Long-lived, undemanding in care, and suitable for spreading groundcovers in woodlands and naturalistic gardens, wild geraniums are also known as cranesbills (Geranium spp.). Hundreds of species grow naturally across temperate regions in the Northern Hemisphere. Deep, slender taproots or rhizome stem-roots create clumping plants with lobed leaves that are reminiscent of both maples and ferns. Wild geranium's most ornamental feature is the five-petaled flowers in spring or early summer that are white, blue, violet, lavender or any shade of pink. Do not confuse them with florist geraniums (Pelargonium spp.).
Once wild geraniums finishing their first blooming display in late spring or early summer, cut back the entire plants to 3 or 4 inches tall to expose the tiny crown of leaves nestled in the lower leaf stems. Do not cut back the flower stems or entire plants if you want seeds to form and scatter in a newly planted area. The seeds will scatter naturally and lead to more plants next spring. In established gardens, trimming away the old flower stems limits the volunteer, weedy seedlings that may pop up all over the place.
Clipping back of old flower stems does improve the look of wild geraniums the rest of summer and into fall before frost. Use care when trimming the stems, as you can inadvertently cut off the frilly foliage stems if you do not grasp each flower stem before cutting. In expansive sweeps of wild geraniums in a woodland setting, trimming isn't practical, unless a power weed trimmer is used. Only focus hand-trimming efforts on plants in the more formal perennial border.
In regions with long, hot summers, some gardeners will cut back old, tattered and dead leaves in early to midsummer to rejuvenate. Wild geraniums tend to cease flowering in the hottest part of summer anyways, so cutting back old leaves to the base of plants -- just above the small lower rosette of young leaves -- allows the plants to produce lush, green plants with more blossoms in late summer and early fall. In milder winter regions, the foliage of some evergreen species will then often bronze or attain purplish hues and remain attractive if not matted down and suffocated by snow.
If your patch of wild geraniums grows in an un-irrigated section of the landscape, or the soil isn't particularly moist and rich in organic matter on its own, cutting back the plants after the first flowering may not prove best. Only cut back plants if the soil will be evenly moist during the hottest part of summer. Postpone or cancel the plant trimming during years with drought, as the loss of tissues and dry soil can weaken or kill the perennial's roots. In dry years, letting flowers go to seed may ensure wild geraniums grow again next year once the drought ends.
Jacob J. Wright
Jacob J. Wright became a full-time writer in 2008, with articles appearing on various websites. He has worked professionally at gardens in Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Wright holds a graduate diploma in environmental horticulture from the University of Melbourne, Australia, and a Master of Science in public horticulture from the University of Delaware.