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On Gardening: Calliope geraniums offer long season of dazzling color [Tribune News Service :: BC-HOME-ONGARDENING:MCT]

Calliope has quenched my thirst for long-lasting geraniums. No longer am I jealous of the West Coast as I now have geraniums that I plant in April and they continue to look great at Christmas.

Perhaps there should be a caveat or two to that. I grow geraniums in mixed containers and baskets, which is exactly what I was doing in Rincon Ga., which is about 20 miles northwest of Savannah, Ga.

Perhaps winter was late, the morning sun and afternoon shade perfect or maybe the live oaks gave me the ideal micro-climate. The point is the South has never had geraniums that bloomed non-stop through the torrid heat of July and August, lantanas do that but not geraniums, at least until now.

Syngenta Flowers is the mastermind behind the Calliope geranium series. I say series, now, after a decade of first writing about them, they have grown into a series representing five distinct habits. There are Calliope Compact, Medium, Large, Landscape, and Cascade.

You'll find 34 varieties in a habit and color to allow your creative genius to bloom. Since they are easy to grow, you'll also show your green thumb. The Dallas Arboretum has some of the most well-known trials in the country. They put them through the rigors. Calliope was outstanding, blooming until September.

They are such standout performers you can forget the thriller spiller filler recipes and let them perform 'Mono Magic.' Of course, they will work as component plants too which is what I was doing.

Mine were in concrete planters with Campfire coleus, Lemon Ball sedum, and Blue Wave petunias; and the Calliope geraniums lasted longer than the petunias.

Does this mean they will not work in the landscape? The answer is, of course, they will. In the South, the ideal location would be full sun until just past noon then a little protection in afternoon shade. They prefer fertile organic-rich soil with good drainage.

To prepare your soil, loosen it 8 to 12-inches deep, and add 3 to 4-inches of organic matter, like compost or humus. I recently bought 2-foot bags of soil conditioner at a local garden center that was both economical and outstanding. As you prepare your soil, take the opportunity to incorporate about one pound of 12-6-6-fertilizer or something slow released and balanced per 100 square feet and rake the soil smooth.

Geraniums are heavy feeders, and many gardeners do not apply enough fertilizer to meet the plants' nutrient needs. Feed every two weeks with a dilute, water-soluble fertilizer like a 20-20-20, or apply a granular, controlled-release fertilizer every four to six weeks per formula recommendation. When it is time to deadhead old flowers, don't just clip the cluster. Pinch or break off the flower stalk at the base.

This spring is an exciting time to see all of the new flowers showing up at the garden center. If you love geraniums like most gardeners, then keep your eyes open for all of the Calliope colors and habits available. You'll know you are getting a plant that will bring lots of color from now into fall.

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(Norman Winter, horticulturist, garden speaker and author of, "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden." Follow him on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.)

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(c)2018 Norman Winter

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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