Bedding plants are used to create colourful container displays and fill gaps in borders, providing vibrant flowers or foliage that will last throughout summer. Most are also inexpensive to buy. Using bedding plants is an easy way to give your garden a boost, change planting styles with the seasons and experiment with colour schemes in pots and hanging baskets.
Bedding plants are usually tender annuals or perennials that last for one season, although some plants, such as geraniums, can be brought indoors to overwinter. Bedding plants range from classics like busy lizzies and petunias to annuals that provide seasonal colour but aren't traditionally thought of as bedding, such as cosmos and sweet peas.
The majority of bedding plants will last all summer if you look after them. Don't let them dry out, especially if they're planted in containers and hanging baskets. If you want value for money, look for bedding plants that flower from May or June right into autumn. Bedding plants that flower for the longest time include cosmos, begonias and geraniums. Check the plant label for flowering times when you buy. Another thing to consider is how much maintenance your plants will need. Some need a lot more deadheading than others – if you're looking for low-maintenance bedding plants, choose ones that don't need as much deadheading, such as begonias or nicotiana.
Are bedding plants bad for the environment?
Bedding plants are often grown in large glasshouses that use a lot of energy and water, typically in peat-based compost. Most are sold in plastic pots or polystyrene trays that can't be recycled, and a lot of popular bedding is sterile or double-flowered, and therefore of no use to pollinating insects. Once home, bedding plants need a lot of watering and artificial fertilisers to keep them flowering throughout summer.
Tips on using bedding plants more sustainably:
- Grow bedding from seed to minimise single-use plastic waste and energy needs of large glasshouses
- Use bedding to fill gaps in your planting scheme rather than fill entire beds
- Look for bedding sold in compostable or recyclable pots, in peat-free compost
- Use water from a water butt or add water retaining gel to containers and baskets to reduce reliance on tap water
- Look for less traditional bedding plants such as single dahlias or cosmos, which are good sources of nectar for pollinating insects. Look for bedding plants with labels saying they’re good for pollinators
How to grow summer bedding
Plant our summer bedding after all risk has passed. Water regularly, especially if growing in pots or hanging baskets, and feed fortnightly with a high potash fertiliser such as tomato feed. Deadhead regularly to encourage more flowers to form.
How to plant summer bedding
Sowing from seed
Some annuals that are used as bedding plants can be sown from seed in spring. These include cosmos, nicotiana and snapdragons. Cosmos is easy to grow from seed but for bedding such as lobelia, geraniums and pansies it’s easier to buy them as plug plants or young plants from the garden centre.
Using plug plants
You can buy bedding plants as plug plants in early spring, but these will need to be grown on indoors before planting out when the danger of frost is over. Alternatively, you can buy young plants in spring – look for trays of bedding plants in your local garden centre or nursery. Keep bedding plants undercover until the danger of frost is over, then plant out from late May to early June.
When you buy your plug plants, plant them into small pots to grow on indoors. When the weather warms up, harden off plants (get them used to being outdoors) by putting them out during the day and bringing them in at night. When ready to plant, carefully remove your plants from their pots and plant in gaps in your border or in containers filled with peat-free multi-purpose compost. Firm your plants in well and water again after planting.
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Caring for summer bedding
Water your bedding plants regularly. Those in containers, window boxes and hanging baskets may need watering every day if the weather is hot. Hanging baskets in particular dry out very quickly and your planting display will not last long if you allow the basket to dry out.
The nutrients in compost will run out after around four to six weeks so you will need to feed bedding plants in pots regularly to keep them looking good. You can use a liquid feed that is high in potassium, such as tomato fertiliser and simply add this to one watering each week during the summer. Alternatively, add slow-release fertiliser granules when planting your container.
Pinch off the faded flowers on plants such as pansies and petunias to keep them flowering. Deadheading prevents plants producing seed and will keep your plants flowering for longer. For geraniums, you can snap off the flower stem once the flowerhead has gone over or snip it off with a pair of secateurs.
Advice on buying summer bedding
- Annuals such as cosmos and nicotiana are easy and cheap to grow from seed and have a smaller environmental impact. You can buy packs of seed at the garden centre or online
- Plug plants are available in several sizes from small plugs that will need to potted on to garden ready sized plugs that can be bought in early summer to plant straight into baskets or containers
- Look for trays of bedding plants at the garden centre as these usually offer a cost-effective way to fill up containers.
- Always check plants for signs of damage or disease before planting
Where to buy summer bedding
12 summer bedding plants to grow
Busy lizzies, also known as Impatiens, are good for partially shady areas with brightly coloured flowers that will last all summer. This is a versatile plant that can be planted in containers, window boxes and borders. There are many varieties to choose from in pink, purple, orange, red and white shades.
Height x Spread: 30cm x 35cm
Grow this easy plant for its long-flowering habit, a top pick for hanging baskets and containers where it will provide a prolific amount of blooms. Some nemesia are tender perennials, grown as annuals. Combine with other bedding plants for a long-lasting seasonal display in full sun.
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H x S: 30cm x 30cm
This showy plant has big flowers that are popular for summer displays. For hanging baskets try the trailing varieties such as the ‘Million Kisses’ series or cascading types that will spill over and soften the edges of the basket, while others with an upright habit can be used in pots. These tender perennials are usually grown as annuals and like a partially shady spot.
H x S: 35cm x 35cm depending on variety
Flowers: July to October
The tobacco plant is night scented and many varieties are beneficial to pollinators, releasing a fragrance that attracts moths. Plant near benches and paths to enjoy its scent on a summer’s evening. Nicotiana sylvestris is a tall variety that can be planted at the back of a border or in a large container. This bedding plant is easy to grow from seed.
H x S: 1.5m x 60cm
Annual lobelias have small bright flowers that come in shades of blue, purple, pink and white. There are compact upright varieties which are a good pick for containers and window boxes or if you’re looking for something to spill out of a hanging basket, there are many trailing types to choose from. Plant in partial shade to full sun for the longest displays.
H x S: 15cm x 45cm
This elegant plant should be on everyone’s summer wish list. It’s easy to grow from seed and flowers for months, with daisy like flowers held on long stems. Bees love it and there are many varieties and colours to choose from. From one packet of seeds, you’ll be able to fill pots and borders with masses of blooms.
H x S: 1.2m x 60cm
The height and spread of bacopa will vary depending on whether you buy a trailing variety or not. Bacopa is perfect for use as a filler in containers and hanging baskets, providing a froth of small flowers that last for months. Flowers come in pink, white or blue.
H x S: 15cm x 30cm
These African daisies are popular for summer bedding with many colourful cultivars to choose from. The half hardy annuals are available in colours including pink, purple and white. Plant in a sunny spot to enjoy the best from these flowers.
H x S: 30cm x 50cm
Fill gaps in summer containers, window boxes and hanging baskets with pansies, for reliable colour over a long period. They're easy to grow and look after and there’s a huge range of shades to choose from. Pansies are usually available in packs at the garden centre or can be bought in packs online, making them an inexpensive choice for pots.
H x S: 20cm x 30cm
Geranium is the common name for pelargoniums, not to be confused with hardy geraniums, which are known as cranesbills. Geraniums that are used for summer bedding are tender and there are many to choose from, whether you're looking for an elegant Regal pelargonium such as 'Lord Bute' that will look good in a terracotta pot or a bright zonal type that will brighten up a hanging basket. To keep geraniums going over winter, you'll need to bring them indoors.
H x S: 35cm x 40cm (depends on variety)
It's not all about flowers. Plants such as coleus provide vibrant leaf colour that will add interest for months in containers and hanging baskets. Coleus brings an exotic look to containers and comes in shades including bright pink, purple, red, green, brown and bronze. Plant coleus out in May, once the danger of frost is over.
H x S: 50cm x 50cm
Plant snapdragons in a sunny border or in a pot on the patio to enjoy flowers all summer long. These plants are attractive to bees and have a wonderful scent making them an attractive choice for gaps in your planting scheme or filling a container with colourful blooms. Snapdragons also make excellent cut flowers.
H x S: 90cm x 45cm (depends on variety)