Rose Geranium Plants

The scented leaves of these light-loving beauties are just one of the reasons to add them to your garden.

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Pelargonium graveolens, flower head, close-up

Photo by: Roger Smith

Roger Smith

Botanical Name: Rose Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)

When you think of a rose geranium a sweet, light scent might be one of the first thoughts that comes to mind. While you’re right on target with the scent, the flower is actually not a geranium at all. Rose geraniums actually belong to the pelargonium genus, which are commonly known as scented geraniums — thus explaining the misidentification and confusion. Read on to find out the basics of growing your own rose geraniums. 

Color and Fragrance 

Rose geraniums have small lavender or pink flowers that dot a mound of grayish, silvery green foliage, making them appear much different that the typical ‘cranesbill’ rounded-head varieties you may envision when you think of geraniums. The leaves are the prized portion of the plant, because this is where the scent is produced. This foliage is often used in perfumed oils, and can even be added to culinary creations including beverages and desserts. From the popular ‘Attar of Rose’ and ‘Old Fashioned Rose’ varieties, which have a strong rose scent, to those that have a lemon and rose blend, such as ‘Ice Crystal Rose’ and ‘Candy Dancer,’ the fragrances are a delightful addition to any garden.

When to Plant and Bloom Time

Rose geraniums will act as annuals in zones 7 and lower and as perennials in zones 9 and higher. Zone 8 falls somewhere in between depending on the season’s conditions. If you live in zone 7 or lower, you will want to bring the plants in for winter or consider propagating them for continued blooms. Not sure of your plant hardiness zone? Consult the map at planthardiness.ars.usda.gov to find out which plants will thrive in your area. 

Where to Plant and Conditions

Rose geraniums are a native of South America, so they can stand the heat and prefer full sun or partial shade environments. Place them in a location where they can receive at least six hours of light per day. In cooler zones, plant them in containers that can be brought in during the winter months; in warmer zones, you can choose to plant in directly in the ground or in containers to place at your entry, where you and your guests can enjoy the scent. 

Care and Maintenance

Watering your rose geraniums is all about balance. Give them a drink when the soil is beginning to become dry, being careful not to overwater and not to allow them to become dried out. Either scenario will result in reduced blooms. Rose geraniums can and will fill the space given; prune them regularly to keep their shape tidy and allow them to fill only the desired space. If you plan to fertilize, use a low-nitrogen mix once per month. And, as noted above, be sure to bring them indoors at the first sign of a frost if you live in a cooler zone.

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