Bedding plants are either once-flowering annual plants or, like wallflowers, they are perennials but treated as annuals. Bedding plants can be used in traditional flower beds, or in the more modern way as fillers and in pots and containers. No other group brings such exuberant colour, they have two peak periods – springtime for over-wintered bedding plants and summer for the main display.

When to plant

Bedding plants can be planted to give summer, winter or spring colour. The main aim of summer bedding is to give a mass of colour in flower beds and in tubs, window boxes and hanging baskets in July, August and September. The plants used for summer bedding are usually half hardy annuals such as Petunia, Nemesia and Busy Lizzie. These plants cannot tolerate low temperatures and can only be planted out after the danger of frost has passed. The third week of May is a suitable time for planting in most parts of the country but this can be a little earlier in mild, coastal areas and a later in colder, inland regions or on higher ground. Hanging baskets and window boxes can be planted up earlier provided they are kept in a frost free place until danger of frost has past.

Winter flowering pansies, primroses and polyanthus are tolerant of cool conditions. These plants are available in garden centres from late August on and are usually planted in September and October. Spring bedding, such as double daisies, daffodils and tulips can be planted in October and November after summer bedding plants have been removed.

Where to plant

Bedding plants are the most effective means of providing quick colour in the garden. Most types need sunshine to develop properly and should be planted in an open sunny situation, preferably sheltered from strong winds. Their main use in the past has been in formal bedding schemes but they can bring life to any part of the garden in just a few months. Most plants are still used in formal schemes in beds devoted solely to summer, winter or spring bedding. They are also widely used in containers, tubs, planters, window boxes and hanging baskets. As gardens become smaller and patios more important, their use in this way will become more popular.

Bedding plants are especially useful in new gardens where recently planted permanent trees and shrubs are still small and where much space remains to be filled. Bedding can also be used to fill up gaps that sometimes occur in beds of hardy annuals, in newly planted herbaceous borders or in mixed plantings of shrubs, perennials and bulbs. Bedding plants with a trailing habit of growth look spectacular when allowed to sprawl down a bank.

What to plant

What to plant will depend on the effect to be created. If a simple scheme is required for summer colour, a single variety of Geranium (Pelargonium) or Petunia can be mass planted. Alternatively a multi-coloured effect can be created by using a number of mixed half hardy annuals. These tend to have the most vibrant colours and are among the most popular for summer bedding. Some of the most widely planted types are Alyssum, Lobelia, Petunia, Phlox, Busy Lizzy or Impatiens, Nemesia and Verbena. In schemes where many strong colours are used, it is advisable to include some grey foliage plants, such as Cineraria (Senecio bicolor) and Helichrysum. These help to tone down powerful colour contrasts and make the scheme more acceptable.

Winter flowering pansies, primroses and polyanthus provide colour during the winter months, while wallflower, double daisies, daffodils and tulips are excellent for spring bedding

How to plant

Bedding plants can be raised by seed but most gardeners find it more convenient to purchase plants ready for planting in their permanent position. Most kinds of summer bedding are raised by sowing seed in good compost in early March. Some types that develop more slowly, such as Busy Lizzies and Geraniums (Pelargonium) need to be sown earlier, in late January or early February. Half-hardy annuals require the warmth of a heated greenhouse or warm room at about 15° C at the seed germination and seedling stage. The seedlings can be pricked out about 5 cm apart into seed boxes when large enough to handle. Whether home raised or purchased, summer bedding plants must be well hardened off before planting in their permanent position This can be done by placing outdoors during the day and bringing in under cover at night.

As bedding plants are grown for one season only, they need to grow quickly and the soil in their permanent planting position must be well fed and moist. Plants should be inserted firmly at about 30 cm apart and watered well after planting.