What’s the Difference Between Zonal, Pelargonium and Hardy Geranium?

If you’re wondering what separates different types of geraniums from one another, you’re not alone. The topic can be a little bit sticky–even for those who consider themselves green-thumbed! We’d like to help by explaining!

geranium pelargonium

It’s important to know the difference between a zonal, pelargonium, and a hardy geranium because these flowers do not flourish in the same climates. If you’re looking for a perennial or a one-season flower, you will want to know the difference between these varieties.

First, the basic difference. The geranium and pelargonium are two varieties in the Geraniaceae family of plants. The main separation between these two is their hardiness. Geraniums are perennials that return each year.  Pelargoniums are annuals that can be semi-hardy in some climates, but they’re generally used for one season.

Hardy Geranium

geranium pelargonium hardy geranium rozanneA hardy geranium is also known as a cranesbill, which is named due to the long seed head on the flower. These perennials are low maintenance and can tolerate shade. Therefore, they make nice fillers in flower beds that need year-round colour. Rozanne is considered a hardy geranium because it’s a long-lasting perennial, even throughout winter. So, to break it down:

  • Perennials that return year after year
  • Low-fuss garden staples
  • More commonly known as cranesbills


geranium pelargonium redPelargoniums come in many shapes and types. They can be upright, variegated (mutli-coloured on the edges), pungent in smell, and some can trail. The unifying quality all the pelargoniums have is that they are all annuals as opposed to the hardy geranium. The geraniums considered pelargoniums are:

  • Zonal Geraniums
  • Fancy Leafed Geraniums
  • Scented Geraniums
  • Ivy or Trailing Geraniums
  • Regal Geraniums

Zonal Geraniums

geranium pelargonium zonalZonal geraniums are a type of pelargonium, and they get their name from the “zone” of red, blue, or purple colour striping through the middle of their leaves, so this physical attribute is a helpful way to distinguish a zonal geranium. Other things to know:

  • The flowers are doubled
  • They do not produce seeds, so they are grown from clippings
  • A common sight in nurseries, colourful and vibrant
  • Grow up to 18 inches
  • Generally a one-season flower, but they might return if they like where they’re planted

So, there you have it! The main things to know are the hardiness of your geraniums and what you plan on using them for. Hardy geraniums are fantastic filler plants, while pelargoniums such as zonal geraniums can be planted for one season.

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