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Start Early To Create A Geranium Standard

During the long, cold months of winter it is a good thing that we gardeners have our indoor gardens to keep us occupied. There are gardening projects that can be undertaken that eventually will be of use in our outdoor gardens, but which can be worked on now while we have the time. One such project is the creation of a geranium standard, which takes several months to accomplish so it is a good idea to start as early in the winter as possible.

A standard is simply described as a woody plant which is grown on a single central stem and which is crowned with a rounded ball of foliage and/or flowers at the top. This form is unnatural, so it requires some consistent effort to ensure that the plant is not allowed to grow in its natural form. Standards are becoming more and more popular in outdoor landscapes where they are used on patios and decks as points of interest. Roses and fuchsias are the most common plants grown as standards by the nursery trade, but I have successfully grown geraniums in this manner and have been pleased with the results. Standards purchased at garden centres in the spring are not inexpensive, so growing your own standard can save a fair bit of money – which then can be spent on other things for the garden!

I overwinter a lot of geraniums and in early winter I choose one to use as my standard. I often will have thought ahead about this project and when I brought the geraniums indoors in the fall I would not have cut back this particular plant as I did the others so that it will be 30 or 40 centimetres tall by early winter. I also choose a variety that has sturdy stems, seems to have a robust growth habit and that branches prolifically. Two that I have used successfully are a scarlet-red zonal and a rosebud zonal variety called “Appleblossom.” Seed geraniums are not satisfactory for this project as they do not get tall enough.

After choosing the plant that is to be used, the first step is to remove any side branches from the main stem. As the plant grows, the lower leaves can be removed although the more leaves that are left on, the more nourishment the plant will receive, but any small branches and offshoots which the plant will send forth as its natural reaction to being pruned should be removed. A sturdy stake then should be placed beside the plant. This project also warrants a fairly large container as the plant will become quite large, be top heavy, and must have enough soil in it to support the stake. The plant is tied securely to the stake with garden twine, just tightly enough to hold the stem securely in place without damaging it.

The geranium should be placed in as bright a location as possible, given all the sun a south-facing window can provide, fertilized regularly and watered when the top few centimetres of soil feel dry to the touch. As the plant grows, any flower buds that form are removed. The object is to have the plant continue to grow and not put its energy into producing flowers. Removal of branches that develop on the lower stem, and turning the plant regularly so that it grows straight and does not become one-sided, will produce the best results.

When the plant gets to the desired height, the tip of the main stem should be pinched to encourage the plant to branch out at the top to form the desired round ball of foliage. In my trials with this project, I did find that sometimes I was disappointed that the whole thing seemed to be a bit “skimpy,” and this year I am going to plant three plants tightly together in the pot. I will actually remove most of the soil from the roots of the plants and intertwine the roots of the three plants, or I may choose a specimen that has three branches emerging near the bottom of a central stem and leave all three on and gradually bury the plant deeper as the stems grow until the junctions are all buried. Then as they grow, my plan is to braid the three stems loosely (because geranium stems are brittle and will only bend so far) to make one single plaited stem. I will hold the stems in place with garden twine. This should produce a more substantial and unique-looking stem and a much larger ball of foliage and flowers at the top of the standard. It is interesting to try unique garden projects during the winter. What else is a gardener to do?

– Albert Parsons writes from Minnedosa, Manitoba

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