Summer Bedding Plants – Questions and Answers


Summer Bedding Plants – Questions and Answers leads on from earlier blogs on bedding plants; design ideas for hanging baskets and flowers to use in your patio pots.

I regularly get asked these questions by clients, friends, people I meet at events, so thought it might be helpful to share the answers with more of you!

Further reading on summer bedding can be found in the related blogs list below. You may also find Plews Gardening Glossary helpful for definitions.


Summer Bedding Plants – Questions and Answers

What is a bedding plant?

By the widest definition, a bedding plant is any plant which is used for a specific summer or winter display. In other words, it is being used in a temporary planting scheme.

However, plants which are quick and easy to grow are the main contenders. They need to offer seasonal flower and / or foliage colour; scent is generally of lesser importance.

pink cosmos, annual, summer bedding plants

Annuals obviously grow quickly and are cheap to provide in quantity for seasonal bedding displays. Both hardy annuals and half-hardy annuals (also known as frost tender annuals) are used. Bi-ennials and tender perennials are also used as summer bedding plants.


Are Geraniums and Pelargoniums the same thing?

Yes – and No. They are separate genera within the plant family Geranium, or Geraniaceae. Cousins if you like. The easiest way to distinguish between the two is that Geraniums are frost hardy perennials and will be found outside in the garden border year round. Pelargoniums are tender perennials, so need to be overwintered in a frost free place.

Geranium pratense - meadow cranesbill

Pelargoniums are often called pot geraniums as they make excellent summer bedding plants; and pot plants for balconies, courtyard gardens and patios. They are often treated as annuals for this purpose. Pelargoniums hail from tropical rather than temperate climates so enjoy sunny gardens. and, conveniently for the absent minded gardener, are fairly drought tolerant. So are forgiving when you forget to water them.

pink pelargonium, white petunia in container

There are further botanical differences, but this is a simple, easy distinction to get clear in your mind.


Do I have to have trailing plants in a hanging basket?

Well, no, not if you don’t want to; it’s your hanging basket! But I would ask whether you will be able to see the plants in the basket? Trailing plants are used because they give you a show of flowers and foliage whilst making use of extra, vertical space. If you’re hanging basket is quite low, or hung alongside steps, ie where you can see plants inside the basket, then trailing plants aren’t essential.

red trailing fuchsia, container planting, Hardwick Hall Gardens

If the trailing plants on offer at the garden centre don’t appeal to you, I have a suggestion. Some ground cover plants and small climbers will effectively trail over the side of a hanging basket. For example, I’ve used sweet peas in hanging baskets where they have both trailed over the sides, and scrambled up the chain.


Can I use tall plants in bedding plant schemes?

You may have seen tender sub-tropical plants such as cannas and palms forming the centrepiece for summer bedding schemes in parks. There is no reason why you shouldn’t use taller plants as a focal point for a summer bedding scheme in your own garden. Palms would give you a green centrepiece. Whilst canna have green, striped or bronze foliage; with vivid coloured flowers.

Plews truck, plant nursery, Hydrangea paniculata, Canna, lobelia 'queen victoria'

Alternatively, you could have tall Nicotiana sylvestris. The tobacco plant can easily reach 5-foot-tall and has the added benefit of scented flowers. These have a stronger smell in the evening, this, combined with their white flowers which show up in lower light levels, makes them a good choice if evening is when you mainly enjoy your garden.


Can I mix perennial plants with summer bedding?

Yes, you can. In fact, you can use any type of plant you like in your summer bedding scheme, although I’m presuming that you wouldn’t be using a shrub that only flowers in winter!

wallflowers, scented flower, bedding plants, container planting

The main criterion, as we saw above, is that your summer bedding plants perform well with colourful flowers and / or foliage over the summer months. So, although it is tender perennials which are more often used, there is no reason why you shouldn’t use a hardy perennial plant. Topiary can look stunning surrounded by brightly coloured flowers. A golden yew pyramid shaped topiary bush engulfed in a sea of orange gazanias and feathery white cosmos would be lovely.


If I’m mixing perennials and annuals do they need different soil?

As they’re putting on such a constant display, all bedding plants need plenty of food. A rich potting compost or border soil to begin with and then a regular liquid feed over the summer months. The tender perennials that you’re treating as annual plants will presumably end up together on the compost heap come the autumn. So different soils are not necessary from that perspective.

topiary spirals, bedding scheme parterre with stachys, golden feverfew, ightam mote, kent

It is also worth knowing that most of the plants sold as summer bedding plants are tolerant of a fairly wide range of soil pH. Plants which will stay in the ground for longer than the summer have a more critical need of the right soil pH.

Where you have a very acid soil, or its very stony then you would be more limited in the range of plants you could use for bedding schemes in the ground. In these circumstances it’s easier to grow summer bedding plants in pots and containers.


What summer bedding plants are good for a shady patio?

Very shady patios get a good display from large leaved, green foliage plants. These will give you a very architectural, modern or jungle effect, depending on the plants chosen. Fatsia japonica and Hostas would be my first choices.

Shady patio but not total shade? If it’s colourful flowers you’re after, Mimulus, Busy Lizzies and Fuchsias should give you a good display.


Where do these summer bedding plants come from originally?

Lots of different countries is the simple answer! Regions which have a sub-tropical climate will tend to produce plants that are capable of rapid growth over a short time scale. Which is a pre-requisite for summer bedding in the temperate zones.

orange gerbera, mirrored planter, world vision garden, rhs hampton court flower show 2015

So, for example, Osteospernum, Gazania and Gerbera are all used as summer bedding plants in the UK. They are plants native to South Africa, along the western coast in Namaqualand down to Cape Town.


I trust you’ve found this Summer Bedding Plants – Questions and Answers blog session helpful. If you have specific queries and issues about your own garden, you may find our Garden Advice and Garden Consultancy services useful. Please do have a look at the website information and get in touch.


Related Gardening Blogs you may enjoy

Bedding Plants – Carpet Bedding
Summer Bedding Plants – Planting ideas for your flower borders and patio containers
Plants for Hanging Baskets
June Wedding Flowers from Your Garden

canna, spot plant, bedding scheme, bedding plants, marigolds


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