When you first start gardening there are so many new terms to learn, it can sometimes feel like learning a foreign language. One of the first things to learn is to know the difference between annual and perennial plants. Knowing this difference will help you to be able to pick out just the right flowers, plants, shrubs, and even vegetables for your garden.
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So Annuals vs. Perennials, What’s the Difference?
Basically, an Annual plant grows from seed then blooms and or sets fruit. At the end of its growing cycle it will either set up a seed pod or set seed in another way then it will die off naturally. An annual completes its entire life cycle in one growing season. Flowers that are annuals are Sweet Alyssum, Petunias, Violets, and Zinnias. Most plants that are grown in 6-pack containers and sold in your favorite big box store are annuals. You can change out the color in one area of your garden based on color, height, or any combination you can think up using annuals. Vegetables that are annuals include all squash plants, corn, beans, peas, all lettuce varieties, plus the cabbage family. There are many plants in our garden that are annuals that have to be replanted year after year. Sometimes an area will grow the same plant again the following season because seeds from the mother plant fell down and this is the second generation growing in that same space. Some of my favorite annual herbs are chamomile, calendula, thyme, oregano, basil, dill, cilantro, chives, and garlic.
A Perennial is a plant that grows year after year and does not die in one growing cycle. Each year it will grow, set fruit or flowers, and it might die back at the end of the year but the roots aren’t dead and come springtime it pushes up new shoots. Anytime you think you might have lost a perennial to a freeze or extreme heat, give it a little love and see if you can bring it back. Pepper plants are perennial vegetables as are tomatoes in some warmer zones where there isn’t a hard freeze, otherwise both act like annuals. Most plants that are sold as bushes or in larger containers tend to be perennials like jasmine, honeysuckle, lavender, elder, apple and rosemary. Roses are an excellent example of a perennial as it has new growth every year, produces a ton of blooms, then sets out rose bud pods but after its growing season it continues to live on. Other favorite perennials of mine are asparagus, horseradish, ginger, turmeric, Good King Henry, sea kale, Jerusalum artichoke (sun choke), lovage, rhubarb, sorrel, echinacea, lavender, sage, passionflower, black cohosh, comphrey, California poppy and mint (all of the mints). I have a special love of perennials because you only plant them once then they keep on giving. One side of my backyard is dedicated to perennials in a permaculture layout so year after year we will keep getting fruits, herbs, and vegetables with little effort on my part.
Then there is one more type that is seldom talked about and that is the biennial. It is a plant that is sowed and grows this season but does not produce fruit or seed until next season. At this point, in some areas it will then continue to grow as a perennial, and in others it will die off and act like an annual. A great example of a biennial is an artichoke. If you plant an artichoke this year, you won’t get blooms or fruit until next year. It might surprise you and give you a few this year, but the real show is next summer. Some of my favorite biennial herbs are burdock, yarrow, yellow dock, mullein, caraway and parsley. Some other Biennial vegetables are cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, collards, onions, parsley, parsnips, turnips and endive. Although they will give you a great harvest in the first year, if you want to collect the seeds you need to let them winter over and the next year they will grace you with another harvest AND seeds.
At the end of the day, I include annuals, biennials, and perennials in my garden and yard design to enjoy the full beauty and majesty of nature in my little suburban yard.
What do you prefer in your garden?
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