Bedding plants are any plants set out to give bright colour in a bed for a particular season. The ones you see in spring are mostly annuals – they grow from seed, flower and die all in the same year. But there are also some biennials (plants with a two-year life cycle), and some half-hardy perennials (plants that die down each winter to return in spring).
Whatever their botanical category, however, almost all bedding plants are treated as annuals. They are usually raised from seed, brought on in a greenhouse or cold frame and planted out for summer display. Then, after a few months of glory in the garden, they are consigned to the compost heap.
Cost effective bedding plants
Nursery-reared plants are much more expensive than a packet of seeds, but they do give you a wider choice. You can raise your own annuals from seed: but you’ll have to weigh the fun of doing it against the cost of compost and any greenhouse heating. The savings may not be all that great. A cheaper alternative is to raise the plants on sunny window-sills, though you’ll need a lot of space to grow enough for a massed display. Or you can confine your choice of bedding plants to hardy annuals, which can be sown straight into their flowering position in the garden.
Buying Bedding plants
While buying bedding plants select good, green, healthy foliage on short-jointed, stocky plants. Make sure that the plants are in moist, weed-free compost.
If the leaves are yellow-green, the plants have suffered early starvation and they may take weeks to get over it. If the compost has dried out, the roots will have, too. Don’t even consider buying such plants.
Preparing the soil
Good soil will need only to be forked over lightly in spring, with a general-purpose fertiliser. Dig over poor or heavy clay soil in autumn, feeding in organic matter such as well-rotted compost, manure, peat or shredded bark. Smooth over and level the surface with a rake.
What to plant
As edging plants (all these are dwarf plants up to 5in tall): agcratum pale blue and pink: lobelia, pale and dark blue: alyssum white: tagetes yellow, scarlet and orange: and verbena, red. blue or mauve. As dominant groups (plants up to 2ft tall): petunia, mixed: zinnia, mixed: bedding begonia, red pink and white: bedding dahlia, mixed: salvia red: bedding geranium, pink red, white, salmon or lilac: and antirrhinum, mixed.
As dot plants (tall and showy flowers or foliage to break up block planting): standard fuchsia, red, pink and white: kochia bright green turning to copper in autumn: abutilon brilliant white and green foliage
Water the plants thoroughly before planting them out: but don’t water the bed. Start planting from the back in a border and from the centre in an island bed. Lay a board across the ground to spread your weight and avoid compacting the soil.
Ease apart the roots of plants grown in boxes. Slide plants and root ball from hard-sided pots. Plants in peat pots can be planted in their pots straight into the soil.
Check the spacing between each plant on the seed packet or garden centre label. Use a trowel to make a planting hole no deeper than the soil mark on the plant stem. Set the plant in it. making sure the roots are not bent back or cramped. Firm down the soil around the base of the plant with your hands.
As soon as planting is finished, hoe carefully to erase any prints from your feet or planting board. Spray the plants with water. Water daily until the plants begin growing. Hand weed, and put down slug pellets to prevent damage to young plants.
Water on a general liquid fertiliser even-two or three weeks. Remove faded blossoms to encourage more flowers.