Rooting Pelargonium Cuttings: Growing Scented Geraniums From Cuttings
By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer
Scented geraniums (Pelargoniums) are tender perennials, available in delightful scents like spice, mint, various fruits and rose. If you love scented geraniums, you can easily multiply your plants by rooting pelargonium cuttings. Read on to learn more.
Propagating Scented Geraniums
Propagating scented geraniums is surprisingly easy and requires very little expense and no fancy equipment. In fact, some gardeners have good luck by simply breaking off a stem and planting it in the same pot with the parent plant. However, if you want to be more deliberate with a higher chance of success, here are simple steps for growing scented geraniums from cuttings.
How to Root Scented Geranium Cuttings
Although these adaptable plants may take root any time after spring, late summer is the optimum time for rooting pelargonium cuttings.
Cut a stem from a healthy growing plant using a sharp, sterile knife. Make the cut just below a leaf joint. Remove all the leaves except the top two. Also, remove any buds and flowers from the stem.
Get a small pot with a drainage hole. A 3-inch (7.6 cm.) pot is fine for a single cutting, while a 4- to 6-inch (10 to 15 cm.) pot will hold four or five cuttings. Fill the pot with regular potting mix or seed starter. Avoid mixes with added fertilizer.
Water the potting mix well, then set it aside to drain until the mix is evenly moist, but not soggy or dripping wet. Plant the cutting in the damp potting mix. Be sure the top leaves are above the soil. Don’t bother with rooting hormone; it isn’t necessary.
Press the potting soil lightly to remove air bubbles, but don’t compress it. Cover the pot lightly with plastic, then poke several holes in the plastic to provide air circulation. (Plastic is optional, but the greenhouse environment may speed rooting). Insert a couple of drinking straws or chopsticks to hold the plastic above the leaves.
Set the pot in indirect light. Normal room temperatures are fine. You can place the pot outdoors if temperatures aren’t too hot and sunlight isn’t intense. Water the potting mix lightly after about a week, or when it feels dry. Watering from the bottom is preferable. Remove the plastic for a few hours if you notice water drops. Too much moisture will rot the cuttings.
Remove the plastic permanently and transplant the cuttings into individual pots when new growth appears, which indicates the cuttings have rooted. This process may take several days or a few weeks.
Rooting Scented Geraniums in Water
Most gardeners find that rooting Pelargonium cuttings in potting mix is more dependable, but you may have good luck rooting scented geraniums in water. Here’s how:
Fill a jar about one-third with room temperature water. Place a scented geranium cutting in the water. Ensure the bottom one-third of the cutting is submerged.
Place the jar in a warm spot, such as a sunny window. Avoid hot, direct sunlight, which will cook the cutting.
Watch for roots to develop in about a month. Then, plant the rooted cutting in a pot filled with regular potting mix.
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Read more about Scented Geraniums
Free Plants from Cuttings: Propagating Pelargoniums and other Woody Herbs
Summer won't last forever, and if you're like me you have more containers of tender scented geraniums and other perennials than you have sunny window space inside. Do you shrug and tell yourself you'll buy new ones next year?
Propagating Pelargoniums (aka scented geraniums) from cuttings doesn't require tricky methods or complicated equipment. This easy method will work for most woody herbs or perennials, especially those whose growth habit makes layering difficult.
The end of summer is a great time to take cuttings. Growth slows down, and new stems have started to thicken up. It's best to take cuttings just a little further down than the new green growth, making your cut where the stem is "half hard," meaning a little thicker and a little stiffer and often a darker color. Strip off all but a few leaves at the top of the cutting, and re-cut the end with a sharp knife. Pinching back the tip will encourage the cutting to put its energy into making roots. Once the cutting "takes," the pinched top will branch out to start forming a bushy little plant.
Most seem to root best when stuck in lightly moistened potting mix. Attar of Roses' and ‘Cocoa Mint Rose' are two that root readily in water for me. Some varieties just seem harder to root than others, so take more cuttings than you think you'll need. Finding homes for extras is never a problem everybody loves their fragrance! Herb guru Tom DeBaggio says to hold Pelargonium cuttings overnight in a sealed plastic bag, to "heal" the cut end and increase rooting success. What about powdered rooting hormone? I haven't noticed much of a difference whether or not I dust some on the stem before sticking the cutting. I use it when I have it, just because it makes me feel better.
If you're feeling informal, you can simply strip the lower leaves from cuttings and stick them right in the pot where the parent plant can provide a bit of shade and protection. Keep the pot watered, and odds are that at least one or two cuttings will strike roots. At the end of the summer when I'm taking cuttings to overwinter, I get more deliberate with my methods.
You can stick single cuttings in two inch pots or groups of three to five cuttings in four inch pots. Either way, fill the pot with lightly moistened potting mix. Adding additional perlite to the mix can improve drainage, and a pinch of moisture crystals can also be helpful. Dibble a hole with your finger, or just stick the cutting straight down into the potting mix. Firm up the soil around the cutting with a trickle of water, being careful not to saturate the mix.
Now you need some way of holding a little extra humidity around the cutting, to keep it from wilting before it roots. This can be anything from a propagation tray with a tall dome to a little zip-front plastic "greenhouse" if you're starting a lot of cuttings. If you just have a couple of pots, try topping each pot with a plastic bag propped up on a couple of chopsticks to keep the plastic away from the leaves. You don't want the cutting to touch the plastic, or condensation may lead to rot.
Once roots start to form, the cutting will be able to take up moisture from the potting mix. Before roots form, the leaves need humidity, but too much moisture will rot the stem. If in doubt, dry it out! I always make a few holes in my propagation dome or leave a little gap in my plastic bag cover, to make sure there's not too much moisture. If you see more than the tiniest puff of mist inside your canopy or moisture dome, the potting mix is too moist, and you need to remove the humidity cover for a few hours.
You'll have better control over heat and other conditions if you root your cuttings inside. Bright indirect light or a light shelf will work best, as direct sunlight will cook your cuttings. In cool weather, bottom heat from a seedling heat mat may speed rooting, but I've never bothered with it.
Sometimes cuttings will strike roots in just a few days other times it may take several weeks. As long as the cutting looks green and crisp, just give it time! You can tell when roots have formed when a gentle tug on the cutting meets with resistance. If you tug too hard and pull the cutting right out, roots and all, don't worry. Just stick it back down into the pot and give it a splash of water to settle the soil back around the roots.
Scented geraniums can also be propagated from seeds. For most varieties, this would mean expensive hybrid seeds. However, Pelargoniun 'Coconut' will set viable seeds. In fact, growing from seed is the best way to propagate this variety, since its growth habit makes it hard to get good cuttings.
Your new little scented geranium is ready for larger quarters when its roots have filled its starter pot. Especially if you pinch them back regularly, they will survive the winter in four inch pots, but they'll appreciate a larger pot or a spot in the garden once warm weather arrives. Don't forget to harden off your plants next spring by gradually getting them used to outside conditions.
It's easy to get hooked on scented geraniums, with their wonderful fragrances, foliage textures, and bloom colors. Propagating them from cuttings makes Pelargoniums easy to overwinter. Trading cuttings is a great way to expand your collection, too. Like potato chips, one is never enough!
Photos by Jill M. Nicolaus. Move your mouse over images and links for additional information (let the cursor hover for a few seconds, and a popup caption will appear).
Most of what I know about propagating cuttings I learned from Tom DeBaggio. For more information, check out his wonderful little book, Growing Herbs from Seed, Cutting & Root: An adventure in small miracles.
How to Grow Scented-Leaved Geraniums
Scented-leaved geraniums are generally purchased as small nursery plants. Plant them in average to rich, medium-moisture, well-drained soil or in pots filled with a peat-based potting mix. Geraniums prefer a slightly acidic soil. Full sun generally provides the best flowering, but they will tolerate part shade.
Pelargoniums are fairly care-free plants that don't require much in the way of watering and feeding, although potted plants should be monitored for soil moisture. In colder climates, potted specimens can be brought indoors to either sit dormant in a cool, dark area, or placed in a sunny window to grow as a houseplant. Some people dig the plants up entirely, hang them bare-rooted in a cool dark place, and replant in the spring. Not every plant will survive this treatment, but a surprising number do.
Because of their scent and thick leaves, scented geraniums are usually pest-free. Whiteflies are the biggest threat and, less often, aphids, mealybugs, and spider mites might attack. Spraying with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil should get rid of them.
Rooting Geraniums in Water
They grow continuously throughout the year, so geraniums can be propagated at any time. However, it is best to wait for a lull in the blooming cycle. Cuttings from geranium plants should be taken with a sharp tool just above a node of the stem. This will boost new growth on the mother plant at the node. The cutting is best between 4 to 6 inches of stem length. Strip off all but the leaves on the top of the stem.
You may choose to enhance your root development by dipping the lower end of the stems in rooting hormone. Poke your cutting into a container of room-temperature, damp potting soil with good drainage. Water well and place the pot in a bright location out of direct sunlight.
Be sure to remove all leaves from each shoot that fall below the water level, as leaves in the water will rot. Do not cover the plant and only water whenever the soil feels dry. Add more water as needed and change if the water becomes anything but clear in color. The cuttings will send out roots, which can be replanted in soil when the season is ready.
What is Root Rot?
Root rot is a disease that attacks the plant roots and causes them to suffer decay. This usually happens when a lack of oxygen supply occurs in the substrate.
To give you an idea, think about plant roots that are submerged in water that only has a little oxygen in it. Over time, the plant suffocates and dies.
Aside from rot and decay, this disease also leads to the proliferation of fungi that are naturally present in the soil. These include Rhizoctonia, Alternaria, Pythium, Botrytis, Fusarium, or Phytophthora. As soon as fungi colonies start to grow, they tend to target the weakened roots and infect your precious plant babies.
Once the plant becomes infected, they won’t be able to take in what they need to grow – water, oxygen, and other nutrients. When this happens, it won’t be long before the plant dies.
Fragrance, and Gift-Plants, Too: How to Propagate Scented Geraniums (Pelargoniums)
BY Kevin Lee Jacobs | October 12, 2009 5 Comments
A mong the recipients of this weekend’s frantic rescue campaign, as temperatures threatened to dip below 32 degrees (a false-alarm on Saturday a reality on Sunday), was my beloved scented Pelargonium ‘True Rose.’ Would you believe that just one of its leaves offers more perfume than all of the roses in my rose garden? Here is how I saved this piece of poetry, and managed to acquire, at the same time, a number of birthday and holiday gifts for my fragrance-minded friends.
Did you know that scented-leaved pelargoniums, familiar to Northeasterners as pot plants for winter windows, are actually large, spreading shrubs in warmer climes? To prove this point, I knocked my ‘True Rose’ from its four-inch pot last June, and gave it free-range in the 4’-by-4’ bed on the north side of my garden shed. Its roots unencumbered, the plant by September had become a massive shrub, 3 feet in height, and 4 feet in width. I could not bear to let it perish from cold, nor did I have the heart to uproot it, and destroy its ignorant bliss. Thus I compromised, by taking cuttings. Not just one or two, mind you, but ten!
Now, I have no need for ten ‘True Rose’ geraniums, no matter how splendid the scent. One is enough for my window garden. I do, however, have 7 friends that I think will enjoy the plant as much as I do, and I will surely attend at least two holiday parties in December, where plants can be given as beautiful and useful host or hostess gifts. (Were you taught, as I was, never to arrive at a party empty-handed?)
Propagating ‘True Rose’ or any of the other fine scented leaved pelargoniums could not be easier. Cut off three-inch pieces from either tips or side-shoots, and remove the lower leaves. Remove also the little wings or stipules you find along the stem. These incline to rot if they remain on cuttings. Leave the stems exposed on a table in a warm, dry room overnight, to permit wounds to heal and form calluses. It is from these calluses that roots will emerge.
Next, fill a pot with sandy soil, and pack it down well. Keep the top inch of the pot open to receive water. Use a standard 4-inch pot if you have but 3 or 4 cuttings to grow for my ten, future gift-plants, an 8-inch bulb pan provided suitable quarters.
Insert the stems deeply enough in the soil to support the cuttings and hold them upright when they are watered. Firm the soil securely around each one. Arrange them so that lower leaves do not touch the soil surface. Then water the soil well.
A cool, (around 60 degrees), bright north window is the proper place for these cuttings. In two or three weeks, carefully dig one up to check progress. Usually, tiny roots will be evident. At this time, the cuttings, actually plants now, are ready for separate 3-inch pots, each filled with rich, but well-draining soil.
Move the pots to full sunlight. For the first month, be sure to pinch out new growth to encourage a bushy form. When one month has passed, fertilizer will be welcome. My policy is to feed the plants with every watering, but I use only a ¼ teaspoon of some “all-purpose” formula, dissolved in a gallon of water.
Over the holidays, I plan to present my handsome young scenteds in a festive way. I will punch a hole in a small gift card, and string a colorful ribbon through it. The card will include the name of the cultivar, P. ‘True Rose,’ its general cultural requirements, and also its uses, perhaps something along these lines:
Place me in bright light or full sun, and give me a drink whenever my top soil feels dry. Use my leaves to perfume your home, your bath water, and even your cocktails. To learn more, be sure to visit www.agardenforthehouse.com. Love, Kevin
The ribbon, with the card attached, will be tied to the pot, which — as an added nicety — will include a matching saucer.
Gorgeous gift-plants, and shameless self-promotion — what more could one ask from a scented-leaved geranium?
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