Wait for it: don't rush with your bedding plants
Time to prep for your bedding plants, writes Gerry Daly
Some garden outlets already have bedding plants on sale, despite the light frosts of last week, because over-keen gardeners want to get planting. However, even if you're tempted, it is still too early to plant as the risk of damage is significant. But it is a good time for preparation. Check over any pots and containers that were used last year. Are they adequate or are more needed as replacements?
Pick containers for key positions, pots flanking a doorway or gate, or steps, or grouped on a paved area. Hanging baskets look well on a single-storey house, flanking an entrance, while window-boxes look well on ground-level sills, but are less effective placed higher up, where they are hardly noticed. Clear out old compost. It can be broken down and used again as long as there are no vine-weevil larvae present. Mix it with half good garden soil and half compost, and add a fistful of general fertiliser per 20 litres. Make these preparations before you buy plants.
Although bedding plants are known as half-hardy annuals, most kinds are not annuals, even if they are grown for just 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 bedding flowers 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 and the inclination to do it.
When selecting plants, it's more effective to plant up a small number of kinds that complement, or contrast, with each other. Too many kinds becomes a mishmash and none of the plants look well, unless you want to deliberately create a sort of cottage-garden look. While all bedding plants thrive in open sunshine, relatively few tolerate shade. Bedding busy lizzies and bedding begonias are useful 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 trailing shape is lost. The bushy kinds are better, such as bedding dahlias, geraniums, busy lizzie, bedding begonia, arctotis, diascia, viola and petunias.
When using bedding plants in combinations, it can be effective to use both trailing and bushy kinds together, and some with large leaves or grassy foliage: hosta, sedges, grasses, sweet potato and bergenia.
Try to have plants with flowers of varied sizes too. For instance, petunias, tuberous begonias, arctotis, geraniums and verbena have large colourful flowers and bedding begonias, bacopa, lobelia, felicia, brachycome and bidens have small massed flowers that give a filled effect.
Choose colours that match, such as red, pink, purple or yellow, orange red, or that contrast, blue against yellow, orange against purple. Neutral colours can work with any others, such as white, brown, green, bronze, copper or black. 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 on the house or other summer-flowering plants.
Prepare early but do not be in a rush. A batch of plants could be lost to frost or severely damaged so they never fully recover. It is safe enough to plant in southern coastal areas from early May but a full month later in cold, inland areas of the northern half of the country. Being within 5km of the sea anywhere around the coast allows planting out from the middle of May, but add two weeks further inland. The cost of bedding plants or the effort of growing them and planting them out can be wasted.
TIPTOE THROUGH THE TULIPS: Tulips are fantastic at the moment, their elegant goblets on upright stems demanding attention. In general, tulips follow daffodils in flower, but bring a much broader palette of colour: red, yellow, orange, pink, purple and white, in many varied shades and some two-tones. They look great in borders and the foliage is unobtrusive as it dies back. Buy already potted up or vow to plant your bulbs in late autumn to enjoy this time next year.
FJORDING AHEAD: It sounds unlikely, but the subject of the Dublin 5 Horticultural Society's talk, given by Christine O'Flynn, on May 31 is tropical gardens in a Norwegian fjord. Intriguing to say the least. At 8pm, in The Artane Beaumont Family Recreation Centre, Kilmore Road, Artane, Dublin 5. Admission €5; details on 087 242 3020.
THIS OLD THING?: Now that recycling is so topical, it was only a matter of time before we saw it move into to the garden. Gardening with Junk by Adam Caplin (RPS, £14.99) is just the thing to get you started. Re-purpose anything from beer cans to wicker baskets, and find out the best plants to team them with. You will be looking at old things with new eyes.