Last updated on December 2nd, 2011
Among the recipients of this weekend’s frantic rescue campaign, as temperatures threatened to dip below 32 degrees (a false-alarm on Saturday; a reality on Sunday), was my beloved scented Pelargonium ‘True Rose.’ Would you believe that just one of its leaves offers more perfume than all of the roses in my rose garden? Here is how I saved this piece of poetry, and managed to acquire, at the same time, a number of birthday and holiday gifts for my fragrance-minded friends.
Did you know that scented-leaved pelargoniums, familiar to Northeasterners as pot plants for winter windows, are actually large, spreading shrubs in warmer climes? To prove this point, I knocked my ‘True Rose’ from its four-inch pot last June, and gave it free-range in the 4’-by-4’ bed on the north side of my garden shed. Its roots unencumbered, the plant by September had become a massive shrub, 3 feet in height, and 4 feet in width. I could not bear to let it perish from cold, nor did I have the heart to uproot it, and destroy its ignorant bliss. Thus I compromised, by taking cuttings. Not just one or two, mind you, but ten!
Now, I have no need for ten ‘True Rose’ geraniums, no matter how splendid the scent. One is enough for my window garden. I do, however, have 7 friends that I think will enjoy the plant as much as I do, and I will surely attend at least two holiday parties in December, where plants can be given as beautiful and useful host or hostess gifts. (Were you taught, as I was, never to arrive at a party empty-handed?)
Propagating ‘True Rose’ or any of the other fine scented leaved pelargoniums could not be easier. Cut off three-inch pieces from either tips or side-shoots, and remove the lower leaves. Remove also the little wings or stipules you find along the stem. These incline to rot if they remain on cuttings. Leave the stems exposed on a table in a warm, dry room overnight, to permit wounds to heal and form calluses. It is from these calluses that roots will emerge.
Next, fill a pot with sandy soil, and pack it down well. Keep the top inch of the pot open to receive water. Use a standard 4-inch pot if you have but 3 or 4 cuttings to grow; for my ten, future gift-plants, an 8-inch bulb pan provided suitable quarters.
Insert the stems deeply enough in the soil to support the cuttings and hold them upright when they are watered. Firm the soil securely around each one. Arrange them so that lower leaves do not touch the soil surface. Then water the soil well.
A cool, (around 60 degrees), bright north window is the proper place for these cuttings. In two or three weeks, carefully dig one up to check progress. Usually, tiny roots will be evident. At this time, the cuttings, actually plants now, are ready for separate 3-inch pots, each filled with rich, but well-draining soil.
Move the pots to full sunlight. For the first month, be sure to pinch out new growth to encourage a bushy form. When one month has passed, fertilizer will be welcome. My policy is to feed the plants with every watering, but I use only a ¼ teaspoon of some “all-purpose” formula, dissolved in a gallon of water.
Over the holidays, I plan to present my handsome young scenteds in a festive way. I will punch a hole in a small gift card, and string a colorful ribbon through it. The card will include the name of the cultivar, P. ‘True Rose,’ its general cultural requirements, and also its uses, perhaps something along these lines:
Place me in bright light or full sun, and give me a drink whenever my top soil feels dry. Use my leaves to perfume your home, your bath water, and even your cocktails. To learn more, be sure to visit www.agardenforthehouse.com. Love, Kevin
The ribbon, with the card attached, will be tied to the pot, which — as an added nicety — will include a matching saucer.
Gorgeous gift-plants, and shameless self-promotion — what more could one ask from a scented-leaved geranium?
For more gardening tips and hints, be sure to sign up for Kevin’s weekly newsletter.