Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Care and Feeding of Geraniums

“No other flowering plant has shown a greater rate of increase in dollar value to commercial floriculture and better performance to the purchasers during the last twenty years.”
--Fischer USA website

One of the great virtues of moving about as a child was that when public speaking assignments were issued, I was able to deliver the same three speeches from middle school all the way up to college without anyone having been the wiser. The topics of these three speeches were:
  1. The dangers to world health presented by the rise of TB
  2. Why we ought to care about China receiving back Hong Kong
  3. How to pot a geranium
Of the above topics, how to pot a geranium was by far my favorite.

“One of the most popular of all flowers worldwide, drought-tolerant geraniums are exceptionally easy to grow.”
--Better Homes & Gardens website

It was thus with great delight that I purchased my first geranium in college, a lovely Pelargonium inquinans with red blooms. I had been making that speech for so long, I could have potted it blindfolded, a la Daisy Duke assembling an engine in the dark.

It died almost immediately. But you saw that coming, right?

“Geraniums grow best in full sun.”
--Iowa State University horticultural webpage

In retrospect, I think my apartment balcony was much too shady (as in lack of light, not as in prone to loitering thugs and late-night drug deals). Also, I think that I was over-confident; knowing how to pot a plant is not the same thing as knowing how to care for one. I tipped out the spent geranium and planted ivy, which grew like mad, even when a family of doves trampled it down and built a nest on the flattened leaves. It was great fun watching the doves, but did not fully make up for the trauma of having so quickly lost my first geranium.

“Geraniums need to be kept evenly moist. However, slight drying out between watering is much better than too much water.”
--Bachman’s Floral, Home & Garden website

My second attempt at growing geraniums was not until I’d returned to Florida from Japan. My then- boyfriend had a porch that received plenty of direct sun, and I convinced him that a geranium was just the thing to liven up his domicile. This geranium, another zonal variety, did not die quickly. Rather, it slowly and painfully rotted away (and here, we will avoid all comparisons to the relationship he and I had). Applying my keen horticultural acumen, I diagnosed the problem as overwatering. I highly suspect that the pot is still sitting on his porch in Florida, though he himself has long since moved away.

“Pest problems are minimal with geraniums.”
--Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet

Back again in Japan, and on round three of my bout with genus Pelargonium. It was all going really swimmingly, until one morning when I went out to dead-head* the plants and discovered the presence of caterpillars, methodically decimating everything from the roots up. The only thing to do with caterpillars is violent and unprintable; when I left for work later, the bottoms of my shoes were covered with sticky green goo. Vigilance paid off, and I was eventually able to stave off the plague of destruction. But the geraniums were never quite the same after that.

“Although over 45 different diseases have been described on geranium, most of them fortunately do not occur with any frequency.”
--The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station website

Other recent botanical near-death experiences included a wind-inspired suicidal leap off the balcony ledge (repaired with copious amounts of super glue), and a week away in Tokyo where the rainy season suddenly cleared up, leading me to regret having not asked a neighbor to see to it that the plants were watered. We have survived all of these affronts.

However, now I have come across a problem for which even the magic of the internet seems loath to provide a solution. My geraniums are turning white. Not the flowers, the leaves. The difference between when I bought them and now is the difference between Michael Jackson ‘Off the Wall’ and Michael Jackson ‘Dangerous’. It looks like some chlorophyll-thirsty vampire has been stealing on to the balcony at night to suck the plants dry.

“If your geraniums are diseased or are infested with pests, it is best to trash them and start over with new, healthy starts next year.”
--Oregan State University Extension Service Garden Hints

I fear this may be the death-knell for my poor Pelargonium. I’ve tried moving them in and out of the sun, watering them less, watering them more, talking to them lovingly, and threatening them loudly. Cajoling in both Japanese and English has produced no result. All that’s left is to bring them inside and make them comfortable in their final hours. My coffee table has become some sort of ghastly plant hospice.

“You already know that geraniums thrive outdoors, in summer flower beds or containers, but did you know that geraniums can be grown successfully indoors all year round?”
--Creative-Home website: ‘The Medicinal Uses of Geraniums’

There’s no real moral or ending to this story. Except that now I see why emotionally fragile people opt for ferns.

*The systematic removal of expired blossoms and leaves. It has absolutely nothing to do with Jerry Garcia.


Mrs. Wrye said...

You should be published.

Anonymous said...

Philodendrons grow much better in Florida than anything else. Well, except maybe mint, which will take over your yard if you injudiciously plant it there.

Where did you live in Florida? (I write from St. Petersburg.)

My only suggestion for the white leaves is to try and avoid chlorine. How heavily chlorinated is your tap water? As a solution, try boiling the water for a few minutes and leaving it to cool, or leaving it out in an open pan for a few days to allow the chlorine to evaporate. And make sure it doesn't touch the leaves -- water the dirt directly.

I always enjoy your writing greatly. Interspersing your entry with geranium quotes had to take a lot of work, though Google is good for some things. The effect was successful. Masterful, but not overly affected.

Josh (not the one who is apparently coming to visit you)

Catherine said...

Can't help you there. I once had a Meyer lemon plant that hated me.

I did everything for that plant but it just kept slowly, maliciously dying at me so I abandoned it out on the balcony all winter (in Arlington, VA) to let it die in peace. When I decided to go out and retrive its remains in spring (to clear the balcony for use), there it was green and happy sporting blossoms and mini-lemons! So I brought it back it to properly care for it (proper sunlight, water etc) and then it immediately started dying on me again.

I didn't bring it with me when I moved to Alexandria, though I'm sure that it's put down roots in a landfill somewhere, blossoming for discarded tires and alley cats.

I now stick with fresh cut flowers from the florist, but it would be nice to have some more permanent plants around.

Anonymous said...

Mom suggests FRAMING a photo of a nice geranium!

BTW, we're home now! Great trip!!!

Much love!

Katie said...

I was in Gainesville ('Go Gators', and so forth). A very nice town. Though St. Pete is also quite lovely. Really, North Central Florida is just a great place in general.

I hadn't considered chlorine, so thank you for the suggestion. And I haven't entirely decided how I feel about the quotes -- I just found them more and more amusing as I was trying to research the problem. My poor geraniums.

Mrs. Wrye said...

I have something to mail you, but the only place I know to do that around here is FedEx and something tells me you don't get FedEx over there.

Or do you?