When starting a garden, the technical terms can sound a little overwhelming. Even those who have been gardening for years sometimes have to spend time in research. It can be especially confusing for those who are new to gardening, and spending an afternoon at the greenhouse can be a lot less enjoyable and when you’re trying to decipher the meanings on the plant labels. Commonly used terms when it comes to defining plants are “annuals” or “perennials.” This is a good starting place for your understanding of plants and gardening.
What Are They?
Annual plants are essentially individual plants that live one single life. An annual begins its lifelong journey as a small seed sucking up the soils nutrients until it begins to sprout. Soon your little seed will have transformed into a small stem. Eventually foliage will decorate it, and before you know it the plant will have blossomed into maturity. If planted in spring, annuals tend to bloom for a fairly lengthy period of time. They began to bloom in spring and can continue until the chill of autumn reaches. Annual flowers are generally bright and beautiful, boldly sprucing up any garden foliage. Most vegetables are annuals. It’s necessary to replant annuals every year in order for them to sprout and blossom again.
Perennials, essentially, are just the opposite. These plants have a life span of at least two years. This means each spring they will re-appear in your garden without having to be re-planted, which is great news for gardeners who don’t like the planting process. Their blooming period is often much shorter than annual flowers, blooming and dying in mid summer. Fruit trees, berry bushes, and grape vines are examples of perennials.
Another plant type is a biennial, a sort of middle ground between the annual and the perennial. This plant needs two years in order to complete its full life cycle. It will not bloom in its first year of planting; instead, it will establish its roots and stems and then spend the cold seasons resting in preparation. When summer returns, your biennial will bloom to it’s full potential.
Now that we’ve established the growing types of each plant, it’s important to understand the differences between them aside from their growing patterns.
Pros and Cons
All perennials, annuals, and biennials have pros and cons. Perennials have the most immediate and obvious pro—it doesn’t need to be re-planted every year. This means that when you find a plant you like, you can plant it and care for it, then watch it revive for multiple years in a row. Each year the blooming season will garnish your garden with a pop of color or a generous harvest of edibles without the hassle of having to re-plant. Most perennials expand and grow when they come back to life, meaning you’ll get your money’s worth with this one! A small patch of planted seeds can turn into a large, vivacious patch by the third or fourth season of blossoming. The con to this is that your perennial may begin to overwhelm your garden. Each year, be sure to thin out our perennial plant so that your other plants have a fair chance of survival.
Annuals have the huge benefit of change. Each year you can re-decorate your garden or rethink your pantry without worrying about being tied down to one type of plant. These plants can be great addition to a garden full of perennials. Decorative plants will bloom for a longer period and therefore add color when the perennials have died off for the season. If you’re simply waiting for your perennials to expand and grow, annuals can be great fillers for the time being. With vegetables, you can often get more than one crop out of a single space of earth, either by spacing out your crops or by planting both a spring and fall crop. A con about buying annuals is that they require you to re-purchase them every year, which isn’t great news for your wallet. They also require slightly more work since they need to be planted every year. Biennials provide a happy medium, giving you a year off from planting but allowing time for change in new seasons.
How to Care for Each
Annuals and perennials require specific care in order to flourish and excel in any garden patch. Annuals generally need more fertilizer because they bloom in one season, their life span in shorter, and they need a more intense burst of energy. Slow-release fertilizers work best with annuals, but perennials don’t respond as well to this form.
It is important to do the research on your plant. The more you know about the plant, the better care you will be able to provide it. For instance, perennials come in different types. There are herbaceous perennials that die each season and re-grow every spring, and there are woody perennials. Woody perennials don’t die in the winter seasons; they simply enter a state of dormancy. Think of trees in the winter— they take a nap and wake up again when spring rolls around. Examples of herbaceous perennials would include garlic or onions.
Plan your garden based on your plants need for sun, shade, water and space. If you consider all of these elements, you can easily create a visual about where your re-emerging perennials would work best. After you’ve plotted out that, you can fill in the gaps with annuals.
Annuals, perennials, and biennials all have pros and cons. The space that your garden is located in and the amount of time and care you’re willing to dedicate is what will determine which plant is right for you.