Scented Geraniums, pruning branches and roots to maintain good health

(November 01, 2010)

Tips on how to maintain good health for a Scented Geranium in a pot or container

It's the beginning of November 2010 and as there's less to do in the garden this is a very good time to check over your Scented Leaf Pelargoniums.  By doing this now you will be rewarded next year as your plants will get off to a flying start and they will be much healthier and bushier. 

Of course, if you grow your SLP's in the home all year your plants may well be still  happily flowering away as there are quite a few types that do flower continously all year long.  You do still need to check what is going on under the compost, though, at least once a year and now would be a good time to do this.  All Scented Geraniums enjoy being pruned and I know it is hard sometimes to do this, especially when they are still in flower, but you really would be doing your plants a tremendous favour and now is a good time to do this.

Here's a general guide on how to prune branches and roots :

  • Remove any decaying or dead looking leaves - this should be done on a regular basis at all times throughout the year.  This applies to any type of plant.
  •  Pruning branches - we receive many emails where it is expressed how hard it is for you to cut back your Scenteds.  Many of your plants are still in flower and you just cannot bring yourself to cut them back.  Our answer to this dilemma is - BE BRAVE!  Providing that you don't go completely over the top and you ensure that you do leave some growing points you really will not kill your plants.  Every type of Pelargonium does enjoy being pruned on a fairly regular basis.
    Here's how to do this:
    1.  Before you cut any branches off take a good look at the shape of the plant.  Does it look balanced all the way around?  Are there any branches growing at peculiar angles?  Is it very congested in the centre?
    2.  Now's the time to be brave!  Using sterilised sharp scissors or a sharp knife decide which branches do really need to be totally removed and cut back the hardest.  For example, if there is a branch that is growing out at a really peculiar angle I would cut this back to the main stem and would not leave a part with a growing point on it.  If this is the first time that you have attempted this please do not go too mad and cut too many branches off back to the stem.  Until you gain more experience exercise some caution as to how many branches you do this to.  As a guide, if the plant is very congested in the centre I would remove some until the plant looks 'thinned out' but I would still be thinking about the overall shape that I would like to achieve for next year.
    3.  The next thing is to tackle the remaining branches which will produce next year's new growth.  This is when you have to be really brave as the final result may well look quite drastic but trust me it is worth doing. 
    ** Take a look along one branch at a time and identify where there is a new growing point emerging.  A growing point is a little green thing and may be quite tiny.  It is also very fragile at this stage so please be gentle.
    ** There may well be many growing points along the branch but it is not necessary or advisable to keep them all. 
    ** Generally, I would look for a growing point that would be either the first or second along the branch towards the base of the main stem, approx. 1 - 4 inches above the compost.  Where the growing points are does depend on the type of SLP, i.e. whether they are smaller or larger growing types.
    **  Next, being extremely careful as you do not want to cut off the growing point, with a clean cut remove the upper part of the branch as close as possible to just above the growing point.
    **  Repeat this process for all of the remaining branches.
    ** It's a good idea wo dust any open wounds where you have cut off a branch with a Fungicide powder.  This will help prevent infections.

TACKLING THE ROOT SYSTEM - The roots are the most important part of any plant.  Food and water are absorbed through the root system, which maintains a plant's life.

It might be obvious to state that we don't actually 'see' the roots of plants, whether they are in a container or in the garden, but this vital life giving aspect is often overlooked.  Roots should receive just as much attention as flowers and leaves.  There's little point to pruning the top part of the plant if the roots are not periodically checked.
  •  I think that the biggest problem is that we are all guilty of enjoying the leaves, flowers and branches of our scented geraniums that without meaning to we do forget about the root system.  Often, it is the roots that become distressed initially before the top part of the plant.  For example, this might be a large root system in too small a pot/container which inhibits food or water being taken up.  Result will be that the flowers, leaves will suffer and this may well attract pests as the plant weakens.  It's like a plant having malnutrition and it doesn't have a Doctor to hand!!
  • Checking the root system on a fairly regular basis is very important.  It will ensure that your Scented Geraniums will maintain good health.
  • As a guide we advise that you do the following as the small plants continue to grow and as they mature check the root system approx. twice a year.
  • All types of SLP's do tend to have quite an extensive root system, which includes the smaller types as well as the larger ones.  Yes, I know it is hard to imagine that when you receive a Starter size from us that this will indeed often grow in to a very large plant.  But, they do!!  This is why we regularly remind everyone that it is important to pot on SLP's as they continue to grow.  A restricted plant will not be a happy or healthy one.
  • Remove the Scented Geranium from its pot or container by gently tapping the bottom of the pot. 
  • Often the roots will have spread throughout the compost and will have depleted it substantially.  The compost will often be dust like by this stage without any 'body'.  When this happens the plant is unable to take up enough water or plant food.
  • As many of us are restricted for space it isn't practical for us to keep moving the plants on in to even larger pots and the solution is to trim back the roots and also change the compost possibly twice a year. 
  • TRIMMING BACK THE ROOTS - gently tease away the old compost around the roots, try not to just tear them off.  This is not the way to do this.  As the root system is revealed give the plant a gentle shake and the remaining compost will gradually fall away. Some of the extended root will fall away with the compost and this is OK.  Do not attempt to remove every last particle of compost as this is not necessary.  There should be different thicknesses of roots present.  If there are 'straggly' looking roots gently remove these with scissors or a sharp knife.  It is important that you are not too rough when handling the root system and that you do this with the utmost of care.  You should now still have an extensive root system that has been thinned out.
  • When you repot the plant consider how big it was before you gave it a prune?  It will grow to a simiar size or even larger next year and this would be an ideal time to move it on into a bigger pot/container.  However, if you are stuck for space repot in to a clean pot/container of a suitable size.

Finally, a reminder that all types of the Scented Leaf Pelargonium group do require free draining compost and to achieve this an addition of vermiculite or perlite will be very beneficial.  Vermiculite and perlite are easy to buy on the internet or at Garden Centres and are not expensive.  It's also handy to add a slow release granular feed when you repot your plants and this does take the guesswork out of how much feed to give at any particular time of the year.

By following the above you will now have a pruned Scented Leaf Pelargonium which might look quite drastic but it will become a raving beauty in next to no time quite early next year.

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