Annuals vs. Perennials

What is an Annual Plant?

When a plant is classified as an “annual,” it means that it has a lifespan that lasts for only one growing season. In the course of one growing season, an annual will sprout, mature, bloom/fruit, and then die, leaving behind seeds that will then be used to birth the next generation.

Nearly all fruits and vegetables that gardeners plant every year are classified as annuals. Annuals are broken up into two categories: warm season and cool season (hardy) annuals.

Hardy or Cool Season Annuals

A hardy or cool-season annual is an annual whose seeds are capable of withstanding the cold winter ground when they are first planted.

These cool-season annuals can tolerate freezing temperatures and are able to be planted in the late fall or winter before any other annual seeds can be planted. Some well-known examples of hardy annuals include violas, marigolds, and sweet peas.

How to Grow and Care for True Annuals

Annuals are famously very easy to grow and maintain due to their rapid growth. Some advice to grow and care for your true annuals are:

Make sure you give your annuals comfortable time to live out their lifecycle. Annuals will only live for one growing season; there’s no overwintering with these plants. To make sure you get the most out of your annuals bloom/harvest, make sure you plant them accordingly.

Thankfully, many nurseries will advise you on the best season to plant your specific annuals.

How to Grow Half-Hardy Annuals

A half-hardy annual is similar to a true annual, in that they live for one growing season. However, they require a slightly longer period of growth to mature.

When growing half-hardy annuals, it is best practice to start the plants indoors 4 to 8 weeks prior to the last frost date. By doing so, you allow your half-hardy annuals ample time to grow during their growing period without the worry of premature death.

Examples of half-hardy annuals include dahlias, gerbera, and geraniums,

Benefits Of Annual Plants

Annuals come with many benefits. For example, most vegetable and fruit plants are classified as annuals; many gardeners exclusively prefer to grow edible crops.

In addition, annuals are easier and quicker to grow because they have such a short lifespan. If you’re the type that doesn’t like waiting, then annuals are an appropriate choice. You’ll be able to enjoy a faster bloom with annuals than you would with perennials.

Difference Between Annuals and Perennials

The major difference that separates annuals from perennials is their lifespan. As stated previously, annuals only live for a lifespan of one growing season, hence its name. Perennials, however, live for the duration of many growing seasons.

If you planted an annual and a perennial at the same time, the annual would die at the end of the growing season, whereas the perennial will simply become dormant and wait for the springtime to blossom once more.

Due to this shortened lifespan, annuals will grow at a more rapid pace than perennials will. As you will read further, perennials are more of long-term investment; they require more time and care before you can enjoy their blooms.

What is a Perennial?

As opposed to an annual, a perennial is a plant whose lifespan extends beyond one growing season. Generally speaking, the top portion of a perennial appears to die in the winter when it becomes “dormant.”

This portion of the plant returns come spring and/or summer during its more active months.

Reblooming and Long-Blooming Perennials

Reblooming and Long-Blooming Perennials are similar to what we discussed in the previous section. These are perennials that have multiple blooms during their growing seasons.

Why Choose Perennials?

Gardeners like to choose perennials because they are an excellent long-term choice for those who want to add color to their garden every year without the hassle of replanting.  

While there are many wonderful annuals to choose from, they do inevitably die at the end of the growing season and subsequently must be removed and replanted; which can grow to be tiresome, and frankly, a hassle.

Perennials are a Good Long-Term Investment

Think of perennials as a “long-term investment.” Due to their nature, you’ll live with your perennials for years and years. Generally speaking, perennials do cost a bit more than annuals do, but you make up your money with the sheer amount of time you have with them.

Like any good long-term investment, you’ll be elated with the results after several years of caring and grooming your perennials. With proper growth and care over a multi-year period, your perennial plants will be the highlight of your garden.

How to Grow Perennials With Less Water

The best way to grow perennials with less water is by carefully selecting varieties of perennials that are drought-tolerant and require less water. There are many selections of drought-friendly perennials you can plant in your garden and they are tolerant of most USDA hardy zones.

Let’s take a look at some varieties:

Russian Sage: This perennial (hardy to USDA zones 4 through 9) is a gorgeous blue plant that is perfect for gardeners looking for a larger plant to adorn their garden.

The Russian Sage is capable of growing to a massive size in a very short amount of time. While it is large in size, this plant is excellent for filling out large vacancies in the garden.

It is recommended to trim this perennial back in the fall. If you love the look of Russian Sage, but don’t want to commit to its size, opt for the “Peek-a-Blue” dwarf variety which grows to a fraction of its size.

Coreopsis/Verticillata: For those that are looking for something bright and sunny in the springtime, the Coreopsis is the one for the job. Hardy to USDA zones 3 through 9, the Coreopsis is compatible to both cold and warm climates.

Coreopsis produces an abundance of blooms from spring to the fall, which gives nearly all-year color. This flower is tolerable of both full and partial sunlight and can grow up to 18 inches tall.

Difference Between Perennials and Biennials

When a plant is considered a biennial, it means that it has a lifecycle of two years, as opposed to the one year (annual) and several years (perennials).

In the first year of its life, you’ll notice that your biennial has sprouted a small rosette of leaves that grows close to the ground. In its second year, the biennial will grow significantly; you’ll notice an elongated stem as well as flowering.

And naturally, at the end of its two-year lifespan, it will release its seeds to grow the next generation.

Planting Perennials in Your Region

When planting perennials in your region, the utmost important piece of information to keep in mind is your USDA hardiness zone. Your hardiness zone essentially measures how long the growing season lasts based on your geographic area.

Hardiness zones are measured from 1 to 13 (coldest to hottest). This is important for the survival of your perennials. For example, perennials that favor hot weather will not fare well in zones with significant winters (such as 1 through 4).

Finding perennials that suit the USDA zone you live in is key to the longevity of your perennials. Perennials that enjoy hot climates include the Echinacea, the Amethyst Sea Holly, and the Lilyturf.

If you live in a cold climate, you may want to take a look at the Hollyhock, Amsonia, and the Campanula. If you live near an accredited plant nursery, I recommend making a trip there and exploring which perennials they carry.

How They Compare

While there certainly may seem like annuals and perennials have nothing in common, there are still comparisons between the two. They’re still great ways to add color to the garden, and are both excellent companions to one another. Having a mix of both perennials and annuals in your garden contributes to a better ecosystem in your garden, rather than having one or the other.

Works Cited

“12 No-Fail Drought Tolerant Perennials for Low Water Gardens.” The Garden Glove. https://

www.thegardenglove.com/10-no-fail-perennials-for-low-water-gardens/. 

“Annual Flowers.” University of Florida. https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/

ornamentals/annual-flowers.html. 

Iannotti, Marie. “What is a Hardy Annual?” The Spruce. https://www.thespruce.com/what-is-a-

hardy-annual-1401927.

Rindels, Sherry. “What Is An Annual?” Iowa State University. https://

hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/1996/4-26-1996/annie.html#.

“Wildflowers in Bloom.” Texas A&M University. https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/wildseed/

growing/annual.html. 

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