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Canberra Today 15°/20° | Friday, February 23, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

In praise of popular pelargoniums

Pelargonium hortorum… a great year-round plant. Photo: Jackie Warburton

Popular pelargoniums bloom right through summer and into autumn, but not all varieties like the same conditions, writes gardening columnist JACKIE WARBURTON.

Some frost-tender pelargoniums can be treated as annuals, but others are hardier for our Canberra winters.

Jackie Warburton.

There’s always been confusion between geraniums and pelargoniums.

It was easier to tell the difference with old-fashioned varieties of pelargoniums as their flowers were often asymmetrical with two upper petals and three small, lower ones, whereas geranium flowers are symmetrical and usually have five petals. 

Pelargoniums grow taller and can get woody as they age, while geraniums like to grow lower to the ground and can be an herbaceous perennial 

In modern breeding, pelargoniums can have symmetrical flowers with all petals being identical. A good example of this is the Pelargonium hortorum, a great year-round plant, with its bronze-gold leaf and distinctive markings. It flowers red-orange.

An evergreen that thrives on neglect, it grows well through winter and doesn’t mind the shade. However, it will flower better if it has a little sun. 

Other pelargoniums to try and grow in our region include regal, zonal and scented varieties.

Regal varieties are more modern styles with hundreds of different colours. They’re a little frost sensitive and will do better in pots.

Zonal pelargoniums are tougher for our winters and, grown in the right spot, can flower all year round.

The most popular scented pelargonium for me is Pelargonium citronellum. I have it planted in garden beds close to my outdoor entertaining space, where it acts as a mosquito repellent plant.

Rubbing past this plant releases its natural lemon scent, which wards off other insects as well. 

As a bonus, its flowers are pretty two-toned pink with old-fashioned petal arrangements. It is easy to care for, easy to propagate and requires little care when established. 

WITH all that extra rain at the beginning of summer, the vegetable patch should be in full swing. Be sure to water and fertilise pumpkins and anything growing fruit to keep them growing fast. 

Keep garden beds mulched to maintain moisture in the soil for the hot days ahead and water in the morning, when it is cooler. 

Get garden plots turned over and ready for root vegetables to be planted before autumn. Don’t add manure to the soil for root vegetables as it causes them to grow crooked and hairy.

TOMATOES should be ripening well. The more fruit that’s picked, the more will grow, so keep harvesting. 

One issue around this year is blossom end rot. In some cases, the base of the tomato is blackened and all the fruit is spoiled and inedible. 

To prevent blossom end rot next season, add dolomite lime to the soil a few weeks before planting. Adding a sprinkle of lime after planting may help now, but will take several weeks and set the plant back, so preparation for next spring is the key. 

To grow tomatoes fast, use a fertiliser that is low in nitrogen and specific for vegetable growing. Add seaweed solution fortnightly, too. 

Plants to grow close by as companions are parsley, basil, calendulas and chives. They all attract bees to pollinate the flowers and beneficial insects.


  • Sow winter root vegetables into punnets for planting in March. 
  • Summer prune of stone fruit trees. 
  • Tie up dahlias and keep cutting flowers for the vase. 
  • Fertilise autumn bulbs as they start to grow.

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Thank you,

Ian Meikle, editor

Jackie Warburton

Jackie Warburton

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