For instant, glorious colour in the garden nothing beats bedding plants. Just a few trays of seedlings will transform an otherwise dull corner into a kaleidoscope of brilliant colour.

Some gardeners wonder if it is worth the bother of planting up a winter garden. The weather is not very conducive for being out and about, so who wants to spend time in the garden. In fact it is because the winter landscape can be so dull that planting colour into your garden is so important – a haven that will truly welcome you home. This is as true for those with a large garden as it is for those with just a few pots on the patio. Another advantage of planting up a winter garden is that the temptation to plant your summer display too early when there is still a real danger of frost is delayed well into October.

Bedding plants, often called seedlings, are annuals that wholesale growers raise in seedling trays and are ready for planting in your garden. The specimens in the garden centers generally have a few flowers on the plants so as soon as they are planted you have instant colour. As the bedding plants grow and fill out, more and more blooms are produced, ensuring that your colour spectacle just gets better. With a bit of care, most bedding plants will give you a minimum of six months worth of flowers, with many that keep on producing for a whole year.

The Basics

Good soil preparation is vital for the ultimate success of your bedding plants. Start by digging the bed over thoroughly. Add a generous amount of compost and a handful of 2:3:2 to each square meter of bed. Remove any roots from competing shrubs or groundcovers. Most bedding plants need well drained soil to thrive. If your garden has a large clay content dig in extra compost and add in some river sand.

Water the seedling regularly until they become established. Once they are settled in their new home water deeply, but infrequently. Shade loving plants growing under trees have to compete for moisture and do not always benefit from rain so make sure they are watered well. In warm weather keep a close eye on those growing in full sun as they may need extra watering.

Top Tips

Do not pull seedlings out of the tray by their stem or leaves, as this will damage them. Rather push them out from below.

Don’t bury the stems of the seedlings when planting, rather plant to the depth that they are in the seedling tray.

Keep an eye out for snails when the plants are still small.

If the habitat of the plant is scraggly, nip out growing tips to encourage branching.

Top 10

1. Dianthus

Dianthus offers the gardener excellent value for money as a bedding plant. With just a little care, they can brighten up your garden for a whole year. There is a very wide colour range to choose from. They are also very tolerant of both heat and cold so can be planted throughout the year. If you live in an area that experiences frost, dianthus is well suited for your garden.

2. Gazanias

There’s a new Gazania on the block and it is already causing quite a stir. Gazania ‘Gazoo’ has been recognised both locally and internationally. ‘Gazoo Red with Ring’ scooped the coveted Fleuroselect Novelty Mark award in Europe and has been chosen as a “Flowering Favourite in South Africa. Boasting large flowers – up to 10cm in diameter – it is the first Gazania with a real red colour.

3. Pansies

With their strikingly bold faces, pansies are a welcome addition to the winter and spring garden. Good choices are pansy “Morpho” and “Ultima Baron Red” both part of the exclusive “Flowering Favourite” range. These delightful pansies are ideal bedding plants and their stature, striking blooms and floriferous nature make them perfect for containers and hanging baskets.

4. Violas

Closely related to pansies, violas may offer smaller blooms, but they more than make up for it with the masses of flowers they offer. There are three excellent choices available this autumn: “Tigers Eye” is a truly unique viola pushing out masses of striking golden blooms with pencil thin, pitch-black lines. “Gorgeous Lemon Cuty” is locally bred and boasts a bright yellow face that contrasts well with maroon upper petals. It comes into flower early in the season and, because it tolerates warm temperature, it just carries on flowering well into summer. “Patiola Violet with Yellow Face” marks a significant milestone in plant breeding; it is the first viola to carry a sent.

5. Nemesias

A delightful annual for the indigenous enthusiast, nemesias offer a wonderfully coloured range of hybrids. This year seen the introduction of a new “Flowering Favourite”, the nemesia “Nebula” series chosen because of its spectacular garden performance and its large flowers. Although they will tolerate a bit of shade, they prefer growing in a sunny position in well drained soil. They don’t appreciate sever frost so don’t plant them in exposed parts of the garden. Keep well watered through winter.

6. Poppies

Cheerful additions to any landscape, there is a wide variety of poppies on the market. They are easy to grow from seedlings planted in autumn. They make an excellent addition to the vase and fortunately the more you pick the more flowers they produce.

7. Petunias

Autumn is the time to plant petunia seedlings to guarantee a spectacular feast of colour in late winter and spring. When planting petunias, whether in containers, window boxes or beds, placing them along a north-facing wall is preferable, as it will trap a lot of heat and light. Petunia “Bravo Peach”, a “Flowering Favourite” is an ideal choice. It is a free flowering, F1, Grandiflora Petunia that looks superb in terracotta pots or natural rockeries where its blooms will reflect the stone.

8. Primulas

This is an important bedding plant for lightly shaded areas. A visit to any good garden center will reveal a host of species and varieties. They prefer rich, well drained soil and plenty of moisture. They work well when inter-planted with spring flowering bulbs.

9. Antirrhinum

Antirrhinum “Orange Bicolour’s” bronze blooms are reminiscent of an African sunset deep in the bush. The “heat” in the flower colour makes it ideal for warming up winter and spring beds. “Orange Bicolour” is perfect for the busy gardener as the plants are self cleaning and self branching. This means no dead heading and no pinching out growing tips to form a neat, compact plant.

10. Bellis perennis

Also know as the English daisy, this low growing bedding plant, with its delicately coloured, double daisy flowers, is ideal for edging beds or carpet bedding. While it will tolerate full sun, it prefers a cool, semi shaded position. It is very hardy, making it ideal for the colder parts of the country.

Information supplied by the Bedding Plant Grower association.