Posted by Aaron Barton on Mar 4th 2023

Geranium (Cranesbill)

Not to be confused with the unrelated annual Geranium, Pelargonium x hortorum, hardy Geranium, of the Geranium family, Geraniaceae, known also as cranesbill, are beautiful problem-solving perennials tolerant of a wide range of site conditions, with well over 400 species and countless cultivars available.

Common cultivars are derived from numerous species, largely native to regions of Europe and Asia, including G. sanguineum, or bloody crane’s bill, in reference to their brilliant red fall color, and G. macrorrhizum, known as bigroot Geranium or scented cranesbill, named for their thick rhizomes and fragrant foliage. Additionally, G. maculatum, or wild Geranium, is native to woodlands of eastern North America including here in Minnesota, with lush green foliage and delicate light pink blooms.

First blooming in late spring and then lightly reblooming throughout the summer, Geranium have five-petaled blooms atop leaved stems that dot the entirety of the plant amongst beautiful their palmate leaves, flowering in shades of pink, purple, blue, and white, often with delicate striping or colored eyes. Cranesbill vary widely in size, generally growing 12-24” tall and wide, with dwarf varieties such as the compact bronze foliage and white-eyed pink blooms of ‘Orkney Cherry,’ reaching just under 12” tall. After blooming, hardy Geranium can be cut back to encourage bushier growth and reblooming if desired.

Excellent massed as a sunny or shady groundcover, or used along retaining walls, in low borders, woodland gardens, rock gardens, or cottage gardens, cranesbill is deer and rabbit resistant and very low maintenance, preferring moist, well-drained soil in areas of full or part sun. Geranium will also tolerate shadier conditions without issue, especially native wild Geranium. Bigroot Geranium cultivars such as ‘Bevan’s Variety,’ with scented foliage, pink blooms, and red fall color, also have excellent drought tolerance due to their large rhizomatous roots, able to lighten up those difficult dry, shady areas of the landscape.

Other popular varieties include the vibrant fuchsia flowers, lush deep green foliage, and bright red fall color of ‘Max Frei,’ the glossy emerald foliage and white blooms with pronounced pink stamens of ‘Biokovo,’ and popular violet-blue blooms and lightly variegated foliage of ‘Rozanne.’

Happy planting!