You may often hear the words perennial and annual thrown around when people are discussing flower gardening. They are two different families of plants that function in two different ways. Some people prefer one over the other while some people like a mix in their garden. here are strengths and weaknesses to both types of plants, and those differences should be considered. Decide, based on the following information, what you can handle, and what will do best in your own garden landscape.
Annuals Versus Perennials
Annuals are flowers which complete their entire life cycle from seed to last blooms in one season. They are not hardy enough to make it through the winter months, and need to be replanted in the spring. Some examples of annual flowers are petunias, impatiens, pansies and marigolds. Annuals can bloom throughout the growing season if cared for properly. This means trimming them back or removing spent blooms so that new ones can emerge.
Perennials are flowers that are planted once, and come back year after year. In one season, they grow, bloom and go dormant. In the fall, plants can be cut back, and will start again in spring from the previous root system. Perennials often reseed, and will spread out over the years. They generally bloom for a much shorter time during the season than annuals do. Some examples of a perennials are echinacea, hosta, and lavender.
Annuals offer a more versatile look in the garden as you can replant different flowers in different places each spring or summer. If you tire easily of the same look in your garden, then annuals are the choice for you. They are more easily obtained, and in a wider variety than perennials, because they are a popular choice for commercial growers. In the garden center you may find dozens of varieties of annuals in various colors. These plants are usually all about the same size, as small to medium height plants. The colors are vibrant, and range in hue from red to purple, and from blue to yellow.
Perennials will be a mainstay in the garden, and while they can be dug and moved from place to place, they generally are left in one location to bloom year after year. The availability of perennials is limited, and they are very difficult to grow from your own seed. They are generally not as vibrant in color, and come in shades of lilac, yellow, and pink. Perennials come in varying heights from tall to low growing which can add more interest to the garden.
Maintenance of Annuals and Perennials
There is a difference in cost between annuals and perennials, some of which is monetary, and some of which involves the labor. Perennials are more expensive than annuals in the garden center. It is easy to grow your own annuals from seed for further savings. Perennials do not always grow well from seed, and when seedlings are planted, they are not likely to bloom until the next year.
Labor is an issue to think about when making a decision. Annuals are more labor intensive year after year. They need to be dug up and removed in the fall, and replanted in the spring. In order to get the most from your annuals, you also need to remove spent blooms on a regular basis so that they will continue to flower throughout the season.
Perennials on the other hand, are a plant it and forget it type of flower for the most part. They come back year after year, and do not require the same maintenance throughout the season. Eventually, you will have to divide perennials that have spread and may be crowding out other plants in the bed. This is a pretty easy process of digging up the plant and moving it to another location, or sharing it with a friend.
Whether you choose to plant one or both of these types of flowers is up to you. It is a nice idea to plant some of both. Perennials will add depth to the flower garden because of their varying sizes, while annuals will add a pop of color, and can be used to easily fill in empty spaces.
Want to learn more about annuals and perennials?
Check out these helpful resources:
Selecting, Buying, and Planting Annuals and Perennials by Colorado State University Extension
Disease Resistant Annuals and Perennials in the Landscape by Purdue University Extension
Flower Selection by NC Cooperative Extension