Bedding Plants

What They Are, How to Use Them

Red impatiens photo. These shade-loving annuals come in numerous other colors.
Impatiens are popular bedding plants, especially for shaded areas. David Beaulieu

"Bedding" plants are flowers massed together with others to produce the maximum in visual appeal for a particular season. For example, they are commonly used to establish a patch of vibrant color in a landscape for the summer. The term derives from the fact that these plants are ideal for creating quick flower "beds."

While bedding plants are most often annuals, other types of plants can serve in the role, as well.

Most notably, there are many so-called "tender perennials" that, technically, do not fit the definition of an annual but that are treated as annuals in the North due to their lack of cold-hardiness. Some are borderline cold-hardy, such as Victoria blue salvia. Others come from parts of the world where the climate is tropical. Thus gardeners habitually refer to impatiens flowers as "annuals" because that is how they are used in cold climates, but the impatiens is actually a tender perennial in the tropical climate to which it is indigenous.

With an eye to the five basic elements of landscape design (color, scale, line, form and texture), a landscape designer or informed gardener skillfully arranges each bedding plant in relation to the accompanying annuals, biennialsperennials, shrubs, ornamental grasses, and trees in a yard. By browsing the pictures in the following resource, you can learn more about how to use the five basic elements of landscape design:

Landscape Design Ideas: A Pictorial Guide

Bedding plants are typically relatively short plants that bloom profusely and for a long time. Examples include French marigolds, petunias, and begonias. Furthermore, they can often be encouraged to bloom even better with some deadheading on your part. Their compact growth habit and multitude of blooms make them ideal for creating drifts of color -- whether outside a business establishment to present a welcoming landscape for the customer or around the mailbox of a homeowner to send a message to the neighbors that "this yard is well cared-for."

Color in the Yard Without Breaking the Bank

The term "bedding plants" may also refer not so much to how these specimens are used as to how they are bought. Because many flowers are required to create these impressive drifts of color, cost is a consideration, assuming that you are landscaping on a budget. Annuals are cheaper than perennials, so that helps keep costs down. But even annuals can be expensive when bought individually. That large plant growing individually in a container (that is, a potted plant) may look wonderful, but you will pay extra for it simply because the sellers have invested more time, energy, and money into growing it.

That is why bedding plants are mass-produced by the wholesale greenhouse industry and then marketed -- at a moderate price -- to the retail industry (such as your local garden center). Here, they are sold to the gardening public by the cell pack. These "flats" commonly contain six bedding plants. They represent an inexpensive way for lower- and middle-income gardeners to make a colorful splash of flowers in their yards for a few months at a time. An even cheaper route to take is to start your own bedding plants from seed.

Bedding-Plant Ideas by Season

While summertime is prime time for bedding plants in the North, do not think that you are without options for injecting quick, inexpensive color into your landscape during spring and fall.

Many are well aware of the fact that, on the first warm days of spring, local garden centers are in the habit of putting their cell packs of pansies out for sale. Long-suffering gardeners frustrated by the seemingly unending winter are happy to buy them and plant them in a flower bed alongside spring-flowering bulb plants for an instant color boost.

Pansies are also used as bedding plants for fall, but learn about other options for achieving a colorful -- yet inexpensive -- fall landscape here.

Popular bedding plants for summer include:

  1. Impatiens
  2. Sweet Alyssum
  3. Red Salvia
  4. Ageratum

Those four examples are all flowering plants, but outdoor foliage plants are represented here, as well, most notably:

  1. Coleus (which is shade-tolerant)
  2. Dusty miller (a sun lover and one of the plants with silver leaves)