When it comes to bedding plants, we gardeners are more sophisticated than ever before. Whereas our parents and grandparents were content to plant old standbys such as petunias, pansies and marigolds, we're always looking for something different.
"The taste of the average gardener is becoming more refined and eclectic," says Doug Welty, director of merchandising for Spring Hill Nurseries, a mail-order company in Tipp City, Ohio. "People want really colorful plants, and they're starting to realize the importance of texture and unusual foliage. They're also looking for plants that tolerate some dryness and are easy to care for."
There are a lot of new bedding plants available, thanks to hybridizing, says Kathleen Carter, sales representative for Do Right's Bedding Plant Growers in Oxnard, whose plants are sold throughout Southern California nurseries.
"Hybridizers have come up with plants that are really showy and bloom over a really long period," she says. "Many are low-maintenance and self-cleaning, so they don't require deadheading."
Disease resistance is something that hybridizers strive for, says Jim Carpenter, vice president of production for Armstrong Garden Centers Inc., headquartered in San Juan Capistrano. "Gardeners don't have the time or inclination to deal with pests and diseases."
Although some new plants are a little more expensive--they tend to come in 4-inch pots and larger--you get a lot for your money, Carter says.
"Whereas standard petunias and marigolds peter out in three months or so, plants like Million Bells and Bacopa will last from spring through fall in the garden," she says. "Many will even over-winter in Southern California and can be grown as perennials."
The following new bedding plants have been introduced within the past year or two. Availability of these plants is improving every day, and many can be ordered through your local nursery.
* Bacopa 'Pink Domino,' 'Snowflake' and 'Snowstorm': This prolific plant flowers eight months out of the year with small, round, five-petaled flowers that come in pink and white. It has a trailing habit and is good for hanging baskets, window boxes and raised planters. White varieties blend well with other colors.
It requires full sun to light shade and a well-balanced fertilizer every two to four weeks. It should have continuous moisture, but the soil should not get soggy.
* 'Cobbitty daisy' (Argyranthemum frutescens): This dwarf marguerite daisy was hybridized in Australia. It is a bushy, upright plant that grows 1 1/2 to 2 feet wide and just as tall. Each stock is covered with white, pink or yellow flowers.
It likes full sun to light shade. Fertilize with time-release food upon planting and augment with a liquid, soluble, well-balanced fertilizer after three months or so, or when the plant begins to look pale and flowering slows. Water when soil approaches dryness.
* Convolvulus: This member of the morning glory family resembles a dwarf morning glory. It has light lavender blossoms from spring through fall and can reach 2 feet if allowed to hang or climb. It thrives in most soils and likes part shade to full sun. Keep evenly moist but not soggy, and fertilize every four to six weeks with a well-balanced fertilizer.
* Coreopsis grandiflora 'Sundancer': More compact than traditional coreopsis, this plant grows 16 to 18 inches tall and 18 to 24 inches wide with double gold flowers that appear spring through fall. Needs deadheading after every flush of bloom. Let the plant go to the dry side and fertilize every four to six weeks with a well-balanced fertilizer. Not fussy about soil.
* Dianthus 'Cinnamon Red Hots' (D. caryophyllus): The deep-red 1 1/2- to 2-inch flowers of this plant resemble mini-carnations and have a strong carnation fragrance. They grow 12 to 14 inches high and wide on sturdy stems that don't need staking. In the ground they prefer light, well-draining soil and also do well in containers.
Cut spent flowers and new flowers will grow. Place in full sun to light shade. Let soil approach dryness in between waterings and fertilize every four to six weeks.
* Geranium 'Sugerplum' (G. incanum): This new hardy geranium has ferny foliage and is covered with purple flowers for nine months out of the year. It is fast-growing, covering a 3-foot space in one season. It grows well in large planters and baskets, and in soil that has good drainage.
It takes full sun, with light shade in hot inland areas. It needs a moderate amount of water and a well-balanced fertilizer every four to six weeks. Cut back when it becomes rangy and you'll get more compact growth and a flush of new blooms.
* Heliotrope: Although this plant was popular in Victorian times and even crossed the United States in covered wagons, it hadn't been used much over the years until its recent comeback.
Flower clusters come in purple and white. Both varieties have a vanilla scent, with white being much more intense. Plants grow 12 to 18 inches tall and 12 to 15 inches wide.
It's good used in mixed beds and borders and in containers. Plant in full sun in well-draining soil, or light shade in a container. Let soil approach dryness between waterings.
For good floral display, feed with a time-release fertilizer when planting and a water-soluble bloom fertilizer (15-30-15) after two or three months of growth.
* Million Bells (Calibracoa hybrid): This fast-growing plant has miniature petunia-like pink and purple flowers that bloom from spring to late fall. It is a trailing and spreading plant perfect for hanging baskets, raised planters and for cascading over walls.
Prefers well-draining, moist but not soggy soil and full sun. Use time-release fertilizer when planting and two months later supplement with a water-soluble bloom fertilizer (15-30-15) on a monthly basis.
* Scaevola: Commonly called the fan flower, this trailing plant looks best in hanging baskets, window boxes and raised planters. It has fan-shaped flowers from spring through fall.
It thrives when the weather gets hot. Let it approach dryness between waterings and place in full sun. Use time-release fertilizer when planting and two months later supplement with a water-soluble bloom fertilizer (15-30-15) on a monthly basis.
* Verbena: Tapien verbena has ferny foliage and grows about 6 inches long. Often used in hanging baskets, perennial beds and window boxes, it comes in a variety of colors, including blue, violet, lavender and pink. It tolerates heat and mildew.
'Tamari verbena' was bred in Japan and grows 6 to 12 inches long. It is vigorous and resistant to disease. It is often used as a ground cover. It blooms over a long period of time and comes in bright pink, bright red and violet.
Both verbenas are tolerant of average, well-draining soil. They like full sun and should be watered when approaching dryness. Fertilize on a monthly basis with a well-balanced fertilizer.
* Spring Hill Nurseries will answer plant questions and take requests for catalogs. Orders will be shipped in January. (888) 238-8118 or at http://www.gardensolutions.com