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Bedding plants is a task of patience | In the Garden

Tip: Coat your tools with a light cooking spray or cooking oil before gardening; it protectively coats your tool and makes clean up easier.  - File Photo
Tip: Coat your tools with a light cooking spray or cooking oil before gardening; it protectively coats your tool and makes clean up easier.
— image credit: File Photo

The Victorian era popularized bedding plants. A man named Donald Beaton (1802-1863) is accredited for influencing the different garden writers of this period like George Fleming in a popular garden magazine “Cottage Gardener.” Carpet bedding was extremely prevalent. These carpets of color were arranged in geometrical patterns, or planted as living monograms, crests, etc. Newspapers were advertised in carpet bedding. This form of gardening is still popular all over the world. The bedding plants dealt with here are commercially started plants you buy to transplant into your personal beds, containers and planters. Start with a plan! Once you’ve plotted your personal garden map, start making a list. You don’t have to be name specific. Jot down the dimensions (actual growing space) and conditions (like sun, shade, soil type, etc.). Buying by impulse can only be done if you’re able to guide such actions. Armed with these essential facts you can let yourself go wild. Ask what’s hot. Each year, like clothing, new fads come along. Once you’re in the nursery find out the life and blooming cycle of the different plants. Perennials come back year after year and have a specific peak blooming time. Annuals live one year, biennials take two years to complete their cycle. Next, see if they are listed as half-hardy or hardy. This will guide you as to the temperatures; half-hardy going into the garden later when temperatures have warmed and all danger of frost has past.

Your next choice will be pot size. There are usually four choices: eight inch pulp pot, one gallon black plastic, four inch pot, and jumbo packs of four or six, one or two inch cells. Some places sell whole and half flats at economical prices. In most cases these smaller pots are really your best buy. Not just price wise, but if they aren’t pot bound, they will take to transplanting the best. In six weeks the six pack size will catch up to a one gallon pot with a few exceptions of slow growing perennials (like Erodium).

Choose carefully. Poke your finger into the soil. Dried out soil will produce a weak rooted plant. Over-watered plants will have root rot and will appear limp with yellowing leaves. Some plants will have been potted too quickly and might have no root at all. Foliage should extend to the edge of the pot, insuring a developing root system. Roots coming out the bottom aren’t what you want, they won’t ever amount to much. Check to see if any bugs fly about, or are to be found under the leaves. You don’t want to see flowers on your bedding plant choices. This will lead to an early and quickly spent blooming season. Exceptions to this rule are late season plantings or a need for instant colour.

Shop around. Visit different nurseries and stores carrying your favorite bedding plants. If you are a beginner, it may even be worth a few extra dollars for healthy plants and friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful, staff.

Once you have made your purchases you must stifle the impulse to rush home and transplant like mad. “Harden off” your plants before planting them outdoors. This means putting plants outside a sheltered area (on deck or patio) during the daytime, then bringing them inside house or greenhouse at night. After a week or two of this routine, leave them out all night protected with a cover of newspaper, burlap, or the like for another week or so. Now your bedding plants will be ready for a flourishing transplantation and in their permanent home. Questions or comments? Contact columnist Pam Tempelmayr at WU

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