Why let your flower beds fade into forgetfulness after the end of summer? You can add colour and interest with autumn and winter bedding plants.
Cold-season plants can fill the gaps in your flower beds between established plants. They can also replace spent summer-flowering annuals. Read on to discover 14 bedding plants that you can enjoy in autumn and winter, together with planting tips for the best results.
Autumn bedding plants
As you might expect, autumn bedding plants flower in late autumn. Some last longer than others, but they all handle the cold well. Plant them early to mid-autumn or according to the instructions that come with your cultivar of choice.
An autumn classic in many gardens, chrysanthemums, or mums for short, come in many colours. Whether you choose subdued autumn tones or opt for brighter hues, mums will bear the cold gracefully under their showy petals.
Look for varieties that flower in late autumn and plant them where colour is most needed in your garden. Chrysanthemums also do well in outdoor pots.
Tip: Stake chrysanthemums to protect them from gusts of wind.
Polyanthus is a hybrid between primulas and the wild primrose. It blooms in compact clusters of long-lasting flowers.
Try scented rainbow mixes that combine reds, pinks, yellows, whites, and purples. Or mix two or three colours of your choice.
Good to know: While polyanthus can handle some shade, it grows best in sunny areas. Plant it with the crown at soil level and leave around 4 inches between plants.
A low-growing shrub, common heather or Calluna vulgaris often comes in pink, purple, and red hues that can enliven your garden in autumn. It can handle moderate shade, another reason to grow some in your autumn garden.
Tip: For quick results, plant nursery-bought potted heather. Plant it deeply, in a hole twice as wide as the root ball of the plant.
4. English daisies
English daisies typically have yellow centres and pompom flowers that come in shades of pink, red, or white. A timeless addition to a British garden, they can reach up to 6 inches in height, making them suitable for borders as well as pots.
More than their lovely looks, English daisies are low maintenance and can grow even in the more problematic parts of your garden. They can go on blooming into late autumn and sometimes even in the winter, depending on the cultivar.
Tip: English daisies do better in lean rather than rich soil, so you don’t have to fertilise them.
Asters bloom until the last days of autumn, their daisy-like flowers putting on a rich and colourful display. While purple and violet asters are common, you can choose from many other colours including shades of yellow, pink, and red. Mixing different aster colours can lead to spectacular results.
Plant asters in full sun and preferably in loamy soil, which they like more than sandy or clay soil.
Tip: Leave asters to self-seed if you want them to return next year. During winter, you can simply leave them in the ground.
6. Coral bells
While some plants are noted for their blooms, coral bells is an evergreen that impresses with its large leaves. Available in many colours from deep purple to orange and even lime green, coral bells can cover plenty of ground in your garden.
It can transform any dreary spot, especially if you contrast it with bright flowering plants like violas, primroses, or winter pansies.
Tip: Plant coral bells in a spot that gets partial shade, and in well-drained soil. You can plant it in autumn or at any other time in the year provided the soil is not frozen.
7. Autumn crocuses
This autumn-blooming colchicum can add a wonderful splash of colour to your flower beds in autumn, provided you plant it early autumn. A perennial, it’s reliable and easy to grow.
You may want to plant autumn crocuses under low-growing plants to protect their delicate petals from the wind.
Warning: This plant is toxic. If your pets are in the habit of nibbling at the flowers or digging at the roots of plants, put it where they can’t reach it, such as in a hanging pot.
Winter bedding plants
Winter bedding plants add colour and interest to your garden even in winter. Some of them wear bright colours that will look great against the snow. Depending on the variety you choose, you can plant them from early to late autumn.
Despite their seemingly delicate petals, violas withstand the cold very well. They are small, so they look best in the foreground of your flower beds.
You can plant hardy varieties early in winter to enjoy them in your snowy garden. To keep violas blooming for a long time, keep deadheading them.
Tip: To make the most of the sweet fragrance that many violas have, you can plant some of them in hanging baskets.
Hardy primroses provide stunning bursts of colour even as they get snowed upon. And with so many varieties around, it should be easy to find a mix of colours that sits well in your garden.
From deep reds and radiant yellows to enchanting purples, primroses will make you feel like spring is around the corner—even if it’s only midwinter.
Tip: Plant primroses early in autumn, leaving about 4-5 inches between the plants. Choose a tall variety that grows over 7-8 inches to make sure the flowers poke their head out through the snow.
10. Cyclamen coum
Few winter bedding plants are as striking as the cyclamen coum. Excellent for ground cover, it has marbled leaves that resemble those of the ivy.
Cyclamen coum is self-seeding and grows even in half shade so that it can take over a patch of your garden without too much trouble. It’s hard not to let it!
Tip: To truly enjoy this plant in your winter garden, choose a pink or magenta cultivar over the white ones.
11. Winter pansies
Pansies come in so many varieties that you can mix and match them with colourful results. Some autumn-planted pansies flower only in spring, so make sure you get a winter-flowering variety.
Part of their secret is that they can grow even in partial shade. Hardy plants, pansies make the most of the reduced sunlight in the colder months.
Tip: You can plant winter pansies as late as November to add colour to your garden over the winter but bear in mind that the earlier in autumn they are planted, the tougher they will be.
12. Sweet Williams
With its vibrant petals growing in rich clusters atop tall, slender stems, Sweet William or Dianthus barbatus can be a striking addition to your garden. Two-tone varieties in particular can transform your winter plant beds. Sweet Williams also make gorgeous cut flowers.
To enjoy this flower in your garden later in the season, plant plug plants as late as October to give them the chance to become established during autumn. Pick a hardy cultivar.
Tip: Sweet William can grow up to 16 inches in height, so you may want to plant them in the background while leaving room for smaller plants in the foreground.
13. Christmas roses
An early-blooming hellebore, the Christmas rose puts out large, white flowers from November to March. Its low-lying deep green leaves also add interest.
Plant Christmas roses in fertile, well-draining soil, and make sure to keep the soil moist if the rain doesn’t do that for you. Once it flowers, the blooms will last for several weeks, giving you plenty of time to admire them.
Tip: The number of flowers this plant makes will depend on how much sun it gets. Try to place it in a sunny spot sheltered from the wind.
An evergreen shrub, mahonia provides reliable foliage and golden yellow flowers throughout winter. Not all varieties of mahonia bloom in winter, so make sure to pick a cultivar adapted to British winters.
With its long leafy stems, mahonia can fill quite a bit of space (up to five feet), so make sure to give it enough space to mature.
Tip: Prune leggy stems in spring after the shrub flowers to give it a more compact look.
Are bedding plants annual or perennial?
Bedding plants are often annual, lasting for one year only. Most gardeners plant them before they flower and remove them after they flower. However, that shouldn’t stop you from planting perennials in your flower beds if that’s what you want.
What should I do before planting bedding flowers in autumn?
Before you plant new bedding plants, remove any withered or dead foliage that won’t spring to life again. Compost healthy plant remains and dispose of diseased ones. If you plant bedding flowers in pots or other containers, replace the compost to provide the new flowers with enough nutrients.
How to arrange bedding plants in autumn and winter
Not all autumn and winter bedding plants reach intense colours until spring, but they can all add interest to your cold-weather garden. For striking results, group several bedding plants together, combining colours and textures. Place tall plants in the background and shorter ones in the foreground, contrasting or complementing colours.
Where can I plant bedding plants?
You can plant bedding plants in borders, window boxes, pots, and any other frost-proof containers you have available. Avoid placing them where they are at the mercy of strong winds that may damage them.