Geraniums

Geraniums in summer

Geraniums in summer

Wrought iron balconies decked with glowing geraniums are evocative of France for me – and for many others, I suspect. So after such a grey and damp winter, it was nice to introduce a touch of summer by making our annual trip yesterday to buy our geraniums. Never mind the fact that we were back in winter clothes, having been in shorts on Wednesday afternoon.

I always wait until after mid-April before planting out my geraniums. Clear days equal cold and sometimes frosty nights. The last frost here has been as late as 22nd April. Since the autumns are getting warmer, I normally manage to keep my plants until mid-November. I don’t decommission them until the first sharp frost has blackened the leaves.

I have never been able to store geraniums over the winter for replanting in the spring. Wherever I put them, they get leggy and pale and covered in aphids. I am resigned to throwing them on the compost heap.

This year's purchases

This year’s purchases

Normally, we buy our geraniums from a nursery in Villefranche-de-Rouergue. The plants plus the potting compost set us back about 80 euros. This year, I noticed that Leclerc supermarket had set up a temporary shop with a promotion of plants etc. We bought 18 trailing geraniums for troughs and 10 pelargoniums for larger pots, four sacks of soil and a new terracotta trough – 36 euros. No doubt the plants from the dedicated nursery are better quality and I feel a bit guilty but, well…

We don’t have a wrought iron balcony but we do have a rather nice covered loggia (bolet in local parlance) with a stone parapet. It’s crying out for troughs of scarlet geraniums and they look lovely against the pale stone.

Bolet with geraniums

Bolet with geraniums

The plants also attract insects. I love watching the hummingbird hawk moths hovering, their wings beating faster than the eye can see and their tongues unfurling to seek the nectar. The first time I saw these exotic moths was on holiday in Rocamadour more than 20 years ago. We were sipping aperitifs on the covered terrace of our hotel, which was decorated with troughs of geraniums. I was transfixed by the moths and that, for me, has remained an abiding image of France in summer.

Unfortunately, my pots also attract rather less welcome insects. By the end of the summer, some of the plants look a bit peaky and start to fail. The reason seems to be unpleasant grubs chewing on the roots. They are disgusting bags of fat, the larvae of a beetle, I suppose, but I’m unable to identify which one it is. I always put them out on the paths for the birds to pick up. Does anyone have any environmentally-friendly suggestions for eliminating them?

Since I wrote this, I’ve started to wonder since Steph below thought they might be stag beetle larvae and therefore not harmful to plants – in addition to being a protected species. Having done some further research I think they might be Rose Chafer (cetonia aurata) larvae. The adults are shiny green beetles, smaller than stag beetles. The larvae have quite distinctive behaviour and if placed on a flat surface they pull themselves along on their backs. I’ve just demonstrated this with a few that I pulled out of a trough of empty soil – they did just that.  They aren’t harmful to plants so I need to rehome them. But it might well be that some of my other pots attract cockchafers, which are harmful and eat plant roots. Their larvae are very similar. 

Unpleasant grubs - war is declared

Unpleasant grubs? Or are they nicer than they look?

Planting the geraniums is one of our annual rituals here – like cutting and stacking the winter wood in late summer. Although today is chilly and breezy, I feel summer is only around the corner.

Copyright © 2013 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved

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About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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27 Responses to Geraniums

  1. Della Walters says:

    Hi I am not sure if you still read your comments etc I noticed that the dates are 2013 I have been reading your blogs over the last few days and have found them very interesting. We moved to the Ariege area 6 months ago I tried to pot my first lot of geraniums bought from the local nursery (they had like a cage around the pot) but after a week or so after replanting in the trough they just went brown and started dying off The soil was not water logged it had good drainage but the stems just seemed to be rotten do you have any suggestions many thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      Hi Della, thank you for commenting. I receive an email each time someone comments, regardless of how long ago it was. My blog has been going since Feb 2010 and so I still get comments on posts dating back more than 6 years.

      Without seeing your geraniums it’s hard to say what might have caused them to die off. It’s possible that they were already infected with some kind of fungal disease in the garden centre. Did you look at the roots? Did they appear to have been eaten or attacked? Did you have a sharp frost shortly after planting? That can shrivel them fast, although they normally go black in that case. Given how quickly it happened it seems unlikely to have been your own soil. I can’t claim to be an expert, so I can’t really offer more suggestions than that. It might be worth buying geraniums from several different garden centres if possible next year to see if the same thing happens. Good luck, anyway.

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  2. Sue Whatmough says:

    Hi Vanessa, I’ve put my geraniums out now. I do manage to keep some in the greenhouse and have been able to get them going again without too much trouble. They can get a bit mouldy, but that’s about all. I’m glad you mentioned that yucky bug. I often find them and automatically chuck them into the next door field. I don’t like actually killing unless I have to. Even slug and snails get slung over the wall!

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    • nessafrance says:

      Good for you being able to keep them over the winter. We don’t have a greenhouse so wherever I put them is either too dark or too cold. As for the bugs, I shall treat them with much greater respect from now on – but I will do the test to see if they crawl on their backs. I will rehome them, too, since I don’t really want them in my pots. They might not do any harm but they make me squirm!

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  3. Kate Swaffer says:

    I had to read this one… my favourite flowers are geraniums and your look beautiful. Great lesson about the grub too!

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      The poor geraniums haven’t got off to a good start this year owing to the variable weather. They prefer sunshine – don’t we all? In future, I will be careful to identify the grubs before deciding how to deal with them.

      Like

  4. Dido Crosby says:

    Those Rose Chafers are the most beautiful of beetles, lovely jewels to have in your garden, I hope you can save them. On another subject, I have been enjoying your blogs as a bit of research on the region, as I have just booked a week at the end of August in a gite near Loze. I think it might be a bit hot for a lot of walking, but I was hoping to find a few places to swim, have you any near(ish) river recommendations? I guess your Bonette will be shallow or dry, but the Aveyron? Thank you, love Dido

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    • nessafrance says:

      Hello, Dido, and thank you for commenting. I’ve rehomed the larvae to our compost heap, along with the soil they were in, so I hope they’ll be happy there. I did want my trough back and I didn’t really want them in it. They might turn into something pretty but they’re not very appealing in their infant state!
      I hope you’ll enjoy your holiday down here. It’s a beautiful region with plenty to see and do. It probably will be too hot for walking and, as you rightly guess, the Bonnette is not swimmable. You can swim in parts of the Aveyron at Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val and downstream of it but I wouldn’t call them ‘official’ bathing places.
      Does your gite have a swimming pool? If not, there is a public pool at Saint-Antonin but that will be full of families with children. You can’t swim in the lakes at Caylus or Parisot.
      Hope this helps. We have our own swimming pool so I’m not very knowledgeable about public swimming places around here.
      If you have any other questions I’ll try to answer them.
      Vanessa

      Like

      • Dido Crosby says:

        Thank you, yes we will have a pool, but I do like a river too. I’ll try Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, sounds good. Dido

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      • nessafrance says:

        I hope you enjoy your gite and the river swimming. I’ve swum in the Dordogne many years ago but never in any of the rivers around here.

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  5. pfornari says:

    Geraniums were always my favourites, in the two spells that we spent six and a half years in Belgium, and lived in a big house. I used to prune them right down and keep them in the garage over the winter, and it was such a delight to see them springing back into life. Now that we just spend a few weeks in the Brussels apartment over the summer, I buy new ones, then chuck them out. They brighten up the balcony and are just lovely!

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    • nessafrance says:

      Whatever I do, I can’t manage to keep my geraniums over the winter. Inside is too warm; outside, our outbuildings are too cold! So I resign myself to buying new ones. They are a bit gaudy but they do go so well with the local stone.

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  7. amelie88 says:

    Isn’t it nice to get into the groove of spring gardening? I don’t like to garden but my father does. Our daffodils have been in bloom for a few weeks now (need to take pictures) as has the forsythia (yellow flowered bush). I think the hydrangeas will be out later this summer. Our front and backyard are mostly in the shade so we always plant impatiens every year because they do well in the shade. This is also the time of year we bring out the deck furniture again and our cactus. The only problem is we can’t really grow anything vegetable wise (apart from herbs). My father has tried time and time again to grow tomatoes or something of the sort–it always ends up getting eaten by the deer or other animals.

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    • nessafrance says:

      This is a lovely time of year, although it can be difficult to keep up with nature’s burgeoning. For about 8 weeks we will struggle to keep up and then, all of a sudden, it will all go dry and brown. We have several good reasons for not growing our own vegetables: a) the deer, hare etc would eat them; b) we are too lazy and our terrain is poor; c) we benefit hugely from our friends’ gluts. I sympathise with your father: sometimes nature is just too over the top!

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  8. LizzyF says:

    How big were they? I’m not sure they are stag beetle larvae, you usually find them in rotten stumps and they look a little too small as well. They could be some sort of chafer, they will happily live in soil and munch the roots of anything they find-nasty things! Have a look at his web site, very good photos that might help with the identification. http://maria.fremlin.de/stagbeetles/larva-guide/index.html

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      Funnily enough, I have just found that site while doing more research and I think I have identified them as Rose Chafer larvae, which are not harmful. They look very like cockchafer larvae, which are harmful. These ones have stubbier and fatter bottoms than stag beetle larvae and less prominent mandibles. They also have distinctive behaviour in that they pull themselves along on their backs if placed on a flat surface. I’ve just witnessed that outside with some that I found in a pot of soil left over from last year. But we might well have cockchafer larvae as well in other pots in the summer, which explains why some of my geraniums don’t thrive. Useful site, which I will consult again.

      Like

      • LizzyF says:

        I’m glad you found a suitable home for your uninvited guests. Hopefully this will be a lovely sunny summer and your new geraniums will thrive!

        Like

      • nessafrance says:

        I hope they will be happy where I’ve put them. I understand they are not always keen on being moved but I hope the new home is more to their taste. We are also hoping that this summer will be sunny and pleasant – we had such a gloomy winter here and are desperate for whatever sunshine we can get. Springs here are becoming gloomier and autumns much more luminous.

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  9. Evelyn says:

    Your geraniums are lovely!

    Like

  10. Those are stag beetle larvae and won’t hurt your flowers. They eat dead wood so if poss relocate them somewhere suitable rather than let the birdies have them! I think they might even be protected since they’re an endangered species.
    I had some lovely geraniums last year but Lambo (our hand reared lamb) ate the heads off them all when he went for his walkabouts!

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    • nessafrance says:

      Are you sure they’re stag beetle larvae? It seems to me that the plants that are ailing are those that have these in the pots with them. I also read somewhere that harmless and harmful larvae from different beetles look rather alike. It’s not easy to tell from a photo so I think I had better show them at close quarters to someone round here who is an expert.

      P.S. I’ve just done some research and I don’t think they are stag beetle larvae. These ones have much stubbier, fatter and darker bottoms and less prominent mandibles. I think they are Rose Chafer larvae. I learnt that, if placed on a flat surface, they straighten out and pull themselves along on their backs – I’ve just demonstrated this outside with some that I got out of a trough of soil. This distinctive behaviour marks them out, apparently. But – like stag beetle larvae – they are not harmful to plants. They are very similar to, and often confused with, cockchafer larvae, which do eat plant roots. So I had better rehome these. Thanks for raising the question.

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  11. lizgyooll says:

    Oo … loverly bugs! They’re called “dormiglioni” in Tuscan (if not Italian) … the big sleepers! I don’t know what they turn into, because as soon as a plant looks a bit limp I will turn it out and usually find these … I wonder if they are a ground beetle of some sort. The best solution is to feed them to hens; mine loved them and gobbled them up in one gulp. Any neighbours with hens?

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      See Steph’s comment. She thinks they are stag beetle larvae, in which case I wouldn’t want to harm them. Except they do seem to harm the plants so I think I had better check.

      Like

  12. susancarey says:

    Lovely, Vanessa. Frank and I will have to make our annual trip to get the geraniums on the balcony! Our neighbour lines her pots with black polythene (or perhaps something porous) to stop the grubs getting in. Wish I could give you more accurate info but if I bump into her I’ll ask what material she uses.

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      Any further info will be gratefully received. Another commentator thinks they might be stag beetle larvae, which I wouldn’t want to do away with. More research required, I think.

      Like

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