Scented Geraniums: The Rose Geranium

Discover the scent-sational beauty of rose geranium, along with the fragrant family of scented geraniums.

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Pelargonium graveolens ~Apricot~ (01) Habit

Pelargonium graveolens ~Apricot~ (01) Habit

Sweet Scented Geranium Pelargonium graveolens 'Chocolate Mint'

Sweet Scented Geranium Pelargonium graveolens 'Chocolate Mint'

Surround yourself with the delightful fragrance of scented geraniums. These perfumed plants are cousins of the common garden geranium, in the genus Pelargonium. Many scented geraniums are heirloom plants that have survived over time thanks to gardeners taking cuttings and passing along the fragrant results. Rose geranium, like other scented geraniums, produces scented oils in its leaves. Scented geraniums are pretty plants and easy to grow. The leaves unfurl in a variety of green, blue-green and variegated shades. Give plants fertile, well-drained soil, and a spot in full sun. In Southern locales, provide protection from strong afternoon sun. 

Scented geraniums grow best when temperatures are in the 55° to 70°F range. Higher temperatures stress plants, so be sure to provide adequate moisture when summer heat arrives. 

Grow scented geraniums, including rose geranium, in containers or garden beds. These fragrant beauties aren’t winter hardy, so most gardeners grow them as annuals. If you’re raising scented geraniums in containers, use a commercial soil-less planting mix developed for use in containers. These mixes provide the excellent drainage that scented geraniums need. 

These fragrant plants are easy to overwinter, either in containers or by taking cuttings. If you bring potted scented geraniums indoors for winter, give them a spot near a bright east or south window for best growth. Plants will become lanky inside. Trim them as needed to keep growth in check. 

Taking cuttings is another way to keep scented geraniums alive through winter. Scented geranium cuttings are more prone to rot than other Pelargonium geraniums. Prevent this by dipping cuttings in a solution of 2 tablespoons of household bleach and 4 drops of liquid dish soap in 2 quarts of water. Allow cuttings to dry overnight, and plant them the next day. 

Indoors, scented geraniums are versatile. Leaves can be used fresh in the kitchen or dried to make potpourri. Common kitchen uses include chopping fresh scented geranium leaves to add to cake or cookie batters. Or line a cake pan with whole leaves before pouring in batter and baking. After baking, slice leaves from the cake bottom or allow them to remain and savor the crunchy bite. Whole scented geranium leaves layered with sugar create a flavorful sweetener. 

Scented geraniums are native to South Africa, hailing from the Cape of Good Hope. In the 1700s, scented geraniums, including rose geranium, became popular ingredients in the perfume industry. The rose geranium known as Attar of Roses (Pelargonium capitatum) was used to replace expensive rose attar in perfume. 

At that point in time, rose geranium farms popped up in British-owned Kenya. Today rose geranium oil continues to be used to replace pricey rose attar in perfumes, but the geraniums are raised in Egypt, China and India. It takes one ton of rose geranium leaves to yield 2.5 pounds of rose essence.

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