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28 March 2014

Growing Bedding Plants

Most gardeners will use bedding plants as part of their summer display, whether planted in the garden, in tubs or hanging baskets. There are various ways to obtain these plants.

You can purchase packs of ready-grown bedding plants from nurseries, garden centres, DIY stores or from the local market. These will be ready to plant out and will soon add colour to your garden.

A cheaper method is to buy tiny seedlings from mail-order companies. Between 100 and 400 seeds will be delivered in trays filled with compost, and you will need to pot on the baby plants in separate seed trays as they develop to give them space to grow.

A useful alternative is to buy plug plants, which are bigger than seedlings and are grown in trays containing lots of v-shaped cells. You can obtain them by mail order or from local suppliers. These also need to be potted on into larger containers before being planted out but are easier to handle than seedlings. Plug plants are available in many sizes, and good quality plugs should be damp, have green, healthy leaves and roots that are just appearing through the bottom of each cell.

At your local garden centre you will find bedding plants sold in individual pots, trays or in tear-apart packs. Buying in pots is the most expensive, while trays containing lots of plants is cheapest. With many plants growing in the same tray of compost, however, it is easy to damage roots when separating them to put into individual pots. Plants grown in packs don't have this problem as each plant has its own growing cell, making them easy to plant without causing damage to the roots.

The most satisfying way to get your bedding plants is to grow them from seed, if you have the time and space. Most bedding plants are easy to grow from seed, and will have instructions on their packet along with temperature requirements. Just fill a 7.5cm (3in) pot with compost, firm and follow the sowing instructions for the variety you're growing - some seeds need to be covered with compost, while others are left on the surface.

To germinate, cover your pot of seeds with a clear plastic bag held in place with an elastic band, then place it on a windowsill. Your seedlings should appear before long. If you have a heated propogator then put your pot of seeds in this. If you have the space, sow your seeds in a tray and cover with clingfilm or a sheet of glass or clear plastic until seedlings start to appear.

Some smaller seeds, begonia for example, are harder to grow from seed and are better bought as young plants.

Most bedding plants, whether homegrown or bought in, will have been started in warm conditions, and benefit from getting acclimatised to the outdoors before being planted out. You can do this by putting your pots in a cold frame, unheated greenhouse or even an unheated porch for a week or two before planting them out.

To plant your bedding plants, first dig a hole in the soil or in a container large enough for the rootball to fit comfortably. Carefully remove your plants, taking care not to damage the rootball, place one in the hole so the compost is just beneath the level of the surface of the soil, then fill in the gaps around the plant with soil. Firm the ground around the plant and water it in.

Your plants may need watering daily in the summer - especially those in containers and hanging baskets. Help your plants by giving them a liquid feed once a week.

Keep removing dead flowers from your bedding plants as they fade to encourage new blooms and to keep your plants looking their best.

I hope you have a display of bedding plants to be proud of this summer.
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