Often commonly referred to simply as geraniums or storksbills, a scented pelargonium is actually one of the many species within the genus Pelargonium, which shares the family Geraniaceae with the separate genus Geranium. The scented pelargonium has a number of uses, such as making potpourri and as tea or food flavorings. Perfumers also utilize the oils distilled from the plants, especially Pelargonium graveolens, which is the rose-scented variety. These flowering perennials are among the most popular house and garden plants, doing well in pots, hanging baskets, or beds.
There are a number of varieties of the scented pelargonium, including peppermint, almond, and apple. A variety that produces citronella oil was developed to help repel mosquitoes. The flowers come in a myriad of colors and have a vast array of foliage types. Planting, propagation, and care of the scented pelargonium are consistent throughout the varieties, however.
The plants can be grown either indoors or outdoors when provided with the proper conditions. They thrive in high light conditions, preferring six to eight hours of sunlight per day. Ideal soil conditions should be well drained, properly aerated, and mildly acidic with a pH no lower than 5.5. Overhead watering is discouraged to minimize disease development. It is generally recommended to fertilize regularly to maintain a good level of nitrogen in the soil.
When planting outdoors, do so after all chance of frost is past. Choose pots that are at least 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm) and transplant the scented pelargonium into larger pots if the plant begins to wilt between watering. A layer of mulch will help bedded plants conserve water and protect the plants from heavy rains.
To maintain the characteristics of a specific scented pelargonium, it can be cloned or propagated by taking cuttings from a mother plant that has been kept somewhat dry for several weeks. Cuttings should be taken from the growing tips of branches and be 3 to 4 inches (approximately 8 to 10 cm) in length. Once the leaves are trimmed from the base of the cutting, they can be placed in the medium of choice, watered, and provided with indirect light until a root system is formed. Propagation may also be achieved by germinating the seeds of a scented pelargonium. Flowering typically occurs 95 to 110 days following germination.
Diseases and insects can be issues with the scented pelargonium, as with any plant. Most commonly occurring diseases include bacterial or fungal leaf spot, stem rot, and dropsy. Proper watering will deter many problems with disease. Although they can be controlled by insecticides or other more natural means, insects such as aphids and caterpillars often infest the plants. Whiteflies, mites, and slugs are additional pests that may need to be controlled.