Hardly any other genus of plants are used as versatile with so many different species in the garden as the cranesbill (geranium). Because the perennials have a lot to offer: attractive foliage, which is wintergreen with some species, particularly beautiful flowers and decorative fruit heads. They are vigorous, easy to reproduce and are avoided by snails. In the truest sense of the word, they are easy to care for.
Profile of cranesbill:
Scientific name: Geranium
Plant family: geranium family
Other names: storksbill, crane’s bill, geranium
Sowing time / Planting time: autumn / spring to autumn
Flowering period: May to August
Location: sunny or shade
Soil quality: well-drained soils with a high lime content
These information are for temperate climate!
Use in: flower beds, single position, group planting, under trees, overgrowth, flower garden, natural garden, forest garden
Winter hardiness: hardy
Plant characteristics and classification of cranesbill
Origin and occurrence of cranesbill
A number of cranesbill species are native to us such as the wood cranesbill (Geranium sylvaticum), the bloody geranium (Geranium sanguineum) or the meadow cranesbill (Geranium pratense), others come from Southern and south-eastern Europe and the Near East and are cultured for the garden beds.
Plant order of cranesbill
Cranesbills are a large genus of plants with around 400 different, mostly perennial species. There is also a large number of cultivated varieties for the garden. Cranesbills have their own family of plants, the geranium family (Geraniaceae).
Characteristics of cranesbill
Cranesbills either grow like clusters or form short, above-ground runners and cover larger areas. Depending on the species, the plants reach heights of 15 to about 100 cm (6 to 40 in) and most of them bloom between May and August. All species have more or less aromatic scented foliage. Bees and the useful hoverflies like to visit their flowers.
Cranesbills have rounded, different lobed and divided into palm-shaped leaves, some of which also have a beautiful yellow or red color in autumn and have an aromatic fragrance.
The bowl-shaped flowers are white, pink, carmine, violet or blue in all possible shades and sit individually on the leaf axils. The sepals are often colored differently than the flowers, so that there is an attractive play of colors.
Cranesbill – cultivation and care
Most species of cranesbill prefer sunny locations. But there are also species thriving in the shade that are also suitable for planting under trees. There is a suitable geranium variety for almost every location in the garden.
In general, cranesbill likes well-drained soils with a high lime content. For acidic soils, liming should therefore be done before the cranesbill is planted. The plants generally tolerate waterlogging less well.
The cranesbill should be planted at a distance of 20 to 40 cm (8 to 16 in), which of course depends on the height and width of the selected variety.
There are many decorative plant neighbors for the cranesbill. Stonecrop, avens, delphinium, cinquefoil are suitable. In addition to lady’s mantle, ornamental sage and low Japanese meadowsweet, the cranesbill can assert itself.
Some varieties of geranium reproduce by seeds. Sowing should be done out in autumn, although this type of propagation does not provide pure results. However, if the seeds are not used for propagation, they should be cut off to promote secondary flowering.
Large perennials can be divided in spring.
However, propagation by cuttings can also be done without problems during the growing season.
Well-grown plants can easily withstand drought. Nevertheless, they should be watered from time to time during long periods of drought.
Fertilization should be done moderately in spring with compost or a perennial fertilizer.
In fall, all dead stems should be cut back to the ground, but it is not necessary.
The easy-care perennials need little attention once they have grown. Newly planted cranesbills should be adequately supplied with water on sunny weather. Non-wintergreen, clustering cranesbills like ‘Patricia’, ‘Rozanne’ and the purple cranesbill, need to be cut back all the shoots to a hand’s width in autumn. The ground cover can be shortened in autumn or spring where it grows beyond the bed area.
Diseases and pests
Neither diseases nor pests are relevant to the cranesbill. Geranium is considered a robust and easy-care plant.
Winter protection is not necessary as the perennial is hardy up to -15 °C / 5 °F.
Use in the garden
From the continuously growing ground cover, which prevents weeds, to the permanent bloomer in the perennial bed, the cranesbills have suitable representatives for almost every garden situation. They are among the easy-care garden plants but do not tolerate extremely sunny locations or waterlogging. Examples of easy-to-maintain ground cover in the shade or penumbra under the woods and on the edge of the wood are the different varieties of the rock crane’s-bill and the low Cambridge cranesbill, the latter coping well with full sun.
In the sunny to slightly shady perennial border, the varieties of the Armenian cranesbill (Geranium psilostemon) with its long flowering period from May to July make a difference, for example the popular, pink-flowering variety ‘Patricia’ and the purple cranesbill or the Himalayan crane’s-bill (Geranium himalayense). Partners are roses, lady’s mantle (alchemilla), peony or ornamental grasses such as the dwarf fountain grass.
Indigenous species such as the dusky cranesbill (G. phaeum), the meadow cranesbill and the wood cranesbill feel at home in meadow-like plantings.
The gray-leafed Caucasus cranesbill (Geranium renardii) and the delicate ashy cranesbill (Geranium cinereum), which have beautifully dark-veined flower shells, are suitable for rock garden beds and walls. An exceptional talent is the particularly flowery hybrid breed ‘Rozanne’, which grows in clusters, but can quickly cover a large area with its long shoots. From the beginning of June to November it always opens new light purple flowers with a white eye and thrives best in sunny to partially shaded places.