I’LL ADMIT I’M A SUCKER FOR THE IVY-LEAVED GERANIUM, Pelargonium peltatum. Planted in a hanging basket where its trailing stems with ivy-shaped foliage can freely cascade, it puts on a pink, rose, lavender, purple or white-tinted show that is unsurpassed by even the petunia. And, as you will soon discover, the plant is a great investment, too. I’ve been romancing the fully double ‘Lavender Girl,’ pictured up top, for years. (Don’t tell my partner.)
Outdoors in Summer. Here in the East, where summers are hot and humid, I find peltatum performs best not in full sun all day, but in a bright location that receives only morning sun. My plant blooms and blooms at the northeast exposure beside my back door. I feed it with every watering, just as I do all my container-grown plants. On a low-nitrogen, high-phosphorous diet its stems reach Rapanzel length, often 4-feet, by August. What a sight!
Indoors in Winter. This South African traveler will pay great dividends in exchange for winter care indoors. Before the first frost — October first for me — cut its stems back to six inches, and spray pot, soil, and foliage with insecticide. Then place the plant somewhere sunny but cool (60F is better than 70F). My plant goes on a shelf beneath fluorescent lights in my cool study. If you have a cool south or east window, set your plant there.
Knock the plant from its pot, and slice off half the root ball (above). Snip off half the foliage, too. Then add an inch or so of well-draining compost to the same pot, and reset the plant, filling in with more compost (below). Be sure to leave a two-inch opening between the top of the compost and the rim of the pot to allow for water. Moisten well, then return the plant to its sunny, cool quarters. You will see an immediate improvement in your basket-plant’s appearance.Propagation: To avoid the need for surgery and its associated messiness, overwinter the plant by propagating a few cuttings. You can take cuttings at any time of year.
Cut healthy stems five to eight inches in length. Cut just below a node. Remove the lower inch or so of leaves. Insert stems in a pot of well-draining compost, as above. Firm the compost to secure each stem in place. A five inch pot will comfortably hold three stems for the winter duration.
Water well, and thereafter only when the surface soil feels dry. Place the cuttings in a bright location for 3 weeks while they grow roots. Then bring them to sunny south or east window. You can count on autumn-rooted cuttings to bloom from February on. Transplant to a hanging basket (or window box) when summer arrives.
The ivy geranium received its common name because its leaf resembles that of the true ivy, Hedera helix. The botanical name, peltatum, means “shield-shaped,” and indeed the leaf’s stem is attached in the center, in the very manner of a warrior holding his shield.
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