Flower Power: Annuals vs. Perennials

Know the difference between the two so you can make the most of these gorgeous flowers in your garden.
Future Heirlooms

Future Heirlooms

Stella d’Oro daylilies are a favorite perennial in many gardens.

Stella d’Oro daylilies are a favorite perennial in many gardens.

Before you start dreaming up your garden plan, it helps to know what you can expect from the flowers you’ve already got. The first step is having a clear understanding of the difference between annual, perennial and biennial plants — and how they’ll behave next spring.

Simply put, an annual is a plant that lives for just one season. Whether you plant from seed or purchase seedlings to plant, an annual will sprout, flower, seed, and then die – all in the same year.

Annuals tend to bloom all season long, and are often bright and showy. Though you will have to replant next year (or choose another plant to put in your annual’s place), annual plants tend to be cheaper than perennials and are less of a commitment. Some annuals are “self-seeding,” meaning you may wind up with new flowers the following year without having to plant them yourself, though they won’t be exactly where you planted this year.

Popular annuals include zinnias, marigolds and impatiens. Right now I’m in love with the vinca in my flower bed: the young plants were inexpensive, easy to plant and have filled my garden with bright, showy color. I think I’ll plant more next year!

For some great cool-weather annuals for your container garden, click here. Looking for some off-the-beaten path annuals? Try these.

Perennials, on the other hand, live for three or more growing seasons. They can be planted from bulb or seed – often bulbs must be planted in the fall to produce spring-blooming plants – or you can purchase young plants at a nursery to plant in the spring. Perennials generally have shorter blooming periods than annuals, so gardeners often pair them with perennials that bloom at other times to maintain constant color from spring to autumn. For some cold-weather perennials, check out these options.

Roses, peonies, mums, and daylilies are common perennials. If you keep an eye out around your community, it will become apparent which perennials do well in your region: that’s how I wound up with a bed full of daylilies and hostas.

Though many popular garden plants can be classified as either annuals or perennials, there is actually a third category to consider: biennials. Biennial plants grow for two seasons, but don’t bloom until the second year.

Biennials can be tricky to get started because they need care over the winter between their first and second growing season. But once they’ve lived out their second season, biennials will drop seeds and in two years, you’ll have blooms from the new generation. Gardeners often stagger plantings in order to have blooms every year. Poppies, Sweet William and foxgloves are three popular kinds of biennials.

Planting a variety of perennials that bloom at different times can create the backbone of your garden and will save you work down the road, while annuals can be a great way to experiment, maintain constant color and refresh your garden year after year. And while biennials may take a little extra work, many gardeners find them extremely satisfying to grow. No need to make a hard decision: mix it up!

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