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INTRODUCTION

Jimmy Turner, the Senior Director of Gardens for the Dallas, Texas Arboretum is our guest writer this week.  Jimmy runs one of the largest trial programs in the United States in his sixty-six acre display garden.  His “Rising Stars” are plants that have survived every vagary the Dallas weather has to offer:  Heat, drought, high humidity, wind, and hail.  Then there is the soil, called Houston Black.  It consists of layers of clay that alternately swell with water and then shrink as they dry out, causing cracks in the surface.  Gardening under these conditions explains Jimmy’s motto:  “If we can’t kill it, nobody can.”

GERANIUMS
Pelargonium ‘Calliope Dark Red’

(also called 'Big Red' at Home Depot)

Jimmy Turner
Director of Research & Garden Designer
Dallas Arboretum

Nothing satisfies that early-spring itch like a geranium!

I’m going to share with you a little horticultural secret that all great gardeners know.  “It’s OK if some plants don’t live forever, or even all summer.”  I know this may be hard to accept.  I’ve even known some new gardeners to cry over the death of a petunia or marigold, but this is the true purpose of annual bedding plants – to make a huge flower show, and then fade away.  It’s important to recognize that this or that plant may not be there all summer, but only in your garden as temporary filler-what I term a “long-lasting outdoor floral arrangement.”

We test several varieties of plants in the Dallas Arboretum Trial Program that won’t flower all summer for us, but that’s OK.  They are beautiful enough to compensate for the limited time they grace our gardens.  One of the most popular of these plants is the familiar geranium or pelargonium.

Although geraniums may not flourish as well for us as for northern gardeners, Texans can’t resist them.  The big, round orbs of bright red and other colors are traditional spring showoffs in our containers and gardens.  Their true niche is late winter and the early part of spring, when we start having warm days, but a late frost is still possible.  That’s when the “garden itch” hits Texas gardeners, and we head to retail nurseries in droves. 

The one plant that is always waiting for us is geraniums, their bright flower clusters beckoning us to take them home.  As many of you know from experience, they flower wonderfully through those cool days and cold nights, but when July hits, the flowers stop, and if the plants get too dry or hot, they die.  But, as noted earlier, that’s OK.  Be calm, take a deep breath, and go get some lantana for the rest of the season.

If we’re going to buy them, then we should at least know the absolute best ones.  For that reason, we started a geranium test at the Dallas Arboretum Trial Gardens.  This last year we ran across a new winner-‘Calliope Dark Red’.  It is the first commercial interspecific cross between zonal and ivy geraniums.  Although the plant looks more like the familiar zonal geranium, the flowers are a true deep red that immediately grabs your attention.

This is one big geranium, so it doesn’t take many to fill up a pot or basket!  The extra vigor keeps this plant growing and blooming long after others have gone to the compost pile.  Those in our trials made it to September and looked wonderful; that was seven months of continuous blooming they gave us!

Culturally, ‘Calliope’ has the same requirements as all geraniums.  They must have well-drained soil.  I’ve found this plant grows best in full sun in early spring, but as the summer heats up, I recommend moving the pots to where they receive a little afternoon shade to extend their lives.

Even though geraniums may only be “garden pacifiers” for us in spring, you might as well buy the best, biggest and brightest this year.  ‘Calliope Dark Red’ is a winner in our garden, one that lasted through the heat and continued flowering.  Once you see the flower color of ‘Calliope Dark Red’, you too will have a whole new favorite geranium this spring.

Excerpts from this article are courtesy of Jimmy Turner and the Dallas Arboretum.  Visit http://www.dallasplanttrials.org/ for information on the Dallas Arboretum Trial Gardens

 

All articles are copyrighted and remain the property of the author.

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