Persian Queen geranium, as a standard

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Here's the geranium that proves that chrome yellow and hot pink are soulmates.  With 'Persian Queen', sunglasses are always a help—even, as today, when it's pouring rain. 

 

A plant this bright demands center-stage, and in my garden nothing is more important than the West Axis that "spines" the entire property.  'Persian Queen' is holding the spotlight even when seen from over a hundred feet away.  (Ah, late July in the garden!)

 

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To make a showy plant even more prominent, my 'Persian Queen' has grown up a stake to form a ball-on-a-stick shape known as a "standard."  It's almost five feet tall—as huge as huge can be for a geranium.  

 

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But no Pelargonium is interested in frost, so it's time to load all the tender things into the truck and drive them to the greenhouse for the Winter.  (See "How to Handle it" for strategies to overwinter Pelargoniums.)  I've got five Pelargonium standards, the solo 'Persian Queen' and a quartet of the red-flowered 'Crystal Palace', three of which are already aboard the truck. 

 

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Below, the focal group without its 'Persian Queen'.   

 

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Even the sensational agave relative, Furcraea foetida, is a bit subdued.  No, it's not levitating; it sits on a heavy metal stand hidden by the purple barberry. 

 

The Furcraea is completely tender, too, so after it goes into the truck the palms break rank in despair: The one on the right is the first to slink away.

 

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With the Pelargonium, palms, and Furcraea safely in shelter, the purple barberry gets a long-awaited trim. 

 

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Now the metal stand that supports the heavy potted Furcraea is all too clear.  Why didn't I plant a fourth Berberis, so this side of the stand would be better hidden?

 

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The barberry needs to look its best:  It's a six-month "interregnum" before all the flashy focals return for the warm months of 2012.

 

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From late October until mid-May, the barberry has center-stage all to itself.

 

 

Here's how to grow this exceptionally vivid geranium standard:

 

Latin Name

Pelargonium x hortorum 'Persian Queen'

Common Name

Persian Queen geranium, as a standard

Family

Geraniaceae, the Geranium family.

What kind of plant is it?

Woody perennial usually grown as an annual.

Hardiness

Zones 9 - 10

Habit

Broad and dense, with only a few thick branches unless pinched.

Rate of Growth

Fast. 

Size in four months

Pelargoniums are usually grown as annuals even where hardy.  By mid-Summer, eighteen inches tall and almost as wide.

Texture

Full and substantial, with typical (except in hue) geranium leaves up through which modestly-sized heads of electric-pink flowers erupt.

Grown for

its foliage, which is a solid acid yellow and visible, seemingly, for miles.

 

its flowers: intense pink, they could scarcely be a more vivid contrast with the foliage.  You've gotta love it.

 

its enthusiasm:  Besides the irrepressible colors, 'Persian Queen' grows with dedication all season, through sun as well as rain.  Flowering can decrease in hottest weather, to pick up again in September and October,  but foliage never loses its glow. 

Flowering season

All season, as long as it stays sunny and at least in the 50's.

Culture

Full sun with light soil and good drainage.

How to handle it

Annual geraniums are so precocious and indefatigable that they have been the mainstay of generic municipal containers and bedding for generations. 

 

The coloring of 'Persian Queen' is so torrid that the plant always seems iconoclastic and up-to-the-minute despite being heirloom.  Although yellow and pink aren't usually thought of as congenial partners, when they're chrome yellow and electric-Pepto, it works.  But that doesn't mean that 'Persian Queen' goes with other yellows as well as other pinks.  It's a slap-in-the-face plant to add to a predominantly pink planting, not a predominantly yellow one:  The yellow one will, almost inevitably, also harbor some orange or even red that definitely won't go with pink, whereas a splash of chrome yellow amid an inherently more staid sweep of pink and blue would be refreshing instead of jarring.

 

In-ground, geraniums grow anywhere dahlias will: In fluffy, well-draining soil in full sun.  They're quite fine about getting a bit dry between waterings, too; avoid too much water, which will cause the plants to rot.

 

You can grow 'Persian Queen' into a standard yourself.  (I bought mine on a whim; they were full height and nicely-headed.)  Stake a young plant by the time it's eight inches tall, and gently but regularly tie the new growth to the stake to keep the "trunk" growing tall and straight.  Pot-up young plants regularly: You want them to grow as high and as quickly as possible, both of which could be limited if they become pot-bound.  

 

Pinch the top of the trunk when you want the plant to branch out and start forming its head—i.e., to become a standard not just a tall and skinny plant.  Geraniums are naturally bushy, and tend to "self-head" from there.  

 

Two challenges now await you.  The first is keeping your geranium standard tidy.  Faded leaves as well as spent flower clusters need to be removed almost weekly; you'll soon appreciate how helpful a very light pair of hand clippers can be.  Bonsai scissors are just what you need: inexpensive and light, and with a projecting pair of blades—they're scissors, mind you, not pruners—that help reach into tight spots in the interior of the head.  

 

The second challenge is to keep the standard from falling over.  Even if your geranium is in a pot big enough and heavy enough not to be blown over, the geranium head will become so big, and atop a trunk so (comparatively) high, that it will act like a sail.  Even if it doesn't pull the pot over, it's just as likely to snap your stake—and then itself—or just cause the stake to lean over awkwardly.  Not pretty.  My solution is to tie a collar of green florist wire under the lip of the pot, and then tie four guy-wires from it up to the top of the stake, but not the top of the geranium itself lest the wires would cut into soft growth. 

 

My standards (I have five) are about as tall and wide as possible—including the pot, five feet tall and two feet wide.  Since I've wired them I've had neither a tip-over, a lean-over, nor a snap-off.  Whew.  They're in huge pots—seven gallon—and will never need repotting.  Whew, again.

 

Year-round, water only when the soil around the standard feels dry.  Geranium leaves and stems are both somewhat succulent, and they can store a lot of water.  Better to let the plant dry out a bit more than to water it too much or too often.  Fertilize once a month when the plant is active Spring through Fall. 

 

Given that geranium standards are a fair amount of work to form and to care for—and are expensive to purchase already-formed—you may well be tempted to overwinter them.  Geraniums are subtropical instead of tropical, so appreciate cooler nights and reduced water, not the constant hot-and-dry of a typical well-heated home in Winter.  If you have a sunny window in a room that can get down to the low fifties (or even into the high forties) at night, you're in luck. 

 

Bring your standard in from the garden before there's any danger of frost.  Prune it back by a third to help it fit into your available space and also help it branch out and dense-up after what is probably a Summer of rampant freedom.  Especially because it now has so much less foliage, don't water until the plant is ready, which is somewhat of a theme with geraniums.  "Ready" is when the top inch of the soil is truly dry.  There will probably be a lot of leaf drop, which is fine.  There might also be increased flowering ('Persian Queen' in particular flowers better when the nights are cool), which is wonderful.  

 

The cooler your room, the less the chance the bugs will be a problem.  It's easier to control bugs by lowering the temperature than by using sprays that, even if they aren't somewhat dangerous (hey, they're nasty enough to kill bugs) are nearly always messy. 

 

Another strategy for overwintering geraniums is to let them go fully dormant by witholding water entirely to let the pot get fairly dry, and then put the pot in a reasonably dark, cool, but not-too-dry basement.  Without light, the geranium drop almost all its leaves and (of course) stop flowering; insects will abandon it, too.  Check every few weeks to keep the plant from shrivelling; spray lightly with water if it is.  Bring back into light and heat about six weeks before the last Spring frost.  Pinch or prune it after it comes into active growth: You can never have geraniums that are too branchy.  Dormant overwintering is reputed to result in more prolific flowering the following Summer.  I'll report in when (and if) I get first-hand experience.

 

Yet another way to "overwinter" a standard geranium is to root cuttings of it to grow up in a new standard.  This is much (much) easier than overwintering a full-size standard but, then again, isn't nearly as impressive as a standard that clearly has some history.     

Downsides

Geraniums are not plants for shade or for soil that doesn't dry out between waterings.  They can also be unhappy in climates where warm weather inevitably means high humidity and frequent rain, but I had no trouble locating how-to information raving about geraniums for Summer display in Florida, and you can't get stickier or stormier than that.  Overwintering geraniums as full-size potted plants takes a certain dedication and alertness:  They can't just be shoved into the greenhouse and watered willy-nilly; nor can they be stowed in the basement like, say, dormant canna tubers, and ignored until early Spring. 

Variants

There are hundreds of Pelargonium cultivars just among the "garden variety" plants used as annuals.  Like roses, they come in any color but blue.  Foliage can be variegated as well, and/or as tiny as your thumbnail, as ferny as the best fern, and sometimes deliciously scented. 

 

True Pelargonium nuts will eventually find their way from the popular hybrids to the species, native to dry climates of southern Africa,  They often have gnarly and swollen trunk-like bases known as caudexes.  These can be a feature of almost fetishistic and even recondite interest far greater than in the flowers themselves.

Availability

On-line and at nurseries.

Propagation

By cuttings.  

Native habitat

Pelargonium x hortorum is a complex hybrid of several South African natives, including P. inquinans and P. zonale, and originated in Europe in the 19th Century.  'Persian Queen' is probably of British origin.

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