Life Gardens

Wednesday 23 October 2019

Some tips and tricks for glorious summer bedding

Bedding plants add variety and colour - but should not be put out too soon

'Bedding plants can be chosen according to several different criteria.'
'Bedding plants can be chosen according to several different criteria.'

Gerry Daly

Each year, it seems the summer bedding plants come on sale earlier, even from the beginning of April. They are often displayed alongside hardy spring bedding, such as pansies and primroses, which is confusing because not everybody knows the difference between spring and summer bedding plants. For the record, spring flowers are hardy and can take frost and cold nights, while summer bedding cannot.

Of course, you might get away with planting out too early, but there is little to be gained and the risk is great - a whole batch of plants could be lost to frost or severely damaged so they never fully recover. A hard late spring frost could easily catch out plants put into the soil too early. It is safe enough to plant in southern coastal areas from early May but wait a full month later in cold, inland areas of the northern half of the country.

The selection of bedding plants used in a garden can greatly influence how successful the results are. If the wrong plants are chosen, the effort, and expense, spent on the plants is partially or entirely wasted, or falls short of how well it might succeed. Each kind of bedding plant has a set of attributes and capabilities and these can be matched to the requirements of the house and garden.

Although bedding plants are known as half-hardy annuals, most aren't truly annuals, as such, but are treated as such and grown for one year. This includes petunias, geraniums, verbena, asarina, brachycome, bacopa, fuchsia, bidens, heliotropium, viola, lobelia, nasturtium, mimulus, scaveola, begonia, busy lizzies, felicia, dahlias, arctotis, gazania and diascia.

In fact, relatively few are annuals, such as French marigolds and nemesia. Being perennials, most of these plants flower right through summer and into autumn and can be kept going by feeding and watering, and occasional dead-heading if you have time to do it.

Faced with a wide choice of bedding plants, the most common mistake is to use too many kinds. This ends up as a mishmash with none of the plants doing each other justice. It is much more effective to plant up a small variety that complements each other.

Bedding plants can be chosen according to several different criteria. The first is the site. While all bedding plants thrive in open sunshine, relatively few tolerate shade. Bedding busy lizzie and bedding begonias are solid exceptions, with bacopa and mimulus as well.

For hanging baskets, pots and window boxes, many trailing kinds are ideal, such as trailing petunias, ivy-leaved geraniums, trailing fuchsia, bidens, asarina, scaveola, bacopa, trailing lobelia, nasturtium and felicia. Trailing forms are not as effective when planted out in the open soil as their shape is lost. The bushy kinds are better, such as bedding dahlias, geraniums, busy lizzie, bedding begonia, arctotis, diascia, viola and petunias. In using combinations, try to mix trailing and bushy kinds in baskets and other containers as the trailing kinds scramble and hang and the bushy sorts fill out the top of the container.

Size of flower is another factor to consider, vary for best effect. For instance, petunias, tuberous begonias, arctotis, geraniums and verbena have big colourful flowers and bedding begonias, bacopa, sanvitalia, lobelia, felicia, brachycome and bidens have small massed flowers that give a filled effect. Colour is crucial to whether a planting scheme succeeds.

Choose colours that match, such as red, pink, purple or yellow, orange red, or that contrast, blue against yellow, orange against purple. Use some foliage - brown, green, bronze, copper or black - to set off flowers. The darker colours add a heavy brooding touch, the lighter ones lift the mood. White can be useful to cool down hot orange, red and purple. Choose colours that pick up a feature of the house or garden, such as paintwork or the colour of pots and other containers.

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