Cranesbill Geranium: How to Grow a Garden Classic

Geranium

Cranesbills, or hardy geraniums, are perennial members of the Geraniaceae family, one of many flowering genera within the family tree, which includes geraniums as well as close family members pelargonium and erodium.

Learn all about growing cranesbill geraniums in the garden (and how to differentiate them from other geraniums) - read more: https://gardenerspath.com/plants/flowers/cranesbill-geranium/

Native to temperate regions around the world, these cheery plants can be found nodding in mixed woodlands, meadows, prairies, alpine meadows, and rocky slopes.

With a particularly heavy population in the regions of the eastern Mediterranean, it’s no surprise that its name comes from the Greek geranos for crane. And cranesbill is Old English for the appearance of the long, beak-like fruit capsule that forms on some varieties.

You can find these flowers in many beautiful pastel shades. | GardenersPath.com
Photo by Lorna Kring

A mounding plant, the dark green leaves have a light, citrusy fragrance and a broadly circular shape, with five-petaled flowers in shades of blue, pink, purple, and white.

By Any Other Name…

This hardy garden classic is not to be confused with pelargonium. A close cousin in the Geraniaceae family, many of us think pelargoinium is the bedding plant we call geranium; but cranesbills are the true species in the geranium genus.

The red pelargonium pictured here should not be confused with cranesbill geranium. | GardenersPath.com
These plants are not to be confused with pelargonium, pictured here with red blossoms. Photo by Lorna Kring.

From the woodlands they call home, they’ve become residents of gardens worldwide, and prefer an environment similar to their original habitat.

This makes them ideal candidates for any areas that receive early morning sunlight with afternoon shade, or for areas with open shade from tall trees.

Given the right conditions, these garden stalwarts will put on a low-key display of charming pastel beauty from spring until autumn. And many also offer a second season of interest with foliage in bold autumn colors of burnished bronzes, browns, reds, and yellows.

Pick plants for fall that add interest to the garden with changing leaves, once blossoms are finished. Read more: https://gardenerspath.com/plants/flowers/cranesbill-geranium/

These aren’t the flashiest of plants, and you probably won’t use them as the focal point in a bedding area. But few other plants can fill the position of “best supporting perennial” as perfectly.

Cranesbill has the height to fill the second tier behind smaller border plants, and it’s a natural flanking taller shrubs. It can also be used successfully to fill in shady spots, for underplanting trees and rhododendrons, as an edging plant, and as a mainstay in naturalized settings with mixed wildflowers.

Dark pink cranesbill geraniums | GardenersPath.com

For natural areas, Geranium maculatum is a woodland geranium native to eastern North America, and G. pratense is a meadow species – with the double-flowered cultivar ‘Plenum violaceum’ receiving the Royal Horticulture Society’s coveted Award of Garden Merit (AGM).

Cranesbill geraniums also make a good camouflage plant for covering any low-lying eyesores. Their extensive growth can be slightly trained to hide offending material, but their soft form won’t cause damage, or make accessing the spot difficult.

Cultivars of the low-growing G. sanguineum, such as ‘Ankum’s Pride,’ grow with terrific vigor for filling in problem areas, and for use as a ground cover.

Planting cranesbills is a great way to attract pollinators to the garden. | GardenersPath.com
Photo by Lorna Kring

A welcoming plant for pollinators, they’re largely pest and disease free – however, on occasion, they will suffer from powdery mildew, leaf spot, or bouts of rust.

Should these problems arise, ensure the growing area has sufficient drainage – they don’t like roots standing in soggy soil. And provide adequate air circulation, as they like to feel a breeze on their cheeks!

Cultivation and Propagation

Carefree in growth, this pretty plant can handle almost any soil. It prefers earth that’s rich and loamy with humus, a bit on the moist side, with good drainage – not waterlogged or overly saturated.

Cranesbills thrive in the light shade that comes from high treetops, and will be most successful in locations that provide part shade or full morning sun.

A long-living perennial, growth is slow in the first couple of years. But once a mound is formed, these plants put on a show that lasts from late spring until autumn.

These plants will lightly self-seed. | GardenersPath.com
The plants will lightly self-seed. Photo by Lorna Kring.

They also benefit from regular deadheading. By mid-summer, growth in some cultivars may be lagging – and your plump, pretty mound can look somewhat spent and leggy.

To rejuvenate, cut the mound back by one-half to encourage new flowers and prolong the season. Do this in one fell swoop, or shear two halves of the plant about two weeks apart to maintain some flowers while new growth forms.

Propagation may be done by collecting seed, stem rooting in water, semi-ripe wood cuttings in summer, or by root division in autumn or spring.

Collect seeds throughout the summer, then sow in spring or early summer for flowers the following summer.

Seeds can be saved from cranesbill geraniums. | GardenersPath.com
Seeds may be collected mid-summer. Photo by Lorna Kring

Deadheading keeps the plant compact, but you’ll also lose seedheads this way. If you intend to start plants from seed, allow some pods to remain on the plant to mature in place.

Stem rooting allows some plants to develop roots in water – and cranesbill is one of those plants.

Remember all those teacups with plant cuttings on your Gran’s windowsill? There’s a good chance they were geraniums!

For strong, healthy roots, use a sharp knife to cut the stem just below the node where leaves attach to the stem. Trim off the lower leaves, leaving the top two or three in place. Remove any flowers as well – energy needs to be directed to manufacturing roots, not seeds.

A beautiful blue blossom. | GardenersPath.com
Photo by Lorna Kring

Place several cuttings in an opaque container of water, and change the water every few days or as needed. An opaque container helps to protect and shade delicate new roots, which usually form in 3-4 weeks.

Place the container, with cuttings, on a bright windowsill or in a sheltered spot in the garden that gets a few hours of gentle sunlight each day, anywhere from 2 to 6 hours. Morning light or dappled shade works best.

Once healthy roots develop to about 1-2 inches, plant as for stem cuttings below.

Pinkish-white cranesbill geraniums. | GardenersPath.com

Semi-ripe wood is selected from this year’s growth. The base of the cuttings will be older and hard, while the tip is still tender and green. Semi-ripe wood can be collected anytime from mid- summer until mid-autumn.

Place stem cuttings and root divisions in small pots with a light, sandy potting mix. You can also tuck them into a nursery bed for 1 to 2 years, or until they are mature enough to go into the ground.

Nurturing Nature

For a flowering perennial, a balanced fertilizer of 10-20-10 can be applied in early spring, just as new foliage begins to show.

These geraniums benefit from cutting back mid-summer to maintain compact size. | GardenersPath.com
Give your plants a hard shearing mid-summer to maintain a compact form. Photo by Lorna Kring

And if your plant gets a good shearing in mid-summer, re-apply the fertilizer just as new growth begins to emerge.

As with most plants that enjoy some shade and moist soil, avoid over-fertilizing, as this is a main cause of sprawling, lanky growth.

Geranium Plant Facts

  • Prefer light shade for best growth and flower production.
  • A moist soil rich in humus is their growing medium of choice.
  • Once established, they require little care outside of regular watering.
  • Reliably winter hardy in Zones 4-9
  • Annual growth 12-20 inches in height, with a spread of 18-24 inches.
  • Seeds can be started in spring or summer for flowers the following summer.
  • Many varieties have handsome autumn foliage.
  • Will die back in winter.

Where To Buy

You can buy the top-performing ‘Rozanne’ variety online.

Rozanne Geranium
Rozanne Geranium

Named the Royal Horticulture Society’s “Plant of the Centenary,” it’s available from Nature Hills Nursery in 5-inch pots.

G. Pusilum ‘Blue Orchid’ Seeds

Or, you can start from scratch with seeds, available from Amazon.

No-Fuss Blooms

The cranesbill geranium is everything we love in hardworking perennials!

Care and feeding requirements are simple, it works in multiple garden locations, and it reliably puts on a show of sweetly colored blossoms all summer long.

Just give it regular water, some afternoon shade, and a good shearing if it gets a bit too leggy. Other than that, this hardy plant stands on its own – making it a welcome addition to any garden!

What about you readers, any questions about the cranesbill you’d like answered? Drop us a line in the comments below. And don’t forget to check out this article on more of our favorite fragrant flowers and shrubs.

Photos by Lorna Kring, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Nature Hills Nursery and Amazon. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.

About Lorna Kring

A writer, artist, and entrepreneur, Lorna is also a long-time gardener who got hooked on organic and natural gardening methods at an early age. These days, her vegetable garden is smaller to make room for decorative landscapes filled with color, fragrance, art, and hidden treasures. Cultivating and designing the ideal garden spot is one of her favorite activities – especially for gathering with family and friends for good times and good food (straight from the garden, of course)!

40 thoughts on “Cranesbill Geranium: How to Grow a Garden Classic”

  1. My cranesbill leaves turn brown after spring flowering. Should I move to a shady location? How can I get them to flower all summer?

    Reply
    • They prefer afternoon shade Evelyn, so moving them might help if they’re getting blasted with hot sun. Try cutting them back lightly (no more than 1/4 of total growth) after spring flowering, and give them regular doses of a 20-20-20 all purpose fertilizer throughout the growing season – that should help produce a few more blooms. Thanks for asking!

      Reply
  2. Hi Lorna,
    Thank you for your sharing your knowledge on the hardy geranium.
    I purchased 6 of the Rozanne variety last year to line my walk. . They did great through the summer and fall. This spring I waited to see them come up again. Sadly only 1 returned after winter.
    I did nothing to them after their growing season ended. Should I have cut them back right before winter?
    They were expensive and I hesitate to purchase 5 more to replace the ones I lost especially if something I did wrong caused them to die.
    I am planning to do a stem end cutting and try rooting them to replace the 5 I lost.. Thank you again for your knowledge

    Reply
    • Your Rozanne sounds like it should be a better performer Doreen. A couple of things I can think of… they need good drainage, and sitting in water over the winter could cause root collapse.

      The other thought is to ensure the plant’s crown is planted deep enough to withstand freezing temperatures. – a thick winter mulch, 4-6 inches deep will help with this. And no need to cut them back at the end of the season, they’ll die back on their own. Hope this helps, and good luck with your cuttings!

      Reply
  3. I just received some cranesbill geranium from a friend. When planting, should I cut the top growth to encourage strong roots?

    Reply
    • Spot on Barb! I’d trim back about one-third and add a nice topdressing of compost. A mid-summer trim will encourage more blooms too!

      Thanks for your question!

      Reply
  4. Hi, Mine seem to spread beautifully but I only get one or two flowers. It looks healthy and keeps spreading but no flowers. Any idea why?

    Reply
    • Lots of plants will respond to too much nitrogen in the soil by leafing out but failing to flower. Are you fertilizing your plants?

      Reply
  5. I was at a garden center where a beautiful geranium was growing up through a crack in the sidewalk. I was offered the opportunity to take seeds, which I did. My question is, should I plant the seeds now or wait and plant them in the spring and be able to take a year before they bloom? The owner of the garden center said she thought it was a perennial geranium. It had that kind of a bloom, and kind of an ivy geranium leaf.

    Reply
    • What a lucky find, Ellen! Geranium seedlings tend to grow slowly. Save them in an envelope in a cool, dry place for now, and plant them indoors in February in a warm and sunny location, or under grow lights on a heating mat. Some types will germinate in just a few days while others may take a month or so- be patient! Plan to transplant them outdoors or transfer them to pots in a sunny location, hardening them off gradually after the threat of frost has passed.

      Good luck! Let us know how it goes!

      Reply
  6. Cranesbill Geranium, Do seeds need a cold season to germinate? When starting seeds indoors, do seeds need to be scratched to promote germination? I have tried to cultivate indoors from seed in early spring without success.

    Reply
    • The seeds don’t require any special treatment to germinate Norine, but I suspect you may have collected seed from a sterile hybrid. Plants of this nature need to be propagated vegetatively, with root divisions or stem cuttings – both of which are easy and reliable with geraniums.

      Thanks for your question!

      Reply
  7. Hello Lorna. Hope you are well. I recently bought ‘PATRICIA’ cranesbill in memory of my dear mom who passed away in May this year. They were plug plants and we left them in bigger pots before planting them out under a rose. The one plant has flowered well but the flowers are wilting now the other 2 failed to flower. The leaves are very leggy. Any advise please. Blessings to you x

    Reply
    • ‘Patricia’ makes a lovely tribute to your mom Teresa, such a pretty color! Cranesbill can take a year or two to really hit their stride, so new plants with low flower count might just be ‘late bloomers’ – production should improve next year.

      As the growing season wears on they can become leggy and benefit from a good pruning around mid-summer. Cut back by as much as half to encourage new growth and blooms.

      Also, ensure the soil is consistently moist and avoid over-fertilizing, which can cause them to sprawl. A single application of a slow-release, 10-20-10 fertilizer in spring is enough for the season.

      Hope this helps, thanks for asking!

      Reply
  8. Hello Lorna,
    We purchased a new home last summer and there is an over abundance of NH Cranesbill on the property. Pretty much the backyard is a field of it. It is thriving and has been well established here for years. I want to relocate some of it and give some away to neighbors and friends. Would a sod cutter work to transplant large patches or do you recommend repotting and distributing in this way? There is so much of it that it seems I could take it in small squares or sheets to transplant. I am excited to see it bloom this spring. Thank you!
    Brenda

    Reply
    • I like your idea of cutting out squares or sheets to transplant, Brenda. It would certainly be a lot less labor-intensive than lifting and repotting individual plants.

      This would work well for the masses of plants you describe, and you should be able to lift enough of the roots with a sod cutter or shovel to move them successfully.

      Try lifting and relocating half a dozen or so sections this spring – if you’re happy with the results, you can move more at the end of summer. If not, it’s back to repotting.

      Thanks for you question, and let us know how it works out for you!

      Reply
  9. I bought some geranium Roseanne for my back yard to plant along my garage, but the front of my house has a red theme and was wondering if they have a red geranium I could purchase that will return yearly as well? Any suggestions? Thanks, Tom

    Reply
    • Unfortunately, there are no true red ones that I know of, Tom.

      There are plenty of magentas and several in shades of bright pink… what about white or a very pale pink?

      G. cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’ is a very light blush color and G. ‘Spessart’ has white petals – could look very nice against the red!

      Thanks for your question, and let us know what you decide on!

      Reply
        • Hi Sharon, there are no “repeat blooming” cultivars that I’m aware of.

          However, with regular deadheading and cutting back leggy growth, many of the popular cultivars provide months of flowers from spring until frost.

          ‘Ann Folkard’, ‘Ballerina’, ‘Mavis Simpson’, ‘Patricia’, and ‘Rozanne’ are a few award-winning cultivars noted for their outstanding displays and long flowering seasons.

          Thanks for asking!

          Reply
  10. Hi Lorna, I have a cranesbill for several years now. When I first planted it it had beautiful purple flowers however this year the flowers came in white. Is this a ph problem?

    Reply
    • Unlike hydrangeas, geraniums do not change color based on the pH level of the soil. Did the flowers that had white blooms this year grow from seed? Hybrid cultivars do not produce seeds with the same qualities of the original parent plant, so this may be what happened here.

      Reply
    • Good news Elaine, they’re attractive to butterflies and other pollinators, but are deer and rabbit resistant. A good choice if the deer think of your garden as a salad bar!
       
       

      Reply
  11. I have purchased 5 hybrid ‘Tiny Monster’ cranesbills and would like them in a trough. It measures 35 x 90 x 30cm deep and is well drained. I have tried to find out the spacing required but no luck. Any advice would be appreciated.

    Reply
    • Hi David – wow, ‘Tiny Monster’ has great color!

      Its plant profile shows a height of 15 to 20 cm (6 to 8 inches) with a spread of 40 to 50 cm (16 to 20 inches).

      So, for planting in your trough, I’d suggest using a zigzag pattern – three plants closer to the front and two in back, spaced between the front row. This will give them room to spread without crowding and fill the entire trough.

      If they do get entangled, prune them back by about one-quarter of their size in midsummer. This is a good idea anyways as a mid-season shearing promotes new flowers.

      Thanks for asking!

      Reply
    • Hi Alyce, you can cut them back in fall to tidy plants.

      But these are herbaceous plants that die back on their own in winter as they go into dormancy. A quick cleanup to remove any dead plant matter is about all that’s really needed.

      Reply
  12. Which type of grass should i replace my old lawn with in order to grow low flowering wild flowers, in particular cranesbill? Many thanks

    Reply
    • Hey Peter, sounds like an interesting project.

      I don’t suggest regular grass seed because most often it will simply choke out the wildflowers.

      Short growing native or prairie grasses will probably work best with your wildflower scheme – here’s a few suggestions you can try.

      Sand rice grass (Oryzopsis hymenoides)
      Sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula)
      Bottlebrush squirrel tail (Elymus elymoides)
      Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis)
      Virginia wildrye (Elymus virginicus)
      Canada wildrye (Elymus canadensis)
      Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
      Prairie Junegrass (Koeleria macrantha)

      All of the above form pretty seed heads that work well with wildflowers, and they’ll attract birds to your new meadow as well. And planted with yellow rattle will help to keep their height down as well.

      Thanks for asking, and have fun with your wildflowers!

      Reply
      • A nursery just sent me a hardy geranium from an order placed in the spring. It seems a bit late to plant in the ground now. What is the best way to overwinter it?

        Reply
        • Hey Philip, if it’s too late to plant in your region, I suggest double potting.

          Leave your plant in the small nursery container it arrived in (or plant in a small container if it arrived as a bare root plant).

          Next, line a larger pot with some insulating material such as dry leaves, moss, sawdust, or straw. Chose a pot that’s large enough to allow for two to four inches of insulation on the bottom and sides.

          Nestle your small pot inside the larger one then cover the crown with more insulating material – another two to four inches.

          Set the pot in a sheltered location for winter, but don’t let it dry out. The foliage will die back, but you want to keep the roots lightly moist while in dormancy.

          Once the temperatures start to warm next spring, remove the crown mulch and lightly increase watering. Plant after the ground temperatures have warmed.

          Thanks for asking!

          Reply
  13. It is the end of March here in zone 4 and I’m not seeing any signs of my cranes bill geraniums that I planted last fall. Some other things are showing signs of life. Do they come up a little later?

    Reply
    • The end of March is a bit early for them in Zone 4 Ruth – another three or four weeks and you should start to see new leaves emerging.

      Thanks for asking!

      Reply
  14. Hello, my cranesbill hasn’t flowered in a year or two. The leaves are beautiful and healthy, but no blooms. What should I do? Thank you, Rosey

    Reply
    • Hi Rosey, two things I can think of that could effect flowering.

      The first is soil moisture. If soil conditions are too wet, it can inhibit flowering. If this is the case, allow the top inch of soil to dry out between watering.

      The second is that your plants are receiving too much nitrogen – from the fertilizer they’re given or it can also leach from lawn fertilizer if they’re in a bed beside the lawn.

      Try using a “bloom booster” formula fertilizer with lower nitrogen and higher phosphorous levels such as 10-20-10 to encourage flowers.

      Hope that helps!

      Reply
  15. I’ve had a lovely large cranesbill plant with pink flowers for quite a few years but this year it has grown quite large and then suddenly flopped over as though someone had sat in the middle (not me!) I thought it might be a lack of water so gave it a good hose for the last few days. It has revived a bit but still flopped although I can see the flowers coming. Should I cut it back or divide the plant perhaps?

    Reply
    • Hi Jane, to rejuvenate an older plant I would say yes to both.

      I suggest a light trim of up to one-third the foliage length and division. Discard the center of the clump, and take divisions from the outer root ball where they’re newest.

      Apply a 10-20-10 fertilizer after replanting but avoid over-fertilizing – it’s a main cause of lanky, sprawling growth instead of an upright clump.

      Hope that helps, and thanks for asking!

      Reply

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