Rocky Mountain Geraniums

GER-mainA couple of weeks ago in Field Notes we discussed the new genetics that are re-invigorating the geranium cultivars. These days, the best geraniums are new and patented and the older varieties are pretty much obsolete, so we believe the new genetics are creating a revival in the crop. However, sometimes an older series offers characteristics that are so superior they stand up to the test of time—we’re talking about the Rocky Mountain geranium.

This is not a general-purpose geranium that you might plant in a small yard. It’s a big brute of a geranium that will fill in the space around it. In many ways, the Rocky Mountain is not a homeowner’s geranium but a serious landscaper’s plant for the commercial market. To give you some idea of its size, we recommend planting most geraniums 12 inches apart. When it comes to the Rocky Mountains, we recommend 18 inches—they are about 50% larger than the usual varieties.


Such a difference in size has important budget implications. The total cost to fill a large landscape bed with Rocky Mountains is less than to fill it with other cultivars, even though the pot itself might cost more.

Deep Rose

Let’s say, for example, there is a corporate entrance to be planted with geraniums: 500 square feet to the left and 500 square feet to the right. (We recommend planting them in a diamond pattern because it fills in better and creates a nicer looking bed quickly.) To fill a 1000 square foot (total) contract:

  • Standard geraniums planted 12 inches apart = 1000 plants
  • Rocky Mountains planted 18 inches apart = 560 plants

You can see that using Rocky Mountains results in significant savings. It takes about half as many plants to fill the bed—in the same amount of time—when compared to other geranium cultivars. This amazing vigor has kept the Rocky Mountains competitive with newer versions for decades.


Rocky Mountains are the graybeards among the premium geranium cultivars. Geraniums have been around for so long, they’ve gotten a bad rap as a group. The older genetics required a lot of deadheading and maintenance to keep plants blooming all season and many landscapers still remember that. Other selections began appearing in no- and low-maintenance versions for landscaping applications, but the geranium breeders failed to keep pace with them. As a result, the landscape market shifted its attention elsewhere and geranium sales declined.


Unfortunately, geraniums are also plagued by a lot of substandard genetics and sloppy practices. Poorly bred, tossed into the market and sold on the cheap, these inferior geraniums spoiled the genre for a lot of home and commercial customers. We should also point out that the flood of slipshod work has not helped the breeders, either. It has taken more than a decade for geraniums to clean up their act and present some series that can compete head-to-head with the other plants we already have in production. And, as good as the Rocky Mountains are, they got swept away with everything else when geraniums, as a market, were left behind.


Fortunately, the genetics for the Rocky Mountains belong to Syngenta. Faced with a collection full of irregularities in color and habit, Syngenta recognized the value in the vigor that all the cultivars exhibited and invested in improving the line over the years. Rocky Mountains are better now than they were back then—they are more of an actual series. As a group, plants grow more evenly and their bloom times are better coordinated among the colors; still, there are some weak spots in the line that reflect their earlier history. We’ve pruned those varieties out of our production list so when you buy Rocky Mountains from us, you can be certain they will be well matched.


We grow the series in both a 7-inch pot (1 gallon capacity) and a 12-inch pot (3 gallon capacity). Our 12-inch planters look especially fine; they fill big containers very well, so you can use them in the large urns that are prominent in public spaces in parks and corporate courtyards. They also fit well in the retail market as decor planters for large, oversized decks and patios that serve as outdoor entertainment centers.