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How to look after Scented Leaf Pelargonium
Living Natural Fragrance for Homes and Gardens

Scented Geraniums, correctly referred to as Scented Leaf Pelargonium,
are a type of pelargonium group within 
the Geraniaceae family.

 August newsletter Copthorne in container 1

Pelargonium are a widely distributed genre containing approximately 800 species plus numerous cultivars, as new types are continually being introduced through cross-breeding by growing enthusiasts. Originating mainly from South Africa scented geraniums have a massive following throughout the UK, EU, Australia and the US.  The scented leaf pelargonium group will not generally be discovered in your local garden centre and due to the diverse range of growing habit and types scented geraniums are mostly grown by Specialist Nurseries, such as ours.

  • Scented Leaf Pelargonium are classified as herbs and have an amazing range of scents/aromas.  There are many different lemon and rose scented types as well as citrus, apple, nut, spice, mint, cinnamon, peach, apricot and many others. 
  • The leaves from the scented leaf group are widely used throughout the world in the perfumery and pharmaceutical industry and items such as perfume, soap and cosmetics would often contain the aromatic oils from the leaves of a scented geranium. For example Graveolens is grown commercially, in particular around the Madagascar area, and this is the scented leaf that pure Geranium Oil is produced from, whilst many perfumes would contain Attar of Roses. 
  • SLP leaves are also a very versatile ingredient in food and drinks Recipes and as they are herbs they are edible.  Not everyone is interested in growing plants and we came up with the idea of selling bags of freshly cut aromatics leaves and we offer over 18 different scents/aromas to choose from. 
  • Scented Leaf Pelargonium plants and leaves are used extensively by Herbal Practitioners, Aromatherapists and are an excellent sensory aid.  Quite a few have relaxing and calming properties, i.e. P. tomenstosum – peppermint.
  • A scented geranium in a room will naturally perfume the surrounding air and does away with the need for chemical air fresheners.
  • Of course….scented geraniums are beautiful plants in their own right and once discovered they often lead to a life long addiction!  They really are fascinating.
It is interesting to observe that many people automatically think that the flowers are scented but this is not the case, although they do have a very mild scent.  The secret of the SLP group is that the scent/aroma, ie. the aromatic oils, is contained in the leaves and once they are disturbed the scent is released in to the atmosphere, or indeed, a cake recipe.
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When you receive your plants......
Carefully remove the packing material from the box/packaging.  We take exceptional care in how our plants are packed and delivered. 

Ideally, pot up your plants on the day of arrival but if there is to be a delay check that the compost or the Jiffy 7 around the roots is moist. If it isn't provide water and this will prevent the plants from becoming distressed for a day or so. Store in a cool place inside and away from direct heat and light.  It is in the plants best interest that it is potted up as soon as possible and if you delay doing this for too long it will suffer and might even die.

Where to plant, indoors or out?
Outdoors:  Scenteds may be planted directly in the garden, in borders, raised planters, hanging baskets or in containers during frost free months.
Indoors:  SLP's will flourish all year inside the home in pots on windowsills or located in a room where enough natural light is available.

Frost Warning: Scented Geraniums are frost tender and should only be planted directly outside in the UK from late May through to early October. The remainder of the year they should be over-wintered inside, i.e. in a greenhouse, shed or in the home.  It is essential to assess your frost risk in relationn to where you are located and you will need to bring the plants inside during this time.  It is highly unlikely that they will survive if they are left outside during the very cold months.

If you intend to plant directly in the garden it is advisable to acclimatise your plants gradually to their new location. Over a period of about 4 days increase the length of time outside each day, preferably in a partly sunny spot, and bring them back in by late afternoon or early evening. Regularly check that they haven’t dried out and keep moist but do not over water. By the 5th day they will be acclimatised enough to be planted in to the garden or may be displayed in containers. Terracotta pots are the most suitable as they naturally drain as scented geraniums do not like to be sitting in wet compost but be careful that they do not dry out completely.  Ideally, they do require about 5 – 6 hours of sunshine a day but will tolerate partial shade and still perform well. There are at least a dozen varieties that make attractive hanging basket plants and several others for creating topiaries and espaliers, as well as ground cover.

Scented Geraniums are not picky about temperature but do prefer to be slightly cooler than standard geraniums. A range of 55º - 70º is ideal and if they sit on a south facing windowsill net or sheer curtains act as a perfect screen to prevent sunburn.  They do prefer to have natural light, though, and do not always do so well if they are too far away from a window.  A leggy looking plant is often due to insufficient natural light.



















tomentosum peppermint flower

Planting Medium
A light commercial potting mix, multi-purpose compost, with plenty of perlite, vermiculite or sand and fine grit incorporated for drainage is ideal.  Well drained compost in pots or even soil in the garden is essential as scented geraniums do not like wet feet.  Free draining compost means that the compost will not end up resembling a bog as the water should be able to naturally drain away.  If the compost looks wet, thick and tacky this is an indication that there isn't enough drainage material incorporated in to the compost and it should be readjusted.
Ph should be neutral to slightly acid, about 6.0 is fine. If planting in pots, containers etc., we really do advise that you do not use garden soil.

These plants are indigenous to a cool, semi-desert area and are tolerant to drought conditions.  Provide a good watering, preferably from below, and then let them dry out fairly well before watering again. It's a good idea to lift the plant pot and see if it feels light or heavy?  With practice you will come to understand the individual plant's needs and watering will become 2nd nature.
Over the winter period reduce the watering and just keep the compost moist. Neglect is much better than over watering although this doesn’t mean that you never provide water.  If you have a tendency to over water use a terracotta or clay pot to aid natural drainage as these are porous.

Scented Geraniums do not require a lot of fertiliser, however, a regular fortnightly feed, half strength to your usual pot plants, during active growth is recommended. A slow release granular fertiliser is suitable and they respond extremely well to a foliar spray feed of magnesium sulphate (epsom salts) but overfeeding with nitrogen will diminish their fragrance. During the dormancy period over winter there is a division of opinion regarding feeding as some growers continue with a diluted feed solution, whilst others do not feed at all.  Personally, as we incorporate a 12 months slow release granular feed in to our compost our plants are fed all year round and seem perfectly happy and healthy.

Scented Geraniums do best in bright light and will require ample direct winter sun if grown indoors.  When planted in the garden a few hours of direct sunshine will be enough as full on all day sun is not to their liking.  Try and avoid spots in the garden that become blisteringly hot as they do prefer some light and shade with an average daytime temperature outdoors of around 70 degrees.

Always prune! Some plants may arrive to you looking as if they have received a haircut and they probably have. These plants are not damaged; in fact, pruning encourages bushy, dense and lush growth. To keep your plant in good shape and to prevent it becoming leggy as it matures you really do need to once in a while….prune. You will not do it any damage by giving it a good trim providing that you do not cut off all of the growing tips and you will be amazed at how good it looks again in a very short space of time.

Propagating and Pinching 
Starting new plants from your existing scenteds is really easy and makes a great gift for your family and friends. When you prune back your plants use the cut off material as cuttings. It’s that simple. Either place the cut ends in damp sand to root or pot them up in a plant pot in potting to match the size of the cutting and keep them in a warm room. It is a good idea to use potting compost as you will find the new plants will root more readily. Alternatively, you will notice that new plantlets form at the point where a flower has died back and these may be pinched out and potted on in to small plant pots. Do not use rooting hormone, they don’t like it. Check daily and keep the potting compost damp but not too wet and you will be amazed at how quickly they root and form a brand new scented geranium, all for free.


As your plant grows into a stunning specimen and becomes larger it will require potting on into a bigger pot.  This should be one size larger than present as they do like fairly restricted roots.  You will most likely need to do this several times during the life of your plant.  Alternatively, you can take more cuttings and increase your Collection, or make someone's day and give them a beautiful scented geranium as a special gift.

Winter Care
As we’ve already mentioned Scenteds are frost tender and will die if left out over the winter. The bonus is that when you bring them in for the winter they will often continue to flower for several months and make great house plants which will fill you home with the most wonderful of living, natural fragrances. A couple of weeks before it is time to move them back out in to the garden, give them a good prune, repot and feed. Acclimatise to outside conditions just as you did when you received your new plant. Of course, by then, you will probably just love the aromatic scents so much you’ll want to keep them inside.

Other Useful information
In general scented geraniums are really easy to look after and are pest free and do not have significant problems. However, below is a list which advises what to look out for and what to do:

  • Discoloured leaves – mottling, streaking, curling or abnormal colour patterns; possible cause may be a viral infection which is often carried by insect pests. Once infected there isn’t a cure and plants should be destroyed immediately. Prevention – regular watering and fertilisation will keep plants healthy and ward off pests.   Discoloured leaves may also be a sign that the plant is ‘hungry’ and is short of food.
  • Leaf Spot – brown or yellow spots with black edges; good air circulation and cleanliness are essential and will lower the risk of this disease. If you notice any spots on leaves remove and destroy immediately. Once this disease gets a hold on the whole plant the only thing to do is destroy it.
  • Botrytis/Grey Mould – rotting of stems and leaves; thrives in damp, cold and moist conditions and is a fungal disease. Good air circulation and monitor over watering. Remove any diseased plant parts immediately and destroy.
  • Geranium Aphids – tiny sap sucking insects which may spread viral diseases; control by knocking them off with a strong stream of water, an application of insecticidal soap especially to the underside of leaves, or alternatively, introduce natural beneficial insects to the area. The latter being easier to do if you house your scenteds in a greenhouse!
  • Other Pests – mealy bugs, whiteflies, red spider mites; mostly a problem during very dry spells treat as for aphids above.

See also our
Calendar for Growing Pelargoniums
which provides information on what needs doing each month throughout the year


Why won’t my geraniums flower?
A common reason for non-flowering is due to over fertilisation, mainly too much nitrogen. Nitrogen is essential for healthy leaf growth but, as mentioned previously, it is better to feed at half the amount of the stated dose. We find that a separate feed of magnesium sulphate (Epsom salts) does the job and your geraniums will soon be blooming profusely. Like all plants, though, they do need to take a rest and mostly over the winter period growth and flowering will stop.

What should I do when some of the flowers die off?
Gently nip off any spent blooms and destroy and this will encourage new buds to open. This is referred to as deadheading and applies to any flowering plant. This will promote continuing growth and will give you a longer period of pleasure. Like most situations in life some common sense is called for and there will come a time when your plant needs a rest, which is mainly during the winter months. You will recognise this when buds are no longer forming indicating that the plant is slowing down.

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