Under-Utilized Bedding Plants for the North Carolina Landscape


HIL #556 Revised 8/99 -- Author Reviewed 8/99
Douglas A. Bailey, Professor
Department of Horticultural Science
College of Agriculture & Life Sciences
North Carolina State University


There are a number of popular bedding plants used in the landscape today; some deserving the attention they get, others not-so-deserving. A good example of a successful landscape annual is wax begonia. It is popular because plants bloom all season long, do not require much maintenance, and are relatively tolerant of climatic extremes.

One goal of the NCSU annual trial program is evaluation and promotion of new or under-utilized bedding plants for the Southern landscape. We attempt to use the following criteria when rating the landscape performance of the annuals in our trials:

  1. Full-Season Color. Landscapers are looking for plants with dependable landscape performance; full-season color is a definite advantage over short-season impact plants. Nicotiana always has a short period of fantastic color in our trials, but doesn't maintain color for the extent of the summer season, whereas gomphrena continues to bloom and rebloom all summer long.

  2. Low-Maintenance Plants. Low-input bedding plants are sometimes preferable over annuals requiring routine care in the landscape. Maintenance such as dead heading or pruning increases labor demands and costs, and some landscapers are willing to trade off some color show for less labor requirements. A good example would be substituting melampodium for marigolds to eliminate the need to continuously remove dead and dying flowers. An ever increasing concern with respect to maintenance in the landscape is disease and pest tolerance. For example, Phytophthora blight is becoming a prevalent disease in many Southern color beds.

  3. Tolerance of Extremes. North Carolina weather is consistent--consistently unpredictable. The past four years are good examples. The 1995 bedding plant season offered us torrential rains in June then a drought until September; temperatures were normal. In 1996, we again experienced "normal" temperatures, but received 35.3 inches of rainfall during the 5-month trial period (including 10 inches on 5 September due to Hurricane Fran). The 1997 trial period started with a very cool May and June, and the rainfall total for the season was below average. In 1998, temperatures averaged above normal and we were once again below average rainfall. Tolerance of temperature extremes, drought, even of humidity and excessive rainfall are crucial characteristics that dependable landscape bedding plants should possess.

  4. Uniqueness. Colorscaping is becoming more and more competitive, and many firms have capitalized on the concept, "novelty sells." Novelty can be expressed in unusual flower shapes, colors, fragrances, plant growth habits, or through plant manipulations in the landscape. A good example is the ability to shear and shape gomphrena and still have it reflower. Landscapers requiring a formal, manicured look can take advantage of this unique characteristic.

The listing of plants presented in this leaflet (Table 1) includes only a portion of new materials and new uses for established materials that are available. The cultivars in the table are those that we have had success with in our trials, but obviously there are many more available in the trade.

Each year, we publish a full report of summer and winter annual bedding plant performance ratings. You can obtain a copy of these summaries on the internet by accessing: http://www2.ncsu.edu/floriculture/

The summaries are listed in the Research Report submenu at that location on the world wide web and can be read with Acrobat Reader. You may also contact your County Extension Center to view a copy of the results.

Table 1. Under-Utilized Bedding Plants for the North Carolina Landscape.


name (as per Hortus III)






Mature size
(ht x diam)


Abelmoschus, Musk Mallow

Abelmoschus moschatus

Oriental Red, Pacific Light Pink, Pacific Orange Scarlet, Pink

Red, red/white

Very heat tolerant

Full sun

Drought tolerant

22" x 20"

Low growing; avoid water soaked soils; individual flowers last about 2 days each

Calendula, Pot Marigold

Calendula officinalis

Bon Bon, Dwarf Double Gem, Gitanta, and Touch Of series

Orange, red/orange, yellow

Prefers cool temperatures

Full sun


12" x 14"

Will go into mid-summer decline in hot climates; will tolerate frost and even light snow/freezes (to ~27°F)

Brazilian Coleus

Plectranthus argentea

From cuttings

Silver to gray foliage

Heat tolerant

Full sun to partial shade


14" x 16"

Interesting large silver leaves with gray tones; good contrast plant for shade plants such as pink impatiens or begonias; does develop undesirable flower stalks as do most coleus

Dahlberg Daisy

Dyssodia tenuiloba

Golden Fleece, species from seed


Very heat tolerant

Full sun

Drought tolerant

6" x 15"

Low growing; prefers well drained soils; fine-textured foliage


Dianthus hybrids of D. barbatus, D. chinensis, and D. deltoides

Too many to list all; Color Magician, Princess and Telstar series do very well for us as a winter annual- Parfait is best series for summer

White, pink, red, violet

Prefers cool temperatures

Full sun to partial shade


16" x 16"

Prefers well-drained soils; will go into mid-summer decline in hot climates; in the South, best used as an over-wintered spring annual--more heat tolerant than pansies

Dusty Miller

Senecio cineraria

Too many to list; Cirrus and New Look do well for us

Gray /silver foliage

Heat and frost tolerant

Full sun to partial shade


10" x 12"

Excellent cool season source of color; will tolerate frost and freezes (to ~20°F) and usually over-winters in the Southeast


Evolvulus glomeratus subsp. grandiflorus

Blue Daze--from cuttings


Very heat tolerant

Full sun

Drought tolerant

12" x 36"

Low growing and spreading; small blue flowers and gray/green foliage offer a nice color contrast; will continue blooming through the worst summer heat

Gaillardia, Blanket Flower

Gaillardia pulchella

Red Plume, Yellow Plume, Yellow Sun

Red, yellow

Heat tolerant

Full sun

Drought tolerant

14" x 22"

Forms a full clump by mid summer; not the showiest of annuals, but a consistent source of color for dry, hot conditions; very frost sensitive

Globe Amaranth, Gomphrena

Gomphrena globosa, G. haageana

Too many to list all; Buddy Purple, Buddy White, Dwarf Buddy, Lavender Lady, Rainbow Purple, Rose Improved, Strawberry Fields, and Woodcreek Red do well for us; Gnome is an excellent dwarf series

Lavender, orange, pink, purple, red, white

Very heat tolerant

Full sun

Drought tolerant

1424" x 30"

Excellent source of color for the "tough" landscape; gomphrena can be sheared into shapes, if desired; dwarf cultivars are available; very little maintenance required in the landscape


Heliotropium arborescens

Blue Wonder, Marine, Mini Marine


Heat tolerant

Full sun to partial shade


12" x 16"

Attractive as a border plant; flowers are pleasantly fragrant

Hypoestes, Polka Dot Plant

Hypoestes phyllostachya

Confetti, Splash, and Splash Select series

White, pink, and red foliage

Heat tolerant

Partial to full shade


18 to 30" x 24"

Can be grown in full sun, but color is more intense with some shade; very sensitive to frost; can be pruned back for size control; 'Splash Select' is a dwarf series with more compact growth

Joseph's Coat, Calico Plant

Alternanthera ficoidea

Amoena (red/orange), Bettzickiana (red/yellow), Brilliantissima (red)

Orange, red and yellow foliage


Full sun to partial shade


10" x 10"

Colors are more intense in full sun; can be pruned/sheared for size and shape control; prefers a well-drained soil

Mealy-Cup Salvia

Salvia farinacea

Argent, Rhea, Victoria

Blue, white

Very heat tolerant

Full sun

Drought tolerant

20" x 24"

Attractive silver/green foliage and dependable full-season flowering; not as brilliant of flower colors as S. splendens, but much tougher


Melampodium paludosum

Medaillon, Showstar


Heat tolerant

Full sun

Drought tolerant

30" x 34"

Melampodium is a "sponge" plant--the more water and fertilizer received, the larger the plants become; an excellent substitution for yellow marigolds in a low maintenance landscape setting

Mexican Heather

Cuphea hyssopifolia

Desert is a cultivar from seed; Mexican Heather is also grown from cuttings

White, pink, lavender

Very heat tolerant

Full sun

Drought tolerant

10" x 20"

Low growing; nice glossy foliage; very susceptible to frost; other species such as C. ignea, C. lanceolata, C. llavea, and C. micropetala are also interesting

Nierembergia, Cupflower

Nierembergia hippomanica var. violacea

Mont Blanc


Heat tolerant

Full sun to partial shade


6" x 10"

'Mont Blanc' is excellent as a border plant; 'Purple Robe' does not perform nearly as well for us

Sanvitalia, Creeping Zinnia

Sanvitalia procumbens

Gold Braid, Mandarin Orange

Orange, yellow

Heat tolerant

Full sun

Drought tolerant

9" x 20"

Low-growing, spreading growth habit; is susceptible to powdery mildew

Spur Flower

Plectranthus coleoides

From cuttings

Green and white foliage

Heat tolerant

Full sun to partial shade


14" x 18"

Attractive light-green foliage with white margins; does not develop flower stalks as do most coleus

Tuberous Begonia

Begonia x tuberhybrida

Too many to list all; Charisma and Nonstop series do well for us

Orange, pink, red, white, yellow


Partial shade


9" x 12"

Truly elegant flowers and foliage; excellent for containers and other "close-up" viewing sites


Verbena canadensis, V. tenuisecta, V. tenera, V. x hybrida

Homestead Purple, Tex Tuf Purple, Texas Appleblossom, Michelle, Silver Anne, Sissinghurst, Batesville Rose, Fiesta

Blue, pink, red, rose, white

Very heat tolerant

Full sun

Drought tolerant

6" x 18"

Mainly from cuttings; are borderline perennial in many parts of the Southeast


Viola cornuta, V. tricolor, and hybrids of these species

V. cornuta: Jewel and Princess series, Baby Yellow, Arkwright Ruby, Chantreyland; V. tricolor: Alpine Summer, Blue Elf, Helen Mount; V. hybrids. Velour series

Blue, orange, purple, rose, white, yellow


Full sun to partial shade


8 to 12" x 10"

Our experience with violas shows them to be more temperature tolerant than pansies; V. tricolor tends to be more tolerant of cold weather than pansies, and V. cornuta and hybrids of these two species are more heat-tolerant than pansies

Narrow-Leaved Zinnia

Zinnia angustifolia (Z. linearis)

Classic and Star series

orange, white, yellow

Heat tolerant

Full sun

Drought tolerant

12" x 18"

Excellent low-growing mounds of color for summer color; are mildew resistant and "self cleaning"

Recommendations for the use of chemicals are included in this publication as a convenience to the reader. The use of brand names and any mention or listing of commercial products or services in this publication does not imply endorsement by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service nor discrimination against similar products or services not mentioned. Individuals who use chemicals are responsible for ensuring that the intended use complies with current regulations and conforms to the product label. Be sure to obtain current information about usage and examine a current product label before applying any chemical. For assistance, contact an agent of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in your county.

Published by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service

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