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If you are new to gardening, you probably have been hearing the terms perennial and annual, or even seen them on seed packets and plant tags. If you are confused by these terms, don’t worry. Understanding them is super simple! Let’s jump into understand perennials vs annuals!
What is a Perennial?
Simply put, a perennial is a plant that will live for three or more years. They can be fruits, vegetables, or simply for beauty. Here are some common landscaping perennials you may be familiar with: cacti, honeysuckle, lantanas, hibiscus, hydrangeas, and all trees! There are also many perennial fruits and vegetables that can be grown. These include, but are not limited to, strawberries, fruit trees, berry bushes, artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes (aka Sunchokes), rhubarb, asparagus, mint, oregano, and thyme.
Although there are many options for perennials, you need to keep in mind your USDA Hardiness Zone when choosing which plants to put in your garden. The USDA Hardiness Zones are based on how cold it gets in your region. If you don’t know your growing zone, you can visit the USDA website to see a map! When purchasing a perennial, it is important to make sure it will survive the winters where you live. For example, artichokes are perennial in my area, but in places cooler than Zone 8 (lows of 10 ℉, -12.2 ℃) you will not be able to grow artichokes as a perennial. Perennials that produce in the first year, such as artichokes, can be grown as annuals in some regions.
The best part about perennials is that you only have to plant them once. Altough most types take multiple years to start producing, you can harvest from them for decades afterwards. For example, asparagus is a vegetable that needs to be growing for about 3 years before it can be harvested, but if you plant an asparagus patch now, your young children could still be eating from it as adults!
What is an Annual?
An annual is a plant that will only live for one year, and then it will die. The lifecycle of an annual plant goes a little something like this. The seed germinates, it grows into a little seedling, then a full grown plant. In an attempt to reproduce, the plant will create seeds (the fruit we eat containing those seeds) and eventually die. The majority of plants in a vegetable garden are annuals. The most popular annuals you will spot in vegetable gardens are broccoli, lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, cumbers, and peppers. There are also many gorgeous flowers that are annuals such as zinnias, calendula, sunflowers, and marigolds. All of these plants will grow foliage, create seeds, and die all in one growing season.
Annuals tend to be more work than perrienials because they need to be started again each season and cleared out once they plants have stopped producing. This is simply a step you do not have to do year after year with perennials. That does not mean that annuals are not worth the work. They absolutely are! I love tomatoes and I will continue to plant them season after season in my garden!
What is a Biennial?
Maybe you haven’t heard of this before. Biennials are definitely less common than perennials and annuals. A biennial is a plant that lives for two years. In almost all cases, the plant spends the first year growing its foliage and roots. It may die back in the winter, but it will come back in the spring and flower, then die. Probably the three most common biennials in a garden are hollyhocks, onions, and parsley. They will grow in the first year, but in the second year they will flower.
See? Super simple. Now get out there and plan your garden! It can become tricky deciding where to plant certain things since perennials will live for years and annuals will die at the end of the season. It is important to be picky about where you decide to plant your perennials as they could become a roadblock for annuals in a later season. A few things to keep in mind when planting perennials is their full grown size, the shade they may cast, and what you want to use that surrounding space for. I hope this helped you better understand perennials, annuals, and biennials. Get out there and get to planting!