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Annuals a best buy for season-long color, blooms

Four Tall Red Salvia annuals were planted about 2 inches apart to give the look of a single plant. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Four Tall Red Salvia annuals were planted about 2 inches apart to give the look of a single plant. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Annuals have always been billed as a lot of color for the coin, because their seasonal role is to bloom their heads off, set seed and die.

And, even though consumer interest has shifted to premium annuals – single plants in a 3- or 4-inch pot – there’s still incredible value in plain old bedding plants.

Bedding plants are the annuals sold in cell packs of three to eight plants in a tray or 36 to 48 plants in a flat. Sometimes bedding plants also are sold individually in 2-inch cells, usually 18 plants to a flat, called 1801s in grower parlance. A four-pack of a bedding annual will set you back $1.50 to $2. A premium annual may cost $5 or more per plant.

This summer, I’ve appreciated a bedding plant tagged Tall Red Salvia (S. splendens), which cost me $1.59 for four plants. I planted them in June in the new bed I created after a weedy mulberry tree was removed, resulting in a lot more sun in my yard.

I planted the salvias about 2 inches apart because I wanted the four plants to form the look of one plant, and it worked. Hummingbirds, bees and butterflies are happy, and so am I.

Because bedding plants are so affordable, you can buy a lot of them and fill quite a bit of space without great expense. I was reminded of this when I saw both sides of a long walkway lined with several dozen ‘Victoria Blue’ mealycup sage, another type of salvia (S. farinacea). Depending on where you buy it, a flat of bedding annuals costs $18 to $25 for 36 to 48 plants.

Neither of these salvias needs to be deadheaded or cut back. They are reasonably drought tolerate, pollinators like them, and they can be cut for indoor arrangements. The goldfinches are gorgeous swaying on the stalks of ‘Victoria Blue’, too. Indeed, these two salvias are best buys. Here are a few others.

Vinca, sometimes called Madagascar periwinkle, (Catharanthus roseus), comes in pinks, purples and white. Some have a contrasting eye, or center. A great for full sun to part shade. No deadheading needed.

For shade, we used to plant bedding impatiens (I. walleriana), but with impatiens downy mildew around, we’ve had to find substitutes. Bedding coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides) works well in shade to part sun, and so does wax-leaf begonia (B. semperflorens), which can take full sun, too. For the best show, plant these bedding annuals no more than 4 inches apart to give the bed a full, dense look.