May is here and that means its “spring bedding” season in the garden centres.  For all of the talk about container gardens, basket stuffers, soilless mixes and polymer gels May is really all about the flats of bedding plants lined up on shelves and tables.  From ageratum to zinnias we love to fill our carts with the bedding packs, take them home and get to work filling the bare spaces in the garden.

Over the next several weeks tens of thousands of flats will be shipped out of greenhouses in BC and will make their way into our gardens.  What makes a good bedding plant and how do you know that the relatively tiny plant you are installing is going to thrive for you until the arrival of frost in the fall?

The keys to buying good plants are found above and below.  Look for healthy, green foliage from top to bottom.  Yellow leaves near the bottom are signals of stress.  A lack of leaves and a straggly appearance indicates that the plants were grown too close together on the bench.  They have likely wasted considerable energy stretching for light and will not be good performers in your garden.

Don’t worry about buying plants that are in bloom, thinking that they have spent themselves while still in the flat and won’t have anything left when you get them home.  Many of the newer varieties of bedding plants are bred to produce early and prolifically.  Blooming in the flat is a good thing for these plants, and it allows you to see exactly what the colour of the bloom is, which is important if you’re trying to co-ordinate colours in the border.

If the plant looks healthy, and is loaded with buds and a few blooms, rejoice and put it into your cart.  Don’t pinch them off when you transplant, just let them open and enjoy them.

Take the plants out of their individual cells and check the condition of the roots.  Annuals will fill up those small spaces pretty quickly and if the space is absolutely packed with roots to the point where you see them dangling out of the bottom, move on.  Chances are the plants are not in good health.  They’re stressed from being rootbound, they’ve likely dried out at least once and they won’t transplant very successfully.

You want to see a healthy root system, but there should be some soil surrounding those roots to absorb moisture and help ease the transplanting process.

When you’ve loaded your cart with all the petunias, snapdragons, marigolds or lobelia you think you’ll need get them home quickly and leave them in a shady, sheltered location until you’re ready to plant.  There’s nothing worse than not getting around to planting until a few days later, only to find that some of the packs have dried out during a warm spell.

Have everything you need to plant at hand when it’s time to install.  A trowel is a must for quick digging, some organic material like peat moss or compost to mix into the surrounding soil always helps the young plants and I like to use Myke when I plant annuals.  It helps to create incredible root systems on bedding plants, which leads to incredible growth above ground.  Use the type specifically for annuals.

Tease the roots a bit to loosen them up, firm the soil around the plants with a good push down and water, water, water.  These young transplants can dry out so quickly on hot, breezy days and it’s difficult for them to recover once they begin to flag.

I don’t have much bare space in the garden, but I would never fill it all in anyway because I enjoy the ritual of ‘spring bedding.’  It’s another one of many satisfactions gained from the garden, watching the small transplants of May turn into the blooming beauties of late June and beyond.

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