Best Summer Bedding Plants

Summer bedding plants are big gardening business, and with so many to choose from it's a dazzling array. Mostly, it is a personal choice as to what suits you and your garden. Very popular are soft pastels colours with baskets of petunia, verbena, lobelia and silver foliage plants such as Cineraria Silverdust. In contrast are strong primary oranges, yellows and reds of Begonia and Marigolds.

The colour choice is personal, but it is still worth knowing a few helpful facts about bedding plants before parting with your money.

Despite the fact bedding plants are offered for sale from around late March/early April, almost all are not hardy, sweet peas being the main exception.  This means frost will kill bedding plants, and cold weather will make them sulk. If bedding plants are put out in cold weather they will struggle, and you may find they get off to a very slow flowering start.  If the weather takes a turn for the worse keep the plants under cover either in a greenhouse, conservatory or sheltered spot. If you have time and space, planting the bedding plants into containers and hanging baskets and growing on in the greenhouse gives them a real head start to get established.  Quite often when you are selecting bedding plants and hanging baskets at the garden center, they are growing in a covered off or sheltered part. Whatever the conditions, bedding plants should not be planted out until all risk of frost has passed, more information about when to plant out bedding plants

Slug resistant bedding plants

Some bedding plants are very attractive to slugs, some less so. Those which are slug magnets are petunia (above center image), bizzie lizzies (Impatiens,)  verbena, pansies, and the most attractive of all to slugs, marigolds. This means if your garden is prone to slugs, or want an easier gardening life, you may want to steer clear of these. Bedding plants less liked by slugs are Pelargoniums common name Geranium (above image far right),  Begonias, the English pot Marigold (calendula officinalis, image below left) Fuchsias, Lobelia (image above far left), and Snapdragons ( Antirrhinums)

Compare below the Calendula (pot marigold) below left and the traditional pom pom shaped Marigold image below right. Both are very lovely, but with the traditional marigold you will need robust slug protection even if you grow them off the ground in a tall pot. The slugs consider Marigolds nectar of the gods, they will slime their way up the pot and munch away on the Marigolds leaving you with a few slimy stalks. Still, if not too badly ravaged you can rescue the plant, see below.

If your bedding plants do get chewed up by slugs it is possible to salvage the plant if it is not too far gone. How to rescue a slug eaten plant.

Easy to maintain Bedding plants

Some bedding plants are easier to maintain and keep looking good all summer than others. If you are growing Petunia,  Surfinia, Verbena, Pansies, Ice plants ( Mesembryanthemum) all need a lot of dead heading, but some more than others. If you want an easy gardening life Mesembryanthemum is not the bedding for you. This is because Mesembryanthemum   when in full bloom produces dozens and dozens of spent flowers to be removed. As a bedding plant, it looks fab, but very labour intensive. See below the lovely bright blooms left, and the heap of spent flowers all of which must be removed in just one dead heading session , center image.

Dead heading is essential on all plants not just bedding plants. If bedding plants are not dead headed they will stop flowering earlier in the season. A plant flowers and sets seed, that is it's aim, and having achieved this it will not keep on flowering. By removing the spent flowers it forces the plant to flower again in order to set seed and keep on flowering. 

Sweet peas are another labour intensive bedding plant. Obviously beautiful scent and colours but hard work. I grow them every year and I love them but they take a lot of effort to keep them blooming and looking good. It is essential to keep removing the spent flowers and seed heads all summer long, and there will be plenty. Also to stop the plant becoming a tangled knot by half way through the summer, you need to remove the tendrils as well, see the image below right and tips on growing sweet peas.

Easier to grow and maintain looking good all summer are Pelargoniums, Geraniums, which are not troubled by slugs and whilst they do need to be dead headed, not unduly so and are fairly drought resistant. Like all bedding plants Geraniums will benefit from a feed but will still put on a good show without being fed. Geraniums can also be overwintered in a frost free environment to have free plants for next year.


Equally easy to grow are Nasturtiums, which again are not attractive to slugs, fairly drought resistant and do not require much by way of dead heading. Nasturtiums  are happy on poor soils so no need to feed, and as they are attractive to bees and pollinators they are also ideal companion plants for the veg plot. 

Bedding plants for shade

No bedding plants will tolerate deep shade but some will flower reasonably well in light or dappled shade. Impatiens will take shade, Begonia more shade, pansy and viola dappled shade.  Antirrhinum,  Nicotiana,  and Fuchsia will also tolerate partial or dappled shade. Most other bedding plants require full sun to flower well.  

Strangely enough, there are some bedding plants whose flowers only open with sun. That's important to know because it means if we have a poor summer, or a dull week, the flower will stay completely shut which is not much of a display. You may to avoid these plants. In the image is the lovely Gazania often an eager purchase at the garden center which may fail to reward on a dull day; no sun no flower. The same is true of Morning glory beautiful annual climbing plant,  Osteospermums and  mesembryanthemum, the ice plant illustrated above.