divide and keep under control.
Wild geraniums are not really suitable for containers because they spread via rhizomes which would tend to quickly outgrow most container settings.
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