How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Scented-Leaved Geraniums

Scented-leaved geraniums are dynamic plants to delight the senses. Fill the garden or home with aromatic foliage in citrus, rose, mint, and fruit fragrances - just to name a few. Bold leaves in varying shapes, colors, and textures add interest to the planting display and floral arrangement. Explore how to plant, grow, and care for scented-leaved geraniums with horticulturist Katherine Rowe.

Close-up of a flowering Pelargonium x fragrans ‘Nutmeg’ plant, one of the popular species of scented leaved geraniums. It is a charming cultivar distinguished by its compact growth habit and fragrant foliage. Its leaves are deeply lobed and rich green, with a distinctive nutmeg scent. Delicate clusters of small, white flowers adorn the plant.


Scented-leaved geraniums are among the widespread and numerous species of Pelargonium that include the colorful common garden geraniums we know and love. Grown for their dynamic foliage, scented-leaved geraniums offer enchanting foliage fragrances, shapes, colors, and interesting textures.

Scented geranium leaves contain essential oils that, when brushed, release the scents of rose, citrus, mint, nutmeg, coconut, apricot, strawberry, apple, and more. They’re exceptional plants in the garden and containers, indoors and out. Plant them near porches, patios, walkways, and borders to enjoy the fragrance. 

Drought-tolerant and low maintenance, these unique geraniums serve many garden situations. They add shape, texture, and color to planting arrangements through unique foliage with diverse characteristics.

Scented-Leaf Geranium Overview

Close-up of a Pelargonium quercifolium flower against a blurred green background. The flower consists of five petals, which are pale pink to lavender in color, with darker veining. The petals have a slightly translucent quality, giving them a delicate appearance. The flower clusters rise on slender, wiry stems above the foliage.
Botanical Name Pelargonium spp
Plant Type Tender Perennial
Family Geraniaceae
Genus Pelargonium
Native Area Tropics in S. Africa and Mediterranean
Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Height 1-4’
Watering Requirements Medium
Pests & Diseases Aphids, spider mites, thrips, scale, fungal diseases, mosaic viruses
Maintenance Low
Soil Type Slightly acidic
Hardiness Zone 9-11

What are Scented-Leaved Geraniums?

Close-up of a blooming Rasp-leaf pelargonium against a background of green foliage. The Rasp-leaf pelargonium, distinguished by its vibrant foliage and delicate blooms, features deeply lobed leaves with a striking texture and hue. Its flowers, borne on slender stems, boast intricate clusters of vividly colored petals, ranging from soft pinks to rich purples.
Explore the diverse world of garden geraniums, from scents to symbolism.

Scented-leaved geraniums, zonal geraniums, and ivy-leaf geraniums are types of garden geraniums that grow as annuals or tender perennials. Each feature distinct leaves, flowers, and forms. Zonal geraniums form clusters of vibrant blooms above lush, broad foliage. Ivy-leafed geraniums bear trailing stems that spill and cascade.

Numerous species and cultivars of Pelargonium carry unique fragrances in lemon, lime, apple, strawberry, cinnamon, nut, coconut, and rose—the most popular. This diversity of fragrances makes for an intriguing garden addition and a culinary delight. 

In the kitchen, use the edible flowers and leaves of scented-leaved geraniums to embellish beverages and teas, fresh fruits and salads, baked goods, dressings, and vinegar. Add the textured leaves to floral arrangements for pretty and long-lasting filler. The cut stems last two to three weeks.

Scented vs. True Geraniums

Pelargoniums differ from true geraniums of the Geranium genus. Hardy geraniums, or cranesbill, are tough perennials with ample foliage and delicate flowers in rich colors. They include native woodland species.

Pelargonium entered the Western world in the 1700s when botanists, naturalists, and colonists brought them back to England, and later to the United States. They became popular in the Victorian era when the “language of flowers” was a regular study. Plants, including geraniums, symbolized different meanings in bouquets and floral arrangements.

Symbolic Meanings

The American Herb Society delves into the symbolic meanings of Pelargonium in the floral language exchange. Rose-scented geraniums meant “preference,” while lemon-scented represented “expected meeting.” Nutmeg-scented symbolized an “unexpected meeting,” and the list goes on.

Pelargonium geraniums became popular garden additions and were among the first houseplants. They’ve regained popularity in recent years for their exciting foliage and fragrance.


Close-up of a flowering Pelargonium graveolens plant. Pelargonium graveolens, commonly known as rose-scented geranium, presents with finely divided, aromatic leaves that emit a delightful rose-like fragrance when gently brushed. The leaves are green and velvety, with serrated edges. Its flowers, borne in clusters atop tall stems, are characterized by delicate petals in shades of pink with purple intricate patterns and veins.
Discover the aromatic allure of this garden gem.

Foliage is the standout feature of the scented-leaf geranium. In addition to fragrance, leaf color, shape, and texture vary among species and cultivars. Leaves range from bright to deep green, purple, silver, or variegated. They’re broadly rounded, palmate, or finely dissected with smooth or fuzzy surfaces.

But the fragrance is the plant’s magic power. Brushing or crushing the leaves releases the aroma by bursting tiny essential oil beads at the base of the leaf.

Scented-leaved geraniums bloom in the summer with clusters of small, five-petaled flowers (two upper petals and three lower petals) in white, lavender, pink, and pale yellow. Some varieties bear double flowers with eight to ten petals.

The aromatic foliage sometimes causes brief contact dermatitis for those allergic to Pelargonium. The plants are toxic to dogs, cats, and horses, so keep them out of reach of curious nibblers.

Native Area

Close-up of Pelargonium veronica in bloom. Pelargonium veronica, known for its graceful beauty, features deeply lobed, glossy leaves with a rich green hue. The flowers, borne on slender stems, showcase intricate clusters of vibrant petals in shades of magenta and deep purple, accentuated by delicate veins and contrasting darker centers.
Native to diverse regions, they flourish in varied climates.

Most Pelargonium species originate in southern Africa. Researchers have found that few species are native to eastern Africa, the Middle East, New Zealand, Australia, Madagascar, and surrounding islands.

South Africa is one of the five Mediterranean climate zones of the globe. Scented-leaved geraniums grow naturally in mild climates with warm, sunny days and cool nights. Hot, arid summers and cool, wet winters mark its normal growing conditions.

These plants naturally thrive in areas with low rainfall and low humidity in a variety of habitats, from rocky slopes and grasslands to woodlands and stream banks. They prefer arid climates, where they dry out between watering. As adaptable plants, they also tolerate hot and humid conditions, given plenty of air circulation.


Close-up of a gardener's hands in gray-yellow gloves planting pelargonium zonale into the garden pot in a sunny garden. The plant forms low rosettes of thin stems and rounded leaves with jagged edges. The leaves are a dark green shade.
Savor the aroma when planted along pathways or grown indoors.

Plant scented-leaved geraniums where you’ll enjoy their fragrance. They’re ideal along walkways, in seating areas, and at entrances where a brush of their leaves fills the air. They perform beautifully in containers, windowboxes, and hanging baskets for added color and texture.

In colder climates, grow Pelargonium as a warm-season annual in containers. Then, move it indoors to overwinter as a houseplant near a bright window or to a cool, dark, protected space, like a basement or garage.


Close-up of a female gardener transplanting a geranium plant into a black hanging pot on a sunny terrace. The gardener is wearing a green blouse, a gray apron, and white gloves with floral patterns. The geranium plant has a large root ball with pot-shaped soil, rounded green leaves with wavy and jagged edges, and tall stems that are tipped with a cluster of small, delicate pink flowers.
Overwinter them indoors for fresh spring planting options.

Scented-leaved geraniums have few needs except protection from heavy frost and cold temperatures. Bring plants indoors for the cool season when nighttime temperatures fall below 45°F (7°C). In warm climates, they’ll thrive outside year-round. 

Pelargonium species prefer to be somewhat pot-bound. Every two years or so, bump up plants to a pot one inch larger than the existing container. 

These easy-going plants propagate easily through cuttings. If you take cuttings in the fall, overwinter them indoors for a fresh selection to plant in the spring garden.

How to Grow

These fragrant plants are easy-to-grow with low maintenance needs. If you plan to use their flowers and leaves for culinary purposes, grow them organically.

Allow plenty of air circulation around scented-leaved geraniums by not crowding plants. In mulched beds, keep mulch off of stems. These arid-loving plants benefit from improved circulation to thrive in humid environments.


Close-up of a blooming Rose Scented Geranium under full sun. Its finely divided, velvety leaves emit a captivating rose-like scent when touched. The flowers, borne on tall stems, boasting clusters of soft pink to white petals with purple veins and patterns, contrasting elegantly against the lush green backdrop of the plant's foliage.
Ensure they get ample sunlight for robust growth.

Sun-loving scented leaved geraniums grow best with at least four to six hours of sunlight. In climates with intense summer sun, offer afternoon shade protection. 

They grow in part shade, but too much shade yields leggier plants with weaker forms than those with adequate sunlight.

Indoors, place these flowers in a bright window or sunny windowsill.


Close-up of a blooming Pelargonium panduriforme covered with water drops on a green background. Pelargonium panduriforme displays distinctive flowers and leaves. Its foliage consists of broad, heart-shaped leaves with serrated edges, tinged with red along the margins. The flowers are characterized by their unique, pansy-like appearance, with delicate petals arranged in vivid hues of purple-pink, each bloom boasting a distinct dark blotch at the base.
Water deeply when the soil surface dries.

Scented-leaved geraniums are drought-tolerant and grow well in dry areas. When the soil surface feels dry, water deeply rather than frequently to stave off fungal diseases and pests. Containers dry out more quickly than in-ground plantings, so check water needs regularly.

These plants don’t tolerate waterlogged conditions, and good drainage is essential. Avoid overhead watering to prevent foliar diseases or water in the morning so droplets dry in the sun. 

If storing the plants in a cool, sheltered place for the winter, water them well before bringing them indoors for the season. Check the soil every couple of weeks and water if it is dry. The plant will be dormant and not actively growing, so it won’t require as much regular water.


Close-up of a gardener adding fresh soil to a newly planted geranium plant into a window box on a wooden table. On the table there are a green watering can, a wooden bowl full of fresh soil and several black pots with young geranium seedlings.
Plant in well-draining, slightly acidic soil.

Scented-leaved geraniums need fast-draining soils for the best vigor. Ideal soils are slightly acidic with a pH near 6.5. They prefer sandy and loamy soils and tolerate a range of soil conditions as long as they don’t stay overly wet.

In containers, use a potting-specific mix to promote aeration and good drainage. These mixes contain less heavy soil than those for in-ground plantings. Alternatively, amend the soil with bark mix for the same effect.

Temperature and Humidity

Close-up of a flowering Pelargonium crispum "Angel Eyes" plant against a blurred background. The leaves are deeply lobed and emit a delightful lemon scent. The plant produces clusters of delicate white flowers with delicate pink markings.
They thrive with cool nights and warm days.

Cool nights and warm days are best for these plants to grow and flower. On average, 50-60°F (10-16°C) night-time temperatures and 65-75°F (18-24°C) daytime are ideal.

Scented-leaved geraniums tolerate hot, dry conditions or moderate humidity with ample air circulation. Bring plants indoors when nighttime temperatures reach the low 40s°F (~4°C). They’ll grow well as houseplants in average temperatures.

While most varieties are hardy in zones 9-11, they may survive in colder climates (even down to zone 6) when heavily mulched and sheltered in the winter. In hot southern climates, opt for varieties with larger leaves, as the smaller-leaved cultivars are more sensitive to intense heat.


Close-up of a male hand in a white glove fertilizing the soil in a garden. Fertilizers are granular, oval-shaped, pale pink-peach in color.
Boost growth with organic fertilizer.

Geraniums grow in lean soils without fertilizer. If you want to give them a boost during the growing season, especially in containers, use a liquid all-purpose organic fertilizer at planting with monthly applications at half-dilution from April through October. A balanced fertilizer (like 10-10-10) boosts vigor in the growing season.

Pelargonium feeds heavily on magnesium. Check your soil test before planting. To increase the magnesium in deficient soils, add a teaspoon of Epsom salts to the surrounding mix at planting.


Pruning a Geranium plant in the autumn garden. Close-up of a gardener in black gloves with black and blue pruning shears trimming Geranium leaves. The plant has strong stems with rounded leaves. These leaves have wavy and finely serrated edges, and brownish markings.
Prune for a lush, tidy appearance.

While scented-leaved geraniums are low maintenance, they benefit from pinching and pruning to keep a full, attractive form. Prune plants in late winter or early spring by cutting back leggy stems. Pinch or cut stems at a lower leaf node to encourage new shoots.

Begin pruning young plants when they reach six inches tall or have four to five leaf nodes. Snipping off the tip of the stem promotes shoots from the nodes, flushing in about two to three weeks.

Give plants a shape-up pruning in the fall before overwintering indoors.


Pelargonium species propagate easily through cuttings. Many varieties are hybrids and do not come true from seed, so they’re best multiplied by taking cuttings in the spring or fall. 

Some species grow true from seed, but with so much cross-pollination between varieties, it may be challenging to know precisely what you’re growing.


Close-up of a geranium cutting in a glass jar with water on a small white board, on a white table indoors. The plant has a stem at the top of which leaves are formed on thin stems. They are round in shape, with lobed and jagged edges, and dark green in color.
Easily propagate from cuttings for new plants.

With a few steps, it’s easy to propagate scented-leaved geraniums from cuttings. Cuttings grow quickly with success. Here are steps for best practices in taking cuttings:

  1. Cut a four-to-six-inch piece of stem from a healthy branch.
  2. Cut the stem at a 45-degree angle to ensure water and rooting hormone coverage.
  3. Remove the foliage from the bottom ⅔ of the cutting (leaving at least two leaves).
  4. Keep cuttings moist until ready to pot.
  5. Moisten the cutting and dip the lower stem in rooting hormone, coating generously.
  6. Tap off any excess rooting powder.
  7. Plant the cutting in at least two inches of moist, well-draining potting mix.
  8. Place the pot in a bright, warm location, avoiding direct sunlight
  9. Water as needed, keeping the soil evenly moist.
  10. When the cutting resists a gentle tug, roots are in place and ready to be repotted.

Plant the cuttings in four-inch pots and keep them indoors in a bright spot (like a sunny windowsill). Move outside in mild conditions. New plants will be tender.

Growing From Seed

Close-up of eight white plastic pots with young geranium seedlings grown from seed. Each pot is filled with dark brown soil. The geranium seedling possesses pairs of round, smooth cotyledons and pairs or single true leaves. These true leaves are round in shape with jagged edges.
For successful seeding, follow these simple steps for germination.

If you opt to try seeding, here are a few recommendations for the process:

  • Start seeds indoors in late winter or early spring.
  • Plant seeds about ¼ inch beneath the soil surface.
  • Mist the soil and keep it moist throughout the growing process.
  • Cover the seeds with glass or plastic (or use a growing tray with a lid).
  • Place the tray in a warm, bright spot (ideal temperatures are 70°F/21°C).
  • Keep seeds covered until germination.
  • When seedlings appear, remove the lid and allow plants to strengthen before transplanting to pots or into the garden.

With so many unique fragrances and forms of scented-leaved varieties (over 200 in the genus), you’re bound to find an exciting cultivar in your local nursery or garden plant sale. Let’s explore a few favorite varieties in diverse fragrances and leaf textures. 

Pelargonium ‘Attar of Roses’

Close-up of blooming Pelargonium 'Attar of Roses' against a blurred green background. The plant showcases deeply lobed, velvety leaves. The plant produces clusters of charming pink flowers, each adorned with darker markings at the base of the petals, creating a captivating contrast against the soft pastel hue.
‘Attar of Roses’ offers a classic rose scent and elegant pink blooms.

This popular and widely cultivated variety boasts a classic, rich rose scent. It’s even been used in perfumes as an alternative to the expensive damask and gallica rose essential oils (the origin of its name).

Delicate, pale pink flowers feature deep pink markings on upper petals. Bright green leaves are soft to the touch. Plants reach three feet tall by one foot wide. Grow ‘Attar of Roses’ in containers and along walkways to enjoy its fresh foliage and wonderful old rose scent. 

Pelargonium tomentosum ‘Chocolate Peppermint’

Close-up of Pelargonium tomentosum 'Chocolate Peppermint' with its unique leaves. The leaves feature a velvety texture and are deeply lobed, showing a rich chocolate-brown hue that contrasts beautifully with vibrant green edges and veins.
This variety has velvety leaves and a true peppermint fragrance.

‘Chocolate Peppermint’ is exciting in all the high points: fragrance, form, color, and texture. Its aromatic fragrance is true peppermint, and the leaves feature deep burgundy chocolate blotches edged in dark green. The distinct leaves are large and velvety. 

This spreading and trailing Pelargonium reaches two feet high by four to six feet wide. It grows best in full sun to retain its rich coloration. Flowers emerge in spring and summer in pale lavender with deeper pink markings.

Pelargonium x fragrans ‘Nutmeg’

Close-up of a flowering Nutmeg Pelargonium plant. Its deeply lobed leaves are rich green and emit a delightful nutmeg scent. The plant produces clusters of small, delicate, white flowers with red markings at the centers. Clusters of flowers rise above the leaves on slender stems.
‘Old Spice’ offers compact growth and a delightful nutmeg aroma.

This heirloom hybrid features a particularly robust sweet and spicy scent like culinary nutmeg. It’s also named ‘Old Spice’ as it carries notes of the men’s fragrance. 

Plants are compact at one foot high and wide with a bushy habit. Soft, gray-green leaves are lobed for a ruffly look. White flowers feature red venation on the upper two petals.

Pelargonium x scarboroviae ‘Strawberry’

Close-up of a flowering Pelargonium x scarboroviae 'Strawberry' plant against a blurred sunny garden background. The leaves are deeply lobed and boast a rich green color. Amidst the verdant foliage, clusters of delicate pink flowers bloom profusely, each boasting five rounded petals adorned with darker pink veining.
These strawberry-scented geraniums charm with fruity aroma and delicate blooms.

Strawberry-scented geraniums are as delightful as they sound. Their leaves emit a sweet, fruity strawberry scent; even the flowers are pale pink with deeper pink markings.

This old hybrid came to England before 1820. Its small, bright green leaves and compact habit (plants reach one foot high) make it ideal for pots and hanging baskets.

Pelargonium citronellum ‘Mabel Gray’

Close-up of a flowering Pelargonium citronellum 'Mabel Gray' plant in a sunny garden. Pelargonium citronellum boasts intricately shaped leaves characterized by deep lobes and serrated edges, creating a visually appealing texture. The flowers are clusters of small, delicate blooms, each with five petals arranged symmetrically around a central point. These blossoms feature a pale pink coloration with purple veins and deep pink markings on the petals.
Towering ‘Mabel Gray’ delights with lemon scent and lavender blooms.

‘Mabel Gray’ boasts a strong, lemony fragrance on tall plants with sharply pointed leaves. Large lavender flowers are showy among scented geraniums. Leaves are finely lobed, rough, and hairy in pale to light green.

‘Mabel Gray’ reaches six to eight feet high. It grows naturally along streambanks in South Africa in sandy soils. 

Common Problems

Fortunately, scented-leaved geraniums resist pests and diseases in the garden. Occasional problems include stem and root rot in damp environments or pests like spider mites and aphids, which are more prevalent in indoor or greenhouse plants.

Plant in full sun with plenty of air circulation and avoid overwatering to stave off pests and diseases. Remove dropped or yellowing leaves to promote overall health.


Japanese beetle on the leaf of a geranium plant. The Japanese beetle is a distinctive insect known for its metallic green body and copper-colored wings. Along the edges of its wings, there are five small white tufts, which serve as distinguishing marks.
Early detection is key to managing pests.

The best way to control insects is to spot them early. You’ll likely see the insects themselves or notice their sticky waste on plants, nibble damage, yellowing leaves, or stunted growth.

Aphids and thrips are common garden insects usually treated with non-chemical means. Often, they cause little plant damage, but severe infestations cause plant stress. Signs of stress include curled leaves and stunted growth.

Whiteflies feed on sap and cause plant weakness, where leaves yellow and drop. Whiteflies flutter around plants when disturbed.

Spider mites live on the undersides of leaves, indicated by webbing and light yellowing of leaf surfaces. Beneficial predatory insects like ladybugs and predatory mites help control populations.

Japanese beetles feed on leaves. They cause leaves to skeletonize or turn yellow and drop.

In pest outbreaks, spray the plant with a strong stream of water to deter and knock insects off the stems. Do this in the morning so leaves dry in the early sun.

A horticultural soap or oil can rid the plant of insects if an infestation occurs, but be sure to follow label directions, as these affect beneficial insects as well. 


Close-up of a man's hand showing a Pelargonium leaf infected by Botrytis. The leaf exhibits brown and grayish lesions that appear water-soaked and mushy.
Preventative care beats disease management.

As with pests, the best disease control is prevention through cultural conditions. In general, problem plants should be removed from the garden to minimize chemical treatments and promote the health of surrounding plants. Here are a few potential problems for scented geraniums that also apply to cuttings:

Botrytis is a fungal disease especially prevalent in high-humidity conditions with limited air circulation. Brown spots and “fluffy mold” are indicators of botrytis. Take care not to overwater or over-fertilize scented geraniums, which weakens the plant.

Phytophthora is another fungal root rot that causes a slow decline in plants. It impacts feeder roots, preventing them from uptaking water and nutrients. The best control is proper cultural management, especially not overwatering.

Bacterial blight (Xanthomonas campestre pelargonii) causes yellowing, wilting, and stem rot. It’s good practice to sterilize pruners before trimming scented-leaved geraniums or taking cuttings.

Verticillium wilt (caused by the pathogens Verticillium dahliae and V. albo-atrum) is a serious disease that affects some Pelargonium species. It starts at the base of the plant and moves upward, wilting and yellowing plant parts. Throw away affected plants. The soil in containers and areas where you grew them should be solarized to kill the disease. Do not plant in the affected soil for at least 2 months.

Remove and destroy affected plant parts and any dropped leaves if your geraniums show signs of disease. Horticultural oils like neem can treat fungal diseases early on (but again, these impact beneficial insects, so be sure to follow application requirements). It’s best to remove plants with severe infestations.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are scented-leaved geraniums?

Scented-leaved geraniums are garden geraniums grown for their exciting foliage. Their aromatic leaves carry scents of rose, lemon, mint, apple, apricot, strawberry, coconut, nutmeg, and more to the garden or home as an indoor plant. The leaves bring bold textures and colors to the display.

Do scented-leaved geraniums bloom?

Scented-leaved geraniums bloom in late spring and early summer in pink, purple, white, yellow, or burgundy flower clusters. Often delicate and small five-petaled blooms, the noteworthy feature remains the unique foliage. Some varieties feature double blooms or larger flowers for a showier display.

Do scented-leaved geraniums repel insects?

The answer is…maybe. Scented-leaved geraniums are noted to repel certain insects, especially in specific extracts of their essential oils, depending on the variety. Citronella geranium (Pelargonium citronellum) was falsely marketed as a mosquito repellant in the nineties. Although lemon-scented like citronella, it differs from the lemongrasses used to blend the repellent citronella oil. With their lovely, fresh fragrances, trying a scented-leaved geranium among other repellant plants certainly can’t hurt.

Final Thoughts

If you want to delight the senses in your garden, add scented-leaved geraniums for fragrance, taste, touch, and visual interest. Their velvety leaves, aromatic intensity, culinary uses, and high texture make for a dynamic plant in an easy-care form.

These carefree plants grow beautifully indoors or out. Protected from heavy frost, Pelargonium lives in sunny locations with well-draining soils and good air circulation for years. Enjoy them indoors to invigorate the interiorscape with fresh fragrance. Incorporate them in floral arrangements for lush, long-lasting filler. Brush the leaves anytime for a moment of uplifting garden aromatherapy.  

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A close-up of pink hardy geranium flowers, showcasing delicate petals with intricate patterns. Below the resplendent blooms, the leaves of these geraniums boast a rich green hue with deeply lobed, intricate patterns.


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