Pelargoniums – just how tough? Survival in a container in the south of France

You couldn’t get much drier than this. A balcony in full sun and in the path of the strong mistral wind that peels the paint off shutters here in the south of France with its salty touch.  Any plants have a challenge to survive here, especially if visits are several weeks apart. So I felt that I should heed my own advice that I would offer anyone else – check the watering of containers every day in warm weather, and if the compost is dry at the depth of an inch (2.5cm), water well. In other words, don’t bother growing anything in this pot!

I then ignored my advice to myself and bought this little pelargonium.

Well, for €1,50, it was worth experimenting with. I planted it in multipurpose compost from M. Brocolage, watered the newly planted container well and went back to Surrey……for about seven weeks. So that’s seven weeks with no water at all and it did not rain during this time. As you can imagine I returned with fairly low expectations, but when I looked out onto the balcony, see what welcomed me:

So not just alive, but flourishing!

It’s all in the timing of the planting. If you plant at the beginning of the growing season, when the plant is small and in strong growth mode, it will establish quickly, get used to its root environment and adapt well to adverse conditions. In addition, the temperatures are still relatively low in March. However, if you waited until May or June to plant, the lack of water at this time may not be tolerated by a pelargonium, or much else for that matter.

Other plants you could try in this situation would be any succulents such as sedums, Gasteria, Echeveria, and for a little shade, Billbergia nutans (a terrestrial bromeliad – related to a pineapple). Cacti are less friendly, but tolerate long periods with no water once established. Osteospermums such as Osteospermum jucundum would also be worth trying, as its roots are quite fleshy (rhizomes) and store water.

Osteospermum, or African daisy

Looking at neighbours’ pots can be quite useful too, as some are not on hand to water regularly either. Local nurseries are also worth asking advice from.

The extent to which different plants will tolerate very dry conditions will vary, so if you have any recommendations of plants that you have subjected to sunny, dry and perhaps windy conditions, please share them here!


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