Gardeners use the term bedding plants to denote a large number of plants which provide floral displays of a more or less temporary character, rarely exceeding six months, often for a shorter time. Some are annuals, others biennials or perennials, but they occupy a prominent position only for a part of the year; at other times they are grown in a nursery, cold frame or greenhouse, according to their needs.
The advantage of using these plants is that they lend themselves to mass displays. They can then be cleared away, the flower beds being filled with other kinds. Many of the plants known as bedding plants are easily and cheaply raised or are comparatively inexpensive to purchase.
Bedding plants may. be divided into two groups, spring and summer-flowering. Those included in the first division are hardy, at least sufficiently so to be wintered in a cold frame. But most summer bedding plants are tender, and some are so tender that they are injured by the first frost. Spring bedding plants must not be confused with those spring flowers that are allowed to stay in the ground from year to year; the same kind of plant may be grown as an ordinary hardy perennial and as a spring bedding plant
Spring Bedding Plants
Depending upon their kind and upon the local climate, these plants may occupy the beds in which they flower from October or November until the middle or end of May, or they may be planted in their flowering positions in early spring and remain there until mid-May or late May, when they are cleared away to make room for summer plants. In order to have the beds and borders look well furnished from the date of planting, it is usual to grow the plants in a nursery bed or in a cold frame until they are required for the show beds. Thus, spring bedding plants are propagated during the late spring and summer, and summer bedding plants from autumn to late spring.
Spring bedding plants include the large, double-flowered English Daisy, English Wallflower, Cheiranthus Allionii (Siberian Wallflower), Polyanthus Primrose, Arabis, Aubrieta, Alyssum saxatile, Pansy, Viola, Forget-me-not, Phlox amoena, P. canadensis, and P. subulata. These are used as groundwork plants for Hyacinths, Tulips and Narcissi, with Muscari and Crocuses for edgings.
When to Sow Seeds. Most of these (except the bulbs) can be raised from seeds sown in a frame, or in a nursery border out of doors during spring or early summer. Those that grow rapidly, such as Wallflower, should not be sown until June or July or they will become too large by autumn. Polyanthus Primrose seedlings, however, should be large enough to plant out early in April in order that they may have a long-growing season; it is wise to sow the seeds under glass in early spring. Once a stock is obtained, Polyanthus Primroses are easily increased by dividing the plants into single crowns after flowering, and planting these in rows in a cool, semishady place for the summer.
Seedlings of all kinds should be moved from the seedbed as soon as they are large enough to handle, and be planted in nursery beds in rows 12 in. apart, with the plants spaced at 9 in.
Aubrieta, Phlox and Alyssum saxatile are broken up into small pieces as soon as the old plants are removed from the flower beds; they are planted in a nursery border for the summer. Violas may be treated in the same way, or can be raised from cuttings set in sandy soil in a frame kept close. Pansies are raised from seed.
As soon as the summer bedding plants are cleared away in October, the beds should be dug, manured, and limed if necessary. Where winter conditions permit, they should be filled at once with the spring bedding plants to enable these to become well established before winter. When bulbs are to be planted among a groundwork of other plants, these must be set out first and the bulbs inserted immediately afterwards, care being taken that the color of the flowers of the bulbs and other plants will harmonize. In regions where winters are severe the bulbs are planted in the fall and the ground cover plants are set among them in early spring, when the leaves of the bulbs are an inch or two high.
Summer Treatment of Spring Bedding Plants. Some of the spring bedding plants thrive better during summer in a shady place than in full sun. This is the case with Polyanthus and Violas. However, many grow well in full sun. It is important to keep the plants weeded, watered and free of insects and to do everything possible to encourage them to make vigorous, healthy growth.
Summer Bedding Plants
These may be divided into several groups: those grown chiefly for the effect of their flowers; those of low stature with brightly colored leaves; and those of varying heights with large or decorative foliage that produces a subtropical effect.
Those belonging to the first-mentioned group are most commonly grown, and include plants such as Pelargonium (Zonal Geranium), tuberous and semperflorens (wax) Begonias, Verbena, Petunia, Antirrhinum, Lobelia, Fuchsia, bedding Dahlia, Salvia splendens, Heliotrope, Sweet Alyssum, Ageratum, Zinnia, dwarf Marigold, Hunnemannia, Globe Amaranth, Impatiens, Canna, Lantana, and, where summer climate is cool, such plants as Stocks and annual Asters.
Dwarf or carpet bedding plants include varieties of Alternanthera, Iresine, the most dwarf forms of Sweet Alyssum, Antennaria tomentosa, Lysimachia nummularia aurea, Mesembryanthemum cordifolium, Santolina Chamaecyparissus (incana) and various Sedums. These plants are clipped several times during summer to keep them dwarf. Various small decorative plants are often used in carpet bedding, some as a border, others as dot plants. One of the most popular is Echeveria secunda glauca; it is a dainty plant with dense rosettes of leaves 4 in. across.
Subtropical Bedding. For this type of bedding plant, rich soil is necessary, in order that luxuriant growth may result in the shortest possible time, and an open position sheltered from strong winds is essential. Almost any plant with ornamental leaves can be used. Those suitable are: Palms, Musa or Banana, Eucalyptus globulus, Acalypha, Ricinus, Perilla, Coleus, Codiaeum, Grevillea robusta, Canna, Abutilon, Albizzia lophantha, Amaranthus, variegated-leaved Beet, Centaurea Cineraria and C. gymnocarpa, variegated-leaved Fuchsia, Sutherlandia frutescens, Melia Azedarach, various kinds of Nicotiana, Solanum in variety, variegated-leaved Corn, and many other plants.
Some summer bedding plants can be used for several years, more particularly the slow-growing succulent kinds; but the greater number are raised anew each year. The quick-growing kinds that can be raised from seeds, such as Ageratum, Begonia semperflorens, Stock, Aster, Antirrhinum, Petunia, Verbena, and other annuals or plants treated as annuals, are started early enough indoors to be fairly large plants when they are set out in the beds.