Colourful petunia hanging baskets

Plant petunias for bright splashes of colour
Image: Petunia ‘Easy Wave Ultimate Mixed’ from Thompson & Morgan

Do you want a spectacular display of bedding plants in your garden, pots and hanging baskets this summer? We’ve searched the internet to find the best independent expert advice on bedding plants and annual flowers. Here’s everything you need to know about choosing, growing and caring for these colourful plants.

This article was reviewed by T&M’s horticultural team and updated on 15 May 2024.

Unpack mail order plugs as soon as they arrive

Postiplug petunia plant in tape measurement

Plug plants are an easy way to start your favourite bedding plants
Image: Petunia plants from Thompson & Morgan

It’s not the end of the world if your mail order plants arrive wet, dry or a bit damaged, says Michael Perry, aka Mr Plant Geek. Watch Michael troubleshoot his posted plug plants to pick up a few care tips. Succulent begonia plug plants can sometimes sweat in the post, he says, but that doesn’t matter – just air your plants by unpacking as soon as they arrive. Remember to pinch out any immature flowers on your plugs, says Michael. You want your plants to save their energy for producing bigger flowers later in the season!

Choose low-maintenance plants if you’re short of time

Pink and red geranium hanging basket

Pre-planted baskets of geraniums provide instant, low-maintenance colour
Image: Geranium ‘Balcon Mix’ pre-planted hanging baskets from Thompson & Morgan

It pays to choose a plant that requires less deadheading, says Carol from The Sunday Gardener. Bedding plants like Mesembryanthemum produce 50+ flower heads in one day which, while giving you a spectacular show, can be time-consuming, says Carol. Less labour-intensive alternatives like nasturtiums or pelargoniums are just as attractive, she says, and don’t require as much attention to keep them at their best. Find out how to care for your bedding plants in Carol’s fantastic article.

Don’t underestimate foliage bedding plants

Different coloured coleus in green containers

The colourful foliage of Coleus adds an exotic feel to the border
Image: Coleus Mix from Thompson & Morgan

Don’t underestimate foliage bedding plants – they’re invaluable for breaking up swathes of flowers,” says horticultural expert Sue Sanderson from Thompson & Morgan. She recommends Senecio cineraria ‘Silver Dust’, the Castor Oil Plant (Ricinus communis) and Coleus for fabulous leaf colours and shapes. As well as interesting foliage, Sue suggests adding height with climbing plants like sweet peas and morning glory (Ipomoea). Find out how to grow bedding plants and create unique displays in her fantastic article.

Plant bedding for scent as well as colour

White nemesia against purple french lavender

Lavender is the perfect partner for Nemesia ‘Wisley Vanilla’ 
Image: @terrywinters9141

One of the nicest plant combinations in the garden right now is Lavender Angustifolia ‘Hidcote’ and Nemesia ‘Wisley Vanilla’ with its lovely vanilla fragrance,” says Terry from @terrywinters9141. He grows both in pots, and says they need very little care other than a little watering. Follow him on Insta for more beautiful ideas.

Use bedding plants to break up evergreen schemes

Colourful nicotiana flowers

Grow flowering tobacco plants for spectacular evening fragrance
Image: Nicotiana ‘Eau de Cologne Mixed’ (flowering tobacco plant) from Thompson & Morgan

Bedding plants are “ideal for ringing the changes in the garden, especially where there is a preponderance of evergreens,” says garden designer Marie Shallcross of Plews Garden Design. She includes a combination of tender and half-hardy annuals with perennial and biennial varieties on her list of top bedding plants. For something cool and contemporary, Marie suggests pairing the scented heliotrope (Cherry Pie) with a flowering tobacco plant. Read her full article for more professional inspiration.

Cover unsightly areas with perennial ground-cover bedding

Blue aubrieta flowers with green foliage

Aubretia trails beautifully over stone walls
Image: @jafthegardener

For John at @jafthegardener, aubretia is the perfect plant to cover unsightly areas of the garden. Planted on a rocky wall, it gently tumbles down to beautiful effect. In Jaf’s Instagram post, he recommends pairing blue aubretia with white arabis to create a more formal planting scheme. Follow his page for great gardening pics and ideas borne from years of horticultural experience.

Get the right soil conditions for each plant

Purple aubrieta flowers in yellow centres

Aubretia softens hard edges and produces electric colourful flowers
Image: @thetweegarden

Another fan of aubretia, Lindsay of @thetweegarden recommends planting it in “alkaline, free draining soil in full sun” for best results. Planted in both her front and back gardens, Lindsay inadvertently discovered that the heavy soil in her front garden isn’t a successful growing medium for this popular bedding plant. Thanks for sharing the highs and lows Lindsay – the gorgeous images of your healthy plants are a sight to behold!

Keep begonias out of direct sun

Pink begonia in containers

This pretty new variety flowers long into autumn
Image: Begonia x tuberhybrida ‘Camelia’ from Thompson & Morgan

Begonia is a genus of plants that spans three continents and contains over 10,000 cultivars, explains Kersasp Shekhdar over at Horticulture Magazine. There are three rules that apply to nearly the whole genus, he says: they can’t tolerate frost, they don’t like direct sunlight and they like moist, not wet, soil conditions. Read the whole of Kersasp’s article for a fascinating overview of these popular bedding plants, including their fascinating history, how to care for begonias, and a special list of his particular favourites.

Cut back plants in August for a second flush of flowers

Tired looking nemesia flowers

Roger’s nemesia often starts to look tired in August
Image: Roger Crookes

At his eponymous YouTube channel, Roger Crookes gives some of his tired looking summer bedding plants a good trim in August to encourage a second flush of blooms in September and October. As soon as they’ve been cut back, he feeds his plants with high potash fertiliser. Roger demonstrates the technique on a tired looking Nemesia ‘Wisley Vanilla’, but says it works for many summer bedding plants.

Overwinter pelargoniums for next year’s display

Foliage pelargoniums with cuttings

Cut back all the excess foliage on tender pelargoniums before overwintering
Image: @the_gardening_angel

Pelargoniums are native to South Africa, says Instagrammer Becky of @the_gardening_angel, so they won’t tolerate cold weather. If you want to overwinter your pelargoniums and keep your favourite plants for next year, Becky says: “Be quite harsh & trim back a large amount of the top leafy lush growth, pot on with fresh multi purpose compost & keep in a fairly warm greenhouse.” Check out Becky’s Instagram account for more beautifully written gardening advice.

They might be traditional favourites, but modern bedding plants have been bred for colour, performance and longevity, making them a quick and easy way to change things up in your garden from one year to the next. Find more information and advice about bedding plants over on our dedicated hub page or head to our collection of summer flowers articles.

Expert contributor list

  • Michael Perry, National Diploma in Horticulture, TV presenter, author, gardening content creator, podcaster.
  • Carol Bartlett, Gardening blogger and content creator.
  • Sue Sanderson, BSc. (Hons) degree in horticulture, e-Commerce Horticultural Executive at Thompson & Morgan.
  • Terry Winters, Gardener, owner of Ordnance House. Awarded RHS ‘My Chelsea Garden’ Gold Medal (Back Garden) 2020 in competition held in conjunction with BBC’s The One Show.
  • Marie Shallcross, Garden consultant and garden designer, gardening teacher, garden writer.
  • John Franklin @jafthegardener, Professional gardener, owner of West County Landscapes Limited.
  • Lindsay @thetweegarden, Gardening content creator, YouTuber, allotmenteer.
  • Kersasp Shekhdar, Gardener, guest writer of Horticulture Magazine.
  • Roger Crookes, Gardening content creator and YouTuber.
  • Becky, RHS qualified Gardener & Cut Flower Grower, content creator.

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