Key differences and expert tips

Key differences and expert tips

Every garden needs a coordinated mix of spring flowers, ornamental grasses, flowering shrubs and trees — or not, if you're a fan of messy gardening or rewilding. It's easy to classify trees as deciduous or evergreen (some lose their leaves and some don't) based on their appearance alone, but flowers are not that simple. You may wonder why some of your favorite flowers come back every year and others don't. The key is to know if the plant is an annual or perennial. For example, daylilies are perennials, but petunias are annuals.

Although it's a personal preference whether you plant one or the other in your garden, landscape designer Kat Aul Cervoni of Staghorn NYC recommends a little of both. “For a dynamic mix of flower types and seasonal colors, planting a mix with different flowering windows is ideal.” Additionally, understanding the difference between the two types of plants can help you plan and maintain your outdoor space.

Annuals and perennials are also great for different purposes and types of gardens. Aul Cervoni helps us explain the difference between annual plants and perennials, as well as their pros and cons. And if you're reading this at the end of the growing season, you can read on to find out what to do for each type of flower when winter comes.

Annual basics vs. perennial basics

According to Aul Cervoni, the most basic way to explain the difference between annuals and perennials is that perennials survive the winter. “Annual records are one and done, which makes it a great test,” Ol Cervone explains. “Perennials will keep repotting every year for up to a decade, and these are the plants you want to stick with.” A perennial plant that has a growing season and a dormant season, it can survive a frost to grow again the following year. However, annual plants survive for only one growing season. Once they die in the winter, they are gone forever.

Many of the most popular garden flowers are perennials (such as peonies, irises, and hydrangeas), meaning they continue to bloom at about the same time each year, often for up to 10 years with proper pruning and out-of-season care. Perennials have a continuous growth cycle throughout their survival, which is usually three or more years. Annual plants complete their growth cycle within a year and die in the winter.

What are annuals?

As the name suggests, an annual is a plant that completes its entire life cycle within a calendar year. For this reason, First Cervone points out, annuals bloom much longer than perennials, sometimes throughout the season. They are ideal plants for containers or temporary gardens. Annual plants can also add instant seasonal color to borders and beds in your garden since you usually buy them as mature plants rather than from seeds. Many vegetables and crops are technically annual plants, along with flowers such as zinnias, begonias and sunflowers.

It is important to know that most annuals are tropical or warm-weather plants and cannot tolerate the cold weather or even cold spells of northeastern springs. “It may need more fertilizer and water to be able to grow because it grows and blooms all at once,” Ol Cervone says. “Their roots are not deep, but we like annuals because of their full seasonal color.” Once the growing season is finished, annual plants should be cut and removed because the original seeds will not bloom again.

Benefits of annual flowers

Longer flowering time

Most annuals bloom for several months, continuing throughout the entire spring and summer. That's why it's so popular, says Ol Cervone. Gardeners know they get full color longer.

Best for small spaces

Because you can remove them at the end of the season, annuals are better suited to life in small spaces. It requires no maintenance during the holiday season and has no lights to store inside.

Low commitment

As Aul Cervoni mentioned above, once you're done with the yearbook, you're done. The first frost of the season will cause them to wilt and dry out. She recommends composting the leftovers as fertilizer for next year's batch.

Disadvantages of annual flowers

Only one season

The main drawback to growing annuals is that they only last for one season. Although this is great for plants you're not sure about or want to test, it can be annoying to pull them out year after year. Aul Cervoni recommends growing annuals in containers or temporary planters for easy transport.

Smaller in size

Because annuals only have one season to acclimatize and grow in your garden, their roots often don't reach as deep or as securely as perennials. Applying additional fertilizer or compost can help boost their growth early in the season.

Harder to grow from seed

Due to the short time frame, annuals are rarely grown from seed in the garden bed unless started early enough. Aul Cervoni recommends planting them in mid-March when you know the worst of winter is over. Alternatively, you can save that extra work (and anticipation!) by purchasing mature annuals from your local garden center which you can plant directly into a planting bed or pot.

What are perennial plants?

Perennials bloom and germinate year after year, and are known for their longevity, spanning multiple years and growing cycles. (Think dahlias, hostas, and ornamental grasses.) Like any plant, perennials have a peak season and an off-season, meaning they will bloom around the same time each year as their cycles resume. “The peak season for perennials can range from three weeks, like peonies, to two months, like grasses,” Ol Cervone explains. Due to their short growth cycles, Aul Cervoni recommends considering succession plantings, choosing plants with different peak times to ensure a colorful garden all season long.

Because they remain dormant and constantly come back, perennials need some maintenance to ensure beautiful growth year after year. Pruning it every winter, after the first frost, allows the plant to reset itself before it starts growing again. Perennials also need extra care during the growing season because they are more likely to wilt during heatwaves, and may need to have water or fertilizer added periodically. Perennials can last anywhere from three to 15 years, so choose flowers and plants that you can see yourself loving for many seasons to come. Of course, you can always uproot them if you're looking for a change, but that would defeat the purpose of choosing a perennial!

Benefits of perennial flowers

Overall longer life cycle

Perennials are known to last for years, sometimes up to a decade. This is great for gardeners looking to commit to a plant and leave it for many years to come.

More readily available

The most popular garden plants are perennials, so you're likely to find them in bulb or seed form at your local garden center, especially early in the season.

Less maintenance at the end of the season

Instead of having to tear out the entire root system, as you would with annuals, perennials only need to be trimmed again to overwinter. “I recommend leaving an inch or two to allow winter critters and insects to feed on the seed head,” Ol Cervone says.

Disadvantages of perennial flowers

Shorter Bloom Times

Some perennials, such as peonies, have short flowering windows. We're talking just a few weeks. This can be annoying for gardeners who want more season-long coverage from their flowers.

Less flexible in hot weather

Perennials are better suited to temperate and cool climates than their tropical counterparts (annuals). You may find that more water or shade is needed to help sustain your perennials during summer heat waves.

Winter pruning

To maintain a healthy perennial plant that returns successfully each year, you should prune dead seed heads every winter or spring. This extra effort can help your garden aesthetically while taking some of the weight off the roots as they try to recover.


He follows Beautiful house on Instagram And Tik Tok.

Katherine “Kat” All Cervone is the founder and director of Staghorn as well as the blogger, Agriculture.

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