What is the difference between these plants?
You may have heard of plants described as annuals and perennials in gardening. Knowing the difference between annual and perennial plants will help you understand how each type behaves in your garden. Specifically, you will understand bloom times and whether the plant will survive the winter.
When choosing between annuals and perennials, both offer pros and cons that you should consider. (There are also biennials in the mix.) Then, you can easily plan a colorful, productive garden that will look great from spring to fall, all while making the most of your gardening budget.
What is an annual?
All plants have a life cycle from the emergence of the seed until the death of the plant. When a plant is described as an annual, it grows from seed, flowers, produces more seeds, and dies all within a year. You can save seeds to replant. Young plants may not look exactly like the original plant, but that’s part of the fun.
Annuals versus perennials are relatively inexpensive. They give you a lot of flower power for your money, and many bloom almost continuously through winter. Most are low-maintenance plants that are self-cleaning, meaning they naturally drop their blooms when they finish blooming. Other annuals should be deadheaded to encourage the flowers to keep coming. When annuals die, simply pull them up and compost them.
What is a perennial plant?
Perennials live for more than one growing season. Unlike annuals, perennials go dormant in the winter and return the following year. Some perennials, such as peonies, can be long-lived, dating back for decades. Different perennials bloom at other times of the year, so you may get flowers in spring, summer, fall, or even winter. However, you usually won’t have flowers throughout the entire growing season. Perennials don’t bloom as often as annuals either.
Perennial roots can survive the winter as they are hardy. However, depending on where you live, you may need to mulch them or protect them from freezing weather. Some perennials may need digging and storing. Dahlias, for example, are perennials and can be kept in the ground in areas with mild winters. However, in cold winter areas, the tubers must be lifted and stored where the temperature remains above freezing.
Common perennials include phlox, poppies, daylilies, Shasta daisies, and coneflowers, but not all of them are flowering plants. It can be vegetables and herbs such as asparagus, rhubarb, mint, parsley and sweet potatoes. Apples, figs and berries are some perennial fruits. Trees and shrubs are woody perennials, unlike herbaceous perennials with flexible green stems and little or no woody parts.
What is a biennial?
Biennials complete their life cycle in just two years. They produce foliage the first year, waiting to bloom until the second year. Then the original plant dies. Biennials include foxgloves, pansies, sweet William dianthus, and forget-me-nots. Like annuals, some biennials self-sow, so it may seem like they keep coming back year after year.
What Should I Plant: Annual vs. Perennial
Annuals are the best choice when you’re looking for instant gratification. They grow quickly from seeds or transplants to fill containers or beds with color. However, you will need to replace them every year.
Perennials usually cost more upfront than annuals. But perennials reliably come back every year, recouping their initial cost in the long run. These plants are often difficult or slow to grow from seed, so most gardeners buy them as young plants or get them from a friend or neighbor who divides their plants. When your perennials mature in a year or two, you can divide them to fill your garden without spending more money.
Mix annuals and perennials in your beds, borders and containers for a gorgeous garden that will look colorful throughout the growing season. Read plant tags and labels to know when your perennials will bloom so you can plant them with staggered bloom times. Consider where you place your perennials, too, because they won’t be picked up and disposed of annually, like annuals.
Annuals will flower almost continuously while perennials go in and out of flower so you can plant them for a continuous display of different colors, shapes and textures. If your perennials finish blooming, or even before they start, place annuals around them to fill in any gaps. Just be sure to combine plants that have the same light and water needs. For example, shade-loving annual ornamentals will not last as long next to perennial sun-lovers like coneflowers.