You already met the terms “annual plants or annual flowers” and “perennial plants or perennial flowers” when you were reading gardening books or posts. What do these words mean, and why should you be interested? You may already know the difference between annual and perennial without realizing.
Annual vs Perennial plants
An annual plant is a
plant that completes its cycle of life (germination, plant growth, flowering,
fructification, to the seed spreading) within one year, and then GAME OVER:
Summer annuals germinate during spring or early summer and mature by autumn of the same year. Winter annuals germinate during the autumn and mature during the spring or summer of the following calendar year.
A perennial plant or long-lived plant is a plant that lives for more than two years. You only plant them once, and they keep coming every year.
A typical perennial emerges in the spring, grows and often produces flowers and seeds as the seasons progress from spring to summer to fall, and then slows down or dies back in winter. But the plant doesn’t actually die; it just rests. The following spring, your perennial returns in glory to repeat the cycle.
The purpose of an annual plant is to produce seed to ensure the propagation of future generations. They bloom to attract insects so that it can be breed and they are usually flowering throughout the majority of their court life.
Annual flowers come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes, which give gardeners an opportunity to diversify their backyard landscape, and to change the garden’s color palette every year.
Full sun Annuals:
Most annuals require full sun, which means direct sunlight for more than six hours daily. In lack of sunlight, sun-loving plants can’t give so many flowers.
Examples: Geranium, Lobelia, Marigold, Salvia, Zinnia, Angelonia, California poppy, Lantana, Cosmos, Dahlia, Celosia, …
If you don’t have a sunny location in your garden, you still have some shade-loving annuals to try. Be careful; direct sunlight may burn your plants.
Examples: Coleus, Impatiens, Ageratum, Sweet William, Wax Begonia, Vinca, Forget-Me-Not, Fuchsia, Velvet Elvis, Caladium, …
Uses of annual plants
Annuals are hard to beat if you desire a colorful garden, and they can add much possibilities in you design. You can use annual plants blooming in different seasons to:
- Edge pathways in your backyard
- Be mixed with perennials to spot color
- Decorate a vegetable garden
- Fill an entire flower bed
- Fill pots, patio planter boxes and window boxes
- Add fragrance to your backyard space
Growing and care of annual plants
Starting Annuals from Seed
Looking at annuals prices in garden nurseries, it’s obvious that growing your own plants from seeds is very economics and maybe more fun. Starting from seeds makes you in control of your selection and maintains your budget.
Many annuals you can directly seed into your garden soil. Others are best started indoors under controlled environment in cold season.
Hardy Annuals: Hardy annual seeds can be disseminated in the soil after winter fall, they can handle being frozen and they germinate in early spring (Alyssum, Dianthus, and Viola).
Half-Hardy Annual: Half-hardy seeds can’t handle being frozen in soil, you can sow them after the risk of frost or you can start them indoors and move them outdoor as plants (China aster, Gazania, Nicontiana).
Tender Annuals: Tender annual plants are originally tropical perennial plants grown in colder climates. Once the temperature is freezing these plants die. Tender annuals seeds can’t be sown in the ground until the soil warms and night temperatures are above freezing (Zinnia, Morning glory, Ageratum).
Annual propagating from cuttings
Some annuals like Geranium, Begonia and Impatiens can be propagated from cuttings, which can be done late summer or in autumn. They can be brought and potted to boom in winter indoor or saved to next spring. You can do it with simple steps:
- Cut flowers and flower buds existing on the plant to let it focus on growing new roots on the stem cuttings
- Select healthy stem cuttings (2-6 inches long) and strip off any bottom leaves
- Dip the cut end of the stem into a rooting hormone to encourage rapid root growth
- Carefully, insert the cut in potting soil, water it lightly and cover the pot with clear plastic to create moist
- Place pots in a sunny location for weeks (avoid direct sunlight for the first few days)
- Once the plant is established, cut the stem to encourage plant growth and abundant blooming
Caring for annuals
For an annual plant, water is number one need; a thirsty plant can’t sustain the show for long. Regular watering is ideal. Keep the following in mind when setting up a watering schedule for your annuals:
- Spring watering: If your garden gets rainfall spring, your newly planted annuals may not need supplemental watering from you. In the opposite case, you should water you plants and keep an eye on them until their roots gain a foothold in their new home.
- Summer watering: Established annuals are less water needy in summer, but it’ll be healthier to give them water regularly to prevent stresses.
- Fall watering: Rainfall may take care of your annuals. If not, continue to give them water as needed.
The best watering methods for annuals is to use gentle spray or soaker hose. Watering in the early morning hours is best, so the water can soak in and hydrate your plants before hot sunshine.
Keep in mind that fertilizing annuals isn’t necessary, but for better performance it’s recommended to regularly fertilize them. For sure, you’ll be rewarded for your extra effort.
A 1-3 inches layer of organic mulch may be applied. Mulch prevents weeds from encroaching and retains moisture from the soil. You can use different materials: bark chips, shredded bark, straw, grass clippings and pine needles. The mulch should be at least an inch away from the stem to prevent diseases and insects.
You can get more flowers through deadheading, or removing spent blossoms. Annuals tend to go to seed, and when you cut flowers for bouquets or remove spent blossoms, you’re frustrating this natural process. The plant responds by generating more buds and flowers.
A perennial plant emerges in the spring, grows, produces flowers and seeds as the seasons progress from spring to summer to fall, and then slows down in winter and comes back the next spring. You don’t have to replant perennials every year, unlike annuals.
Full sun Perennials: Dianthus, Delphinium, Black-Eyed Susan, Chrysanthemum, Blanket flower, Sedum, Daylily, Asiatic Lily, Peony, …
Shade Perennials: Viola, Epimedium, Lamium, Ferns, Toad Lily, Bletilla, Brunnera, Bleeding Heart, Corydalis, Lily of the Valley, Foxglove, Hakonechloa, Leopard Plants, …
Uses of perennial plants
There are many advantages for growing perennials in your garden:
- Low maintenance plants
- Less time spent caring for them than annuals
- Perennials roots grow and spread to help improving soil structure
- Roots have ability to access water and nutrients deep in soil
- Easy propagation
- Various blooming time
Perennials flowers and plants are also good to:
- Mix with annuals to grant longer flowering time
- Edge patio, pool or walkway
- Fill an island bed
- Create colorful border
If you are planning to plant perennials in your garden, you should better do it in fall season or spring. Plant in fall or spring? It depends on your planting zone, sunlight in your space and when perennials bloom that you can assure all summer blooming.
Generally, spring is the best time for new plantation for many reasons: warming soil, long days and sun shine. It’s also the best time to divide your old perennials.
You can plant perennials in fall so they have time to grow roots and have a head start over spring planted perennials. Planting in fall may assure spring and summer blooming.
Perennials can be planted in 3 forms:
- Container-grown perennial plants: You can buy from any nursery and they are easy to transplant in your garden. You can pull out the plant from the pot and put it directly in soil (Lavender, Penstemon, Hellebore, …)
- Bare-root perennial plants: More economic than container-grown perennials but they are not beginners friendly. Before being planted, the plants should be soaked in water (Astilbe, Amsonia, Helenium, …)
- Seeds: This is the cheapest way to grow perennials. To start from seeds you have to be patient because are slow growing plants. You should better sow your seed in winter indoor (in pots) and transplant them
outdoorwhen they are large enough.
Caring for perennials
Perennials need less care than annuals. To minimize the work and the budget allocated to grow perennials you should optimize your plants choice depending on your space condition (amount of sunlight, water available, soil condition …).
The water needs of perennials are different. Some are moisture-lovers, others are drought-tolerant, and many are somewhere in the middle. For sure, regular watering can be beneficial for newly planted perennials.
Fertilizing isn’t mandatory for the majority of perennials. If you plant them in soil that suits them they may do just fine without it. Rich soil and good growing conditions and regular water can sustain healthy and stable perennial growth for quite some time. Fertilizing merely supplies a boost in these cases.
A biennial plant or biennial flower is a plant that takes 2 years to finish its lifecycle.
First year: The plant grows leaves, stems and roots than enter to dormancy.
Second year: In the following spring, the biennial continues to grow and produce flowers, fruits and seeds. After seeding, the plant dies.
Examples of Biennial flowers:
- Alcea rosea
- Sweet William
- Queen Anne’s Lace
- Antirrhinum majus
- Erysimum cheiri