Gardening Blog

Gardening Blog: Bedding Plants

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For those of us who do not have the time or inclination to grow flowers from seeds, bedding plants, purchased from a garden center, department store garden department, or local grower are the ideal alternative. Container grown plants come in all possible varieties suited to your area and climatic conditions, are given the best possible start and decrease the time from planting to blooming substantially.

Places to Purchase, Pros and Cons

In order of least favourable to most; bedding plants, shrubs and trees put out in the Spring by Department Stores and Grocery Stores, to me are the riskiest bet. Department Stores arenít in the plant business except as a profit centre. They bring in masses of plant material as early as possible in the Spring. The racks are tended by people who are cavalier in their handling of the plants in terms of watering and protection from the elements and they throw away a great number of their plants just when the season gets going, because their profit begins to diminish. The worst thing about buying there, is that the plants are bought wherever they are cheapest, not for the climatic conditions in which they were raised, or whether the plants species are suitable for the area where they are being sold. This leads to a lot of failure and a lot of disappointed gardeners each year, some of which give up, thinking the whole thing is beyond them.

Second is the Garden Center, where a portion of the plants they sell are still started on location. Although some of the plants are imports, (and almost all of the shrubs), the Garden Centers are staffed with people hired for their knowledge of bedding plants and how they respond in local conditions. Knowledgeable plant people and local stock can take a lot of the guess work out of making your flowering boarders thrive.

Best of all, of course, is a local grower/retailer. A little investigative work may be necessary but itís worth it many times over to find one of these gems. Local growers of perennials and box plants start virtually all their stock in the conditions you are going to grow them in. They donít grow things that wonít thrive in those conditions and their reputation and continued success are tied up in giving you clear instructions on how to pamper your purchases. Many perennials can be purchased as second or third year plants.

What to Look For

Flowering annuals come in plastic pocket trays of eight to four plants each. Recently retailers have economized on what they sell by reducing the number of pockets in the starter flats. Look for lush green tops, with no yellowing of the leaves. Try not to buy plants with missing leaves on new stalks as this can be evidence of plants that werenít watered or were touched by frost and had the dead leaves trimmed off to make them more presentable. Do not buy plants with white edges on leaves or white leaves as theyíve been sunburned.

Push up on the bottom of one of the plastic cells and examine the roots. They should be white, vigourous and filling the container, but not pot bound. When plants have been in small containers too long, the overgrown roots make a dense ball and spill out the drain holes in the bottom of the pack. Some plants have a problem with producing new root growth from these in-grown root balls. Itís possible to use a sharp tool and slash the roots before planting, expecting the plant to produce new root from the cut areas. Itís better to avoid the problem all together.

Finally, try not to buy plants that are already blooming. This goes for flowers and vegetables. You want the plant to create a large, healthy root system to provide the nutrients necessary for flowering or fruit production. Buying plants with flowers already in place, robs the roots of those nutrients. You can pinch out the flowers when you plant your bedding plants, but again, itís easier to buy plants that have yet to bloom. In the long run, they will be healthier and look better in your garden.
When You Get Your Plants Home

Itís always a good idea to let your plants acclimatize to your home garden before you plant them. Different parts of the same city can have radically different high and low temperatures in the Spring as well as amounts of sunlight. Iím thinking of those retailers who grow their plants under fiberglass or trellis providing diffuse light. This protects the plants there, but does you no favours in their new home. Keep them well watered, well drained and in partial sunlight, then after four days or so, increase the light for those species that thrive in full sunlight.

Mark out your beds by digging holes with your trowel so your placement is pleasing to the eye, with the tall plants at the back, of course, so the short ones can be easily seen in front. Large annuals like Four oíclocks or Nicotine can be used as featured plants in the garden or even as annual hedges. Fill the holes youíve dug with water, mixed with a small dose of a general flower fertilizer, let them drain and then plant your plants. As always, press the dirt down firmly around the roots to avoid air pockets, which can lead to fungus or bacterial infections. With large plants itís a good idea to use your foot to press the dirt down hard.

Locally grown is best

Where you buy the plants is almost as important as how you treat them. Locally grown is best. Let them acclimatize in your garden for at least a week, and try out planting patterns until you find the one that suits you best. This will lead to excellent results with annual bedding plants in the novice garden.