Hardly any other plant genus uses so many different species in its garden as the cranesbill (Geranium). The perennials have a lot to offer: Attractive foliage, which in some species is also wintergreen, particularly beautiful flowers and decorative fruit stands. In addition, they are vigorous, easy to reproduce and are avoided by snails – thus easy to care for in the truest sense of the word.
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Stork’s beaks are an extensive plant genus with about 400 different, mostly persistent species. In addition, there is a large number of cultivated varieties for the garden. Stork’s beaks have their own plant family, the stork’s beak family (Geraniaceae). A number of cranesbill species are native to our region, such as the forest cranesbill (Geranium sylvaticum), the blood red cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum) or the meadow cranesbill (Geranium pratense), others originate from southern and south-eastern Europe and the Near East and have entered our garden beds through horticultural cultivation.
Our enthusiasm for cranesbill awakened in the early 1980s. Initially, the plant was mainly rock cranesbill (Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Spessart’), an undemanding, fast-growing and also wintergreen species, but with rather modest white flowers. It is ideal for planting large areas of trees. As a companion for roses and larkspur, however, the gorgeous cranesbill (Geranium x magnificum) with its large blue-violet flowers found more favour. Especially recommendable is the newer variety ‘Rosemoor’ of the German breeder Hans Simon.
Appearance and growth
Storchschnäbel have roundish, differently strongly lobed to hand-shaped divided leaves, which partly also show a nice yellow or red autumn colouring and smell aromatic. The cupped flowers are white, pink, crimson, violet or blue in all possible shades and sit individually in the leaf axils. The sepals are often coloured differently from the flowers, resulting in an attractive play of colours such as that of the Cambridge cranesbill (Geranium x cantabrigiense). Storkbeaks grow either horstartig or they form short, aboveground runners and cover so larger surfaces like for example the robust Balkan-Storkbeak (Geranium macrorrhizum), that is suitable very well as groundcover for sun and shade. Depending on the species, the plants grow to a height of 15 to about 100 centimetres and most flower between May and August. All species have more or less aromatic fragrant foliage. Its flowers are often visited by bees and useful hoverflies.
Location and soil
Stork bills like moderately humid habitats with nutrient-rich, permeable soil. However, the variety of the genus Geranium offers the right plant for (almost) every garden area. Here a small overview: Sunny and humid: Geranium endressii, Geranium himalayense, Geranium x magnificum, Geranium pratense, Geranium psilostemon
Half-shady and moist: Geranium gracile, Geranium himalayense, Geranium sylvaticumSunny and dry: Geranium sanguineum, Geranium renardii, Geranium x cantabrigiense, Geranium cinereumShady and dry: Geranium macrorrhizum, Geranium nodosum, Geranium phaeum
For groundcovers such as the Balkan cranesbill, eight to ten plants are planted per square metre so that the area closes quickly. The best planting date for all cranesbill species is spring.
The easy-care perennials need only little attention once they have grown. Freshly planted cranesbills should be sufficiently supplied with water in sunny weather. In the case of non-wintergreen, horstig growing cranesbills such as ‘Patricia’, ‘Rozanne’ and the magnificent cranesbill, all shoots are cut back to a few centimetres in autumn. The groundcovers can be shortened in autumn or spring where they grow beyond the bedding area. In spring, supply the plants with compost or perennial fertilizer on nutrient-poor soils.
Stork bills are very durable and therefore do not have to be tapered regularly by division. However, the horstig growing types can be multiplied easily through division.
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From the fully growing ground cover, which does not allow weeds to grow, to the permanent bloomer in the magnificent herbaceous bed, there are suitable representatives for almost every garden situation. They do not tolerate only extremely sunny locations or stagnant moisture. Examples of easy-care groundcovers in the shade and semi-shade under woody plants and at the edge of woody plants include the various varieties of Balkan cranesbill and the low Cambridge cranesbill, the latter also copes well with full sunlight.In the sunny to slightly shady herbaceous bed, the varieties of the Armenian cranesbill (Geranium psilostemon), with their long flowering period from May to July, make something of a difference, for example the popular pink flowering variety ‘Patricia’ and the blue magnificent cranesbill or the Himalayan cranesbill (Geranium himalayense). Partners are roses, lady’s mantle (alchemilla), peonies or ornamental grasses such as lamp cleaner grass. native species such as the brown cranesbill (G. phaeum), the meadow cranesbill and the forest cranesbill feel at home in meadowy plantations.
For rock garden beds and walls the greyish Caucasus cranesbill (Geranium renardii) and also the dainty ash grey cranesbill (Geranium cinereum) are suitable, which has beautifully dark veined flower shells. An exceptional talent is the particularly flower-rich hybrid ‘Rozanne’, which grows obstreperously but can quickly cover a large area with its metre-long shoots. From the beginning of June to November it opens new light purple flowers with a white eye and thrives in sunny to semi-shady places.
Important species and varieties
We owe many stork-billed varieties, which developed in the past decades, to breeders from England and the Netherlands. Probably about 400 species, varieties and hybrids are now on the market at home and abroad. The demands on light and floor differ depending on the type, but most of them are robust and therefore easy to maintain. There are large-flowered specimens, up to 60 centimetres high, such as ‘Brookside’, which originate from the native meadow cranesbill. They love a sunny bed with nutrient-rich soil, but not too dry. The small-flowered, around 30 centimeter high varieties of the blood cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum), on the other hand, tolerate a lot of drought.
In loose umbels the pile of the brown cranesbill (Geranium phaeum) stands above the leaves. Typical are the bent back petals, so that the fruit pistill clearly looks out. Large, violet-pink flowers present ‘Sirak’ (Geranium-Gracile hybrid) from May. Lily Lovell’ (Geranium phaeum) grows to a height of 90 centimeters. Flowering time is May to July. Filled flowers adorn the meadow cranesbill ‘Summer Skies’. Saint Ola’ (Geranium x cantabrigiense) has graceful flowers and graceful growth. The rock cranesbill ‘Czakor’ is vigorous and wintergreen. ‘Mayflower’ (Geranium sylvaticum), with blue-white flowers, likes to sprout.
Album’ is a white variety of Geranium sylvaticum and is considered to be a lover plant. A low ground cover is ‘Marvis Simpson’ (Geranium x riversleaianum). In areas with a harsh climate he should be given winter protection. A permanent bloomer is Geranium x riversleaianum ‘Russel Prichard’, because it delights from June to September with bright flowers. The pretty leaves of the meadow cranesbill ‘Black Beauty’ look like purple. The blue flowers of the 40 cm high perennial appear in June. A special feature is the tuber storkbill (Geranium tuberosum), where the tuber-like roots are named after. After the flowering period from April to May, the perennial shrub takes a rest, sprouts again in winter and then retains its foliage until spring, when leaf decoration plays an increasingly important role in bed design. The Storchschnabel range also has the right representatives for this, such as the Caucasus Storkbill with sage green, soft leaves or ‘Black Beauty’ (Geranium pratense) with purple foliage: extravagant perennial combinations can be conjured up in the bed with them.
The reproduction of Storchschnabel is very easy with most types. Horse-headed growing cranesbills like Geranium himalayense, Geranium x magnificum or Geranium pratense can be propagated in spring by splitting. Species with creeping rhizomes, such as the Balkan cranesbill, are reproduced by rhizome cuttings. Some species such as the Wallich cranesbill (Geranium wallichianum) and the Lambert cranesbill (Geranium lambertii) form a strong taproot that is difficult to share. These species are best propagated in spring via cuttings.
Diseases and pests
Older varieties of Balkan cranesbill such as ‘Spessart’ are susceptible to stem lentils. The typical nest-like infestation in ground cover areas can be recognized by the stunted growth and the reddish leaves, which died later. Rust fungi, powdery mildew as well as soft skin mites and thick mouth weevils can also occur less frequently. Otherwise, cranesbills are very robust and are virtually unaffected by pests and diseases. The snails don’t like them either.
I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide. I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.