Native Perennial Workhorse
By Jim Lakin, MD, Master Gardener
Geranium maculatum has been a big favorite of mine for many years. It is a fast, low growing ground cover that spreads rapidly and is easy to propagate by division. It’s tough and does well in everything from part shade to full sun. It’s tough and drought resistant although it does best in moist soil. It’s cold resistant and does well from Zone 3 to 8. What more could you ask for? The flowers range from a showy pink to violet and appear from spring all the way into early fall, especially in those plants in full sun. Plants can grow from one to three feet tall although ours usually top out around 8 to 12 inches making a very nice ground cover or front bed planting, especially in a woodland garden. Wild geranium grows in clumps spreading 12 to 18 inches. They mix well with eastern red columbine and woodland phlox, providing an engaging sequence of blooms throughout the season.
It is native to the deciduous woodlands of Eastern and Midwestern North America from Southern Ontario south to Georgia and west to Eastern Oklahoma and the Eastern Dakotas. As is the case with most natives, Geranium maculatum is known locally by many names including alum root, alum bloom, cranesbill, spotted cranesbill, wild cranesbill, spotted geranium, wild geranium and wood geranium. As we said it prefers moist soils and the foliage may yellow in summer if things get too dry. If the foliage seems to be declining during a hot summer, lightly shearing the plant can help to revitalize it. As the season progresses the flowers develop into beaklike fruiting pods that open from the base to dispense seeds. More imaginative gardeners describe these seed pods as resembling the head and beak of a crane. Thus, the common name of “crane’s bill” and the genus name Geranium derived from the Greek geranos or crane.
Geranium maculatum is a tough cookie without serious insect or disease problems although leaf spot or rust will sometimes pop up. It is a favorite of many pollinators including butterflies, flies and bees. Large bees including Bumble Bees and Mason Bees are attracted to the showy blooms. Smaller species such as Cuckoo bees, sweat bees and fruit worm bees are often seen among the wild geraniums. The wild geranium makes a terrific addition to the ecology of your woodland garden.