Annual bedding plants


An annual bedding plant is an annual plant that is used in a mass planting in a garden bed.

Annual beds are commonly used where a mass of color is needed. Plants are generally short with large or numerous brightly colored flowers that bloom repeatedly. 

Plant life cycles

Annual plants complete their life cycle in one growing season.

Biennial plants generally complete their life cycle in 2 growing seasons.

Herbaceous perennial plants live for 2 or more years and many can flower and set seed each growing season

Many tender perennials like the Angelonia and Agastache pictured above are used as annual bedding.

Annual Celosia and Perennial Rudbeckia in a mixed border

A big advantage to the use of annual plants is that the bed can be changed each year.

Perennials can also be used in mass plantings in a bed like annuals but one needs to keep in mind that a perennial bed may last for many years so bad choices will stick with you, sometimes for a very long time.

Perennials are often used in mxed borders or mixed gardens with just a few of each species or cultivar planted. With a mixed perennial garden or border it is even more important to find plants that work together. 

Annual bedding plant selection

Annual bedding plants and perennial garden plants are usually produced from seed or cuttings.


Seed propagated begonia

Seed propagated annuals are generally less expensive but may be smaller, less vigorous, or have smaller flowers than cutting propagated annuals. Seed propagated perennials are also frequently less expensive but may exibit more variability in height, flower size or color, bloom time, or growth rate than cutting propagated perennials.

Most seed propagated bedding plants are hybrids. It can take years to develop a new seed propagated hybrid and bring it to market. Fewer seed propagated perennial garden plants are hybrids, although many do exist. Many seed propagated perennials are selections rather than hybrids. This affects variability in the plants. For example the Heuchera cultivar 'Palace Purple' is a seed propagated Heuchera. A bed of this cultivar will have plants that vary in color from deep purple to lighter purple green.

Cutting propagated annual bedding plant and perennial cultivars can be introduced to the market more quickly than seed propagated cultivars. Cutting propagated plants are clones that may be selected to have special or useful properties and will be uniform in appearance and growth.

Annual bedding plants and perennials are tested and evaluated in trials throughout the US.

The Penn State trials are conducted in Landisville and are done in containers. Most of the plants we evaluate are annuals, however a few each year are perennials. Perennials are usually evaluated in ground beds rather than containers at most trial gardens. In addition to University and Public garden trial sites, many seed companies also maintain their own trial gardens. These are usually open to growers and landscapers. Trial results can be obtained from the internet but there is no substitute for seeing the plants in the field. 

When selecting annual or perennial plants for a bed or container one needs to consider a number of factors:

  1. Location: Most annuals and many perennials perform best in full sun to part shade however there are some that will perform reasonably well in full shade. Some like Coleus may be suitable for either sun or shade.
  2. Plant habit and size: A vining or trailing plant like Sweet Potato vine might not be suitable in bed where it could grow over the other plants in the bed. A tall plant like Cosmos or New York Iron Weed needs other tall or medium height plants to support the bed. A bed with Cosmos surrounded by a dwarf marigold cultivar will look pretty strange. In general when designing a bed you want it to look as natural as possible. This usually means gradual changes in height to produce either a mound or undulating bed rather than abrupt height changes.
  3. Color: Consider the color of the plants and the color and texture of the foliage. This generally means specifying a cultivar for a project if you really want control of the color. If you, for example specified a red geranium for a project without listing specific cultivars you could get anything from a dark pink to dark burgundy red. This might be ok for some beds but if you are doing, for example, a red white and blue garden, a fire-engine red cultivar might be a better choice. In that same example it might be even more important to be very specific about the blue plant, since many "blue" flowers are actually purple.
  4. Bloom period: Most annuals bloom pretty consistantly throughout the growing period but some may have a more limited bloom time. Tithonia for example only blooms at the end of the summer and is green throughout the early and mid summer periods. Some annuals, flowering tobacco for example may finish blooming and begin to die back too early in the fall to be suitable for use in some locations.
  5. Season and climate: Many annuals can be considered cool season bedding or warm season bedding. Pansy and snapdragon are examples of cool season bedding plants. They will perform best in the spring and early summer or in the fall, but should probably be replaced in the summer when they decline in the heat. Warm season bedding plants like Vinca will not grow or flower well until it gets hot. Planting them too early in the spring will often result in stunting or disease development. 
  6. Maintenance and management: Some annual bedding plants require far more effort to maintain than others. For example to have a bed of zonal geraniums look good all summer requires deadheading. Other plants, petunia for example may not require much if any maintenance.

Exercises: Answer the following questions in the Canvas exercise for this week

Use the internet to find cultivars of Coleus. Find at least 5 interesting cultivars on the web. Which cultivars are best? How can you decide based on the information you find on the web?

Use the internet to find red Pelargonium cultivars. How many different red geranium cultivars can you find? List your 5 favorites. Are they seed or cutting propagated?


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