Chances are you’ve seen a zonal pelargonium. “What’s that?” you ask. Of course, the name might not sound familiar – because you’ve probably heard it called a “geranium.” For many gardeners, planting these beauties is literally an annual affair. And for some, a garden or container just wouldn’t be the same without one!

Zonal Geranium

The velvety, dark leaves of this zonal geranium are a perfect foil to its salmon-colored flowers

Photo Credit: Park Seeds

Zonal Geranium foliage

This fancy-leafed zonal geranium offers a terrific show even without the blooms.

Photo Credit: T. Lee Stephens

Come springtime, you’ll find all kinds of these geraniums in just about every garden center. There are lots to choose from – with flower colors including white, red, peach, salmon, coral and dark orange. You can even find bicolor bloomers if you look hard enough. Most of the geraniums you see are single-blossomed, but there are quite a large number of double-flowered varieties available, too.

Like many other plants, the flowers of zonal pelargoniums rise up above the canopy of leaves. The technical term for this flower structure is “pseudo-umbel.” I tell people to think of it as an umbrella of flowers – with the oldest flowers being at the top of the umbrella and the future blooms held underneath.

Why is this important to know? Because it helps when taking care of your geranium. Deadheading this plant isn’t simply a matter of breaking off the entire pseudo-umbel. You should take the time to clip out the old top flowers as they fade so the younger flower buds underneath can take their place. This also prolongs the bloom period for each flower head and gives your geranium a neat and tidy appearance. Just try not to let your zonal pelargonium deadhead naturally – the flower blossoms will tend to fall and stick to the leaves below, damaging healthy foliage.

Of course, zonal pelargoniums aren’t all about the blooms. In fact, it’s the foliage that earned this plant its name: “Zonal” refers to a darkened band of tissue in the leaf. This pigment is pronounced and darkens as the plant ages. But it’s not the foliage that made the plants so popular with gardeners around the country – it’s the fact these geraniums are tough, as well as beautiful. Nevertheless, to keep your zonal geraniums robust and pretty, it’s good to know a few things.

First, the plants thrive in a 70-75 degree F temperature range. While cooler night temperatures aren’t a problem, these geraniums won’t survive below freezing. And prolonged temperatures below 55 degrees F and above 90 F will cause your plants to stop active growth.

As for humidity, zonal pelargoniums prefer a dry climate. That means you should avoid flower beds or containers in areas with high humidity and no air circulation, or your geraniums may eventually pick up a disease called botrytis (a white mold that turns leaves brown-gray). Also, remember to water your plant at soil level to keep the leaves dry, and don’t forget to plant these beauties in a spot with 6-8 hours of full sun each day. If your zonal pelargoniums develop botrytis despite your best efforts to prevent it, make sure to remove all infected vegetation. The best method is to snap off the leaves or pseudo-umbels instead of cutting them off with clippers or scissors, because the tools can spread the disease from one cut to another.

There are countless geraniums to choose from. For a red bloomer, give ‘Americana® Cranberry Red’ a try. If pink is your color, ‘Melody’ may play the right tune for you. For a lavender hue, ‘Calypso’ adds flavor! ‘Schoene Helena’ brings a beautiful coral color to your garden, while ‘Patriot White’ adds a wonderful glow.

With just a little care, these beautiful plants will add great splashes of color all over your garden – and they’ll even forgive you if you forget to water them. The fact is, a zonal pelargonium is great for just about any sunny zone in your garden.