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      Basics of Bedding Plant Production
MAIN IDEA: What do I need to know to get started as a bedding
plant producer?

The term bedding plants commonly refers to annual plants raised for
flower or food. Bedding plant sales amounted to 3.4 billion dollars in
1993. Production of bedding plants is an important source of income
for many greenhouse growers.

An annual plant can be defined as a plant that completes its entire life
cycle in one growing season. Usually an annual seed is planted in
spring and grows to maturity during the summer. The plant flowers,
sets seed and then dies. If flowers are removed, the plant usually
responds by flowering more because the primary means of
reproduction is seed. Most vegetable plants are annuals as well as
many flowers.

The name "bedding plants" refers to the traditional use of a large
number of annuals planted in prepared beds. Usually the beds were
formal and large numbers of a single species and color were planted.
The use of large numbers of annuals made the beds visually stunning
when in bloom. The term "bedding plants" now refers to all annual
plants raised for food or flower. Annuals flower for a long period of
time and require very little labor. They are some of the most popular
plants in the United States. Most bedding plant sales take place in
spring after the threat of frost is past. Vegetable plant sales are also
very popular, with the majority of sales also taking place in the spring.


Annual plants are broken down into three main categories: tender
annuals, hardy annuals and half-hardy annuals. These categories are
then subdivided into warm weather annuals and cool weather annuals.

1. Tender annuals:

Tender annuals cannot stand any frost, either as a seedling or as a
mature plant. They are started inside and transplanted outdoors when
all threat of frost is past. Normally they cannot be seeded directly into
the ground, unless their life cycle is so quick that they can be planted
when the soil has warmed. (Zinnia and marigolds.) Other examples of
tender annuals normally started in the greenhouse include ageratum,
red salvia, nasturtium and verbena.
2. Hardy annuals:

Hardy annuals can take some exposure to frost. Normally you can
expect a slightly longer bloom time from hardy annuals as compared
to tender annuals. Hardy annuals can be sowed directly outdoors as
soon as the soil can be worked. Many hardy annuals are also started in
the greenhouse to help extend bloom time. Examples of hardy annuals
include bachelor's-button and calendula.

3. Half-hardy annuals:

These annuals are intermediate in their ability to take frost. Most are
started early in the greenhouse. Examples include cleome, cosmos and

NOTE: There are some plants that are perennial in nature but are
normally grown as tender annuals (coleus, geraniums, blue salvia,
impatiens, nicotiana and wax begonias.), or as hardy annuals
(alyssum, pansies, larkspur and snapdragons.). These perennials are
called tender perennials. Most are started in the greenhouse.


The three main types of annuals are subdivided into warm-weather
annuals and cool-weather annuals.

     Warm-weather annuals grow and flower best during hot
      weather. Examples include zinnia, nicotiana, geraniums and blue
     Cool-weather annuals grow best under cool conditions and stop
      blooming or even die under hot dry conditions. Examples of cool-
      season annuals include bachelor's-button, larkspur and
      nasturtiums. Generally cool-weather annuals do better in
      northern regions.

Many retail greenhouse operators grow and market bedding plants.
Garden centers, supermarkets, convenience stores and some roadside
stands buy bedding plants from large wholesale growers and resell
them. The rest of this lesson will describe various procedures and
equipment needed to produce annual bedding plants.



Large scale production of bedding plants requires a heated greenhouse
except in extreme southern United States where some outdoor
production takes place under shade cloth. Usually a "head house" is
attached to the greenhouse where seeding, transplanting and shipping
can take place.
The normal operation of a heated greenhouse requires a quality water
source, shade cloth, a fertilizer injector and/or automatic watering
system, growing tables to set flats on, fans for air flow and ventilation,
and pest control and monitoring methods. Other equipment and
supplies needed include:

      Germinating/growing mix;
      Germination chamber or germinating area in the greenhouse;
      Plant-starting trays for transplanting or plastic cell-packs for
       direct seeding;
      Plastic flats, commonly referred to as 1020 flats, to hold growing
      Quality seed; and
      Plant labels.

Large growers may also use flat filling machines and an automatic
seeding machine. A vehicle or vehicles are also needed for product

Soil mix:

Most commercial growers are using a soilless mix for germinating and
growing bedding plants. Soilless mixes such as Jiffy Mix, Redi-Earth,
Pro-Mix, etc., are composed of finely ground peat, vermiculite or
perlite, and a small charge of fertilizer. They are also sterile and the
pH is adjusted.

Most growers are using premixed commercial mixes rather than mixing
their own. It is important that germinating and growing mixes be
sterile to prevent soil- borne fungal diseases, such as damping off
disease, from attacking young seedlings.

Some growers will add fine sand or ground bark to the growing mix.
Ground bark mixes decompose faster, release nutrients quicker and
require higher rates of nitrogen fertilizer than do peat mixes. Soilless
mixes must be moistened prior to use. Peat by itself is very hard to
wet. Seeded flats and seedling flats should always be closely
monitored for soil moisture.


In order for a crop of bedding plants to be on schedule, seed
germination must be prompt and uniform. Most bedding plants are
seeded in late winter/early spring for late spring sale. Seeds are
started in seed flats for transplanting later to individual pots or they
can be started right in the cell-packs in which they will be sold. This is
called direct seeding. The industry trend seems to be toward direct

The steps for successful seed starting are listed below:
   1. Prewet seed starting mix is loaded into seed flats and/or cell-
      packs. All flats and packs should have good drainage.
   2. Flats and packs are seeded with fresh, high quality seed. Seed is
      very expensive, so the grower needs to purchase seed from a
      reputable seed house. Seed is lightly covered by fine vermiculite
      or sand except for fine seed (petunia, begonia), and some seed
      that requires light for germination (ageratum, coleus, dusty
      miller, etc.). Other techniques to improve seed germination are
      listed in seed catalogs and/or on seed packets.
   3. Seed is germinated in a germinating chamber or in a specific
      germinating area in the greenhouse. Soil temperature should be
      maintained at 70 to 72 F by bottom heat. Some growers use
      electric propagating mats, hot-bed cables, or hot water heat
      under the germinating area. Germinating flats must also have
      uniform moisture. Large growers use mist systems that mist 6 to
      7 seconds every 10 minutes from sunup to sunset. Otherwise,
      seeded germinating flats and seeded cell-pack flats can be
      covered with clear poly or glass to maintain moisture. Bottom
      heat is shut off and the poly covering removed as soon as the
      seed sprouts.
   4. Good annual seed usually sprouts in 3 to 5 days. (This varies
      depending on species and conditions.) As soon as the seeds are
      sprouted, the flats should be moved to full sun with good air
      circulation. Cooler temperatures and slightly less moisture help
      "harden off" the young seedlings. Greenhouse night
      temperatures should vary from 50 to 60 F and may drop lower
      as the seedlings grow. Additional lighting can help improve
      seedling quality. Fluorescent lights (one tube cool white, one
      tube warm white) can be hung over benches. The additional light
      speeds up seedling growth and seedlings grow stockier and


Bedding plant growers schedule the number of flats they wish to
deliver to market weekly or biweekly. Seeding dates can then be
figured out by counting back the proper number of weeks. Growing
time does vary between growers, and even between varieties. Careful
recordkeeping is important and helps pinpoint exact seeding dates for
each producer. Commercial seed catalogs (Park's, Vaughan's, etc.) will
list weeks to sale for each flower and vegetable variety.


Bedding plants used to be started in wooden plant starting trays, then
transplanted when they had their first pair of true leaves. Usually they
were sold in individual peat pots or even clay pots. Potted annual
bedding plants are still produced for customers interested in container
The trend now is towards direct seeding of individual plastic cell-packs.
Transplanting is unnecessary with the cell-packs, but thinning is
sometimes needed. Plastic cell-packs are also cheaper than clay or
peat pots. Eight packs of 4, 6, or 9 cells fit in a standard plastic 1020
flat. (This means flats can hold 32, 48, or 72 individual plants.)

Growing on:

After transplanting, or after direct seeding when plants are well-
established, they enter the growing phase of production. Heated poly
hoop houses are often used for growing. Fertilizers are injected into
watering systems to liquid feed young plants. Other procedures
(pinching, growth regulator application, etc.) may be necessary
depending on the crop being grown. Growing information can be found
in commercial seed catalogs, reference books and University Extension
publications. (Penn. State, Cornell, Iowa State, etc., have excellent
bedding plant production information available.)

Hardening off:

Young plants grown under optimum growing conditions in the
greenhouse are soft and succulent. If these tender seedling were
planted directly outdoors, they would be more susceptible to
transplant shock. Tender plants need to be hardened off (acclimated)
prior to sale. Hardy annuals can be hardened off in cold frames with
closable tops to help protect seedlings from cold temperatures. Other
growers lower the greenhouse nighttime temperature to 40 or 45 F
three to five weeks before sale. This is done on all three types of
annuals. Watering frequency is lengthened and fertilization is stopped
or greatly diminished. Heated hoop greenhouses are often used for
growing and hardening off bedding plant flats.


Marketing is the most important part of growing. The bedding plant
business is large and continuing to grow. Growers can sell their
products by retail, wholesale, or a combination of both methods.
Markets must be researched and established prior to production.
      Basics of Bedding Plant Production
1. Which of these completes its entire life cycle in one growing season?
A. Annual
B. Biennial
C. Perennial

2. Bedding plants refers to which of the following?
A. Flowers
B. Plants for food
C. Both flowers and plants for food

3. Ageratum, red salvia, nasturtium and verbena are examples of
which type of annual?
A. Half-hardy annuals
B. Hardy annuals
C. Tender annuals

4. Bachelor's-button and calendula are examples of which type of
A. Half-hardy annuals
B. Hardy annuals
C. Tender annuals

5. Cleome, cosmos and petunia are examples of which type of annual?
A. Half-hardy annuals
B. Hardy annuals
C. Tender annuals

6. Seedling damping off could be caused by using unsterilized garden
soil in the germinating mix. TRUE or FALSE?

7. Commercial germinating and growing mixes are sterile. TRUE or

8. Seedling plants need to be __________ prior to sale to help prevent
transplant shock.

9. Marketing is the most important part of growing a product. TRUE or

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