Annuals, Biennials, and Perennials

Categories: Garden
Tags: garden, gardening

As you’re preparing to plant your new plants for the fall season, you might be feeling a little confused by all of the different categorizations of plants. What’s the difference between an annual and a biennial? What’s a perennial? How do I know which one of the three I want to use?

No need to worry — we’re here to help. Today, we’re going to dive deep into each type of plant and chat about what they are, give a few examples, and provide a few tips for successfully growing them.

Before we dive in, it’s important to note that your climate has a lot to do with how long your plants last. Many biennial or perennial plants are grown as annuals in certain climates, and if you treat your annuals right you can make them last longer than expected! 

What is an annual plant?

Annuals are plants that complete their entire life cycle in one season, then die. They must be replanted each season that you want to have them in your garden, and once they die off, they may not return. Although they won’t grow back again, they will leave seeds behind which means you could end up with more the next season if you’re lucky!

Typically, annuals are smaller, flowering plants that are used as filler or in planters. Here are a few examples of annual plants:

  • Begonias

  • Chrysanthemums

  • Dahlias

  • Geraniums

  • Marigolds

Most annuals need daily watering, and are more likely to produce a higher yield if you deadhead the spent blooms. You can generally save cuttings from your annual plants at the end of the growing season and grow them indoors to propagate a new plant. Read this post to learn more about the process

What is a biennial plant?

You may be able to guess that a biennial is very similar to an annual except it takes two years to complete its life cycle rather than only one. Generally, in the first year the plant will grow its leaves, roots, and stem but stay low to the ground and will not flower. Then, during the second year it will begin to flower and will grow much larger before dying off and leaving seeds behind.

Here are a few examples of biennial plants: 

  • Black-Eyed Susans

  • Clary Sage

  • Delphinium

  • Dusty Miller

  • Evening Primrose

Biennials require patience, so if you want fast results you may want to look for an annual instead! If you plant them in an area that is favorable to re-seeding and work to cultivate the fallen seeds, your biennials can return year after year (though, you’ll have to wait the full 2 years for flowering with each new batch).


What are perennials?

Perennial plants are the longest-lasting of the three, and the term generally refers to a plant that lasts for longer than two years. Perennials grow and bloom throughout the spring and summer seasons, and then hibernate in the colder months. However, as soon as spring hits again they return and begin blooming once again. Some perennials, however, are evergreen and do not hibernate during the fall and winter months — they go dormant and do not bloom, but they retain their leaves until the next spring when they begin growing and blooming again.

Many perennials are very hardy and are able to survive extreme hot or cold temperatures. These hardier plants generally do not begin rapidly growing or blooming until they’re more mature, as it takes time for them to become established. Here are a few examples of perennials:

  • Carnations

  • Daisies

  • Foxgloves

  • Hostas

  • Hydrangeas

 Like annuals, many perennials respond well to deadheading to encourage more blooms. Perennials grow larger each year of growth, which means they’re great candidates for dividing — you can split them up at the roots and replant to gain new plants. All perennials will have different needs when it comes to watering and general care, so be sure to research what is best for your specific plants.

Most gardens and flower beds have a good mix of annuals, biennials, and perennials, so you really can’t go wrong no matter what you choose. Just be sure you know how to care for each of the plants that you choose to plant in your garden, and you should have success with a variety of types of plants.