It's geranium time

Soon after you have made your New Year's resolutions you may turn your thoughts to the garden. January is the time to jump in if you want to enter the wonderful world of geraniums.

Geraniums have come a long way since the days when Grandma broke off a branch of her favorite plant and popped into a jar of water on the window to root for you. While a lot of the old favorties are still with us -- the grand array of variegated leaf geraniums, scented geraniums, trailing geraniums, and the standard potting or bedding kind -- there are many new ones.

Some of the newer geraniums are so double they resemble miniature roses. A pansy-faced geranium has appeared and dwarf varieties with superlarge flower heads are popular for bedding, pots, and flower boxes.

Some things remain unchanged in the world of geraniums. They are still heat-resistant and can be killed by over-watering. They still bloom from May until frost outdoors and eternally indoors. Geranium planst still damp off easily, making it desirable to use sterile soil or planting mediums and using sterilized pots or containers.

Geraniums are probably easier to raise from seed now that we have new, sturdy strains. Assorted colors an be purchased for a few cents per seed but fancy hybrids may run 10 cents or more ped seed. Even at this cost, and considering that some seeds may not survive to adult planthood, you can grow your own geraniums for fun and less cash than buying them.

Once you have selected your geranium seeds, plant them in a container that has been scrubbed with chlorine (laundry bleach) and filled to within an inch of the top with Jiffy Mix or a similar planting medium.

Sprinkle the seeds about a half-inch apart and cover them with a quarter inch of planting medium. Dampen the flat again and slip it into a clear plastic bag. Place flat out of the direct sunlight but in a warm, light place about 70 to 75 degrees.

In 10 days the seeds will sprout and you can remove the bag and move the flat to a sunny window. When three weeks old transplant the seedlings to small pots of sterile growing medium. Water the seedlings only when the "soil" feels dry to touch.

When the seedlings are four to six inches tall pinch out the center leaf buds to encourage many side shoots to produce more flowers.

Geraniums planted from seed in January will be ready to blossom in May. This varies with the variety you plant. Taller varieties take longer to mature than the dwarfs. If you are growing scented geraniums or variegated leaf geraniums you will not be concerned about the flowers, which, if present, are less spectacular than the leaves.

Pinching out the center leaf-buds is still important, since foliage plants and trailing varieties are more beautiful if they have many side branches.

Once you have established your favorite geraniums you may take stem cutting in the fall before frost. These are easily grown on a humidifying tray which keeps the cuttings from damping off. You may be as successful as our grandmothers were.

If your thumb is green enough you can pop the cuttings into a glass of water, place it in a bright window, and put them into potting soil when they have rooted.

Some folks have a good root cellar or cool place the store geraniums. They can pull the geraniums in the fall and hang them bottom side up until spring. When they are replanted they will grow if the basement has not been too dry or too cold. A little experimenting is worthwhile since you may save yourself considerable money in replanting your geranium beds if your storage area is right.

Feeding geraniums pays off in the number of blossoms you get. If they are planted in a growing medium, it is important to get an all- purpose plant food and follow the directions carefully. If they are planted in sandy garden soil you will need less plant food but you may enhance your plants by supplementary feeding.

Geraniums like a sunny location but will do well in partial sun. They wihtstand lack of moisture in window boxes and pots on patios. They cannot take overwatering, leaves pressed against the windowpane, or poor drainage.

To flower freely the old flower heads must be removed since a new one will be quickly formed. If flowers are allowed to dry up on the plant, the rejuvenation process of the plant is slowed down.

Red seems to be the popular color in geraniums. A free-flowering red geranium that grows well from seed is Scarlet Flash. This hybrid grows compactly with larger flower heads and is one of the earliest bloomers. The seeds are usually 10 to 12 cents apiece, in packets of 10 or so.

Mexican Beauty, an ivy-leafed, trailing red geranium is an excellent choice for a hanging basket. A pansy-faced geranium called Madame Layal gives velvety purple-and-white bloom with catlike whiskers. This one grows compact and dwarfed with three-inch flower clusters.

A white Geranium with rosy-edged flowers named Apple Blossom closely resembles the fruit blossoms. It is extremely showy. Sprinter is another bright red gerranium that has won favor. It grows only 10 inches tall and is a prolific bloomer. Showgirl, another red one, less dwarf but fully as prolific, also has become an excellent choice for pots or borders.

Trailing type ivy-leaf geraniums may be potted in hanging baskets in an odd number, three, five, or seven, depending on the size of the basket. Colors can be combined or a solid mass of one color used.

Trailing geraniums combine well with drought-resistant ivy plants, asparagus fern, petunias, ageratum, and any other sun-loving plants. Trailing geraniums also do well in partial sun, making them ideal on patios, hanging under eaves, and from garden walls. Trailing geraniums do not bloom quite as prolificly as the dwarf varieties. Nevertheless, their color is spectacular and they remain a favorite after many generations of gardeners.

Of the variegated-leaf geraniums, Skies of Italy remains one of the most colorful, with ruffled leaves of green, yellow, red, and bronze. No less a head-turner is Madame Languth; a pale green leaf, edged in white, is set off by bright cherry-red blossoms.

If you have enough sun and half a green thumb, you can enter the wonderful world of geraniums. Whether you plant them in pots with good drainage holes, flower boxes with a bed of gravel in the bottom for drainage, or neat little beds by themselves, you will love them.

You may use the dwarfs to edge your borders or flower beds or you may create a bed of geraniums and edge it with sun-lovers such as ageratum, sweet alyssum, or petunias.

Wherever you plant geraniums they are sure to brighten your world just as they did in Grandma's day.

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