Explaining plants - What is an Annual and a Perennial?

Explaining plants - What is an Annual and a Perennial?

There are many classifications of plants and we are here to help advise you on Annual and Perennial plants and how each of these will benefit your garden. It is important to distinguish between an Annual and Perennial as they have different needs when it comes to care as well as time of year for sowing and growing.

Annual Plants

Potted Mix of Flowers - Busy Lizzie

Firstly, let us start with an easy explanation of an annual plant. As the name alludes - an annual plant is sown, grown, flowers produces seed and dies within a single year and should be replaced the following year. One of the biggest advantages of an annual plant is that they typically flower quickly in the season and flower consistently throughout the growing season in the correct conditions. Annual plants are also usually cheaper than perennials, providing plenty of bloom for your buck! 
One of the big advantages of annual plants is the variety of colour available. Many annual plants also act as excellent pollinators and provide excellent fragrance for your garden that helps with attracting beneficial insects such as bees and butterflies.

One of the big disadvantages of annual plants is that they do not last season on season and will die out as the season comes to an end. You will typically see the characteristics of dull colours, stretching and fewer blooms as the season ends.

Bright Blue Conflower Blue Boy

There are 2 main categories of Annual Plants, namely; Tender Annuals and Hardy Annuals.
Tender Annual (Spring and Summer flowering) plants are typically annuals that do not handle cold weather and do better in warmer weather. The Tender annuals provide colourful blooms all Spring and Summer long.  It is best to sow the seeds for these plants from early Spring to Mid-Summer. This will allow a continuous bloom of colourful flowers all summer long.

Hardy Annuals (Autumn and Winter flowering) are plants that have an excellent tolerance to freezing temperatures and frost and require colder conditions to flower. You can sow Hardy Annuals from early Autumn. It is best to stop sowing before the winter months start. If these seeds are down too late, the warmer weather of Spring will prevent the flowers from blooming. These annuals need colder weather for flowering.

There is a grey area of "Half-hardy" Annuals, these annuals have a tolerance for lower temperatures for short periods of time, however do not typically survive freezing temperatures over a long period of time. It is best to start these seedlings in doors and only transplant the seedlings after the last frost of the season.

Perennial Plants

A Perennial plant will grow on year-on-year without needing to be replanted like annuals. There is a large variation in the longevity of perennials from 3 years for some varieties and others up to a few decades. 

Cactus Finest MixWhile perennial plants will stop flowering while out of season, their foliage, stems and leaves will remain green throughout seasons. Some perennials, especially bulbs, will appear to die when out of season and the bulb will be dormant under the soil. Following this dormant period, the plant will provide fresh new blooms and foliage in the next flowering season.

Like Annuals, there are 2 main categories for Perennial; tender perennial and hardy perennial.

A tender Perennial (Spring and Summer Seasonality) is a plant that will grow year round in warm climates and flowers in warmer months. Although these plants do not flower during the colder months, it will survive through the winter and bloom in the Spring and Summer again.
A hardy perennial (Autumn and Winter Seasonality) will do exceptionally well in cold weather and tends to flower in this season. These plants typically go dormant in Spring and Summer and produce flowers throughout the cooler months.
A "Half-Hardy" perennial will flower throughout colder temperatures, however not for a pro-longed period of time.

Although perennials add more structure and permanence to your garden, they do not offer as vibrant blooms as annuals. Annual plants are known for their vibrant and abundance of flowers throughout the whole season, perennials tend to flower less frequently and often don’t have as many flowers or as vibrant colours.
Annuals have the ability to flower vibrantly throughout the season because individual flowers reach their lifespan sooner. They die and fall off allowing the plant to reproduce a new bloom in it’s place in a small window period. Perennial plants need to be dead headed to allow new blooms and this can be time consuming for gardeners.

When to plant annuals and when to plant perennials.
As mentioned above, both of these types of plants have their benefits to your garden and can be used depending on what effect you would like to have in your garden.

Gaillardia Mesa Bicolour

When considering between annuals and perennials you should also take into account the season, the plants growing/establishment phase and the positioning in your garden. If the area is heavily shaded, you should not plant a perennial or annual that requires a lot of sun.

To help guide you with these decisions, we would advise a healthy balance of both annuals and perennials in your garden.

Perennials take a while to establish themselves and the best blooms are only from the second year since it has been planted, do not let this discourage you in getting started though! You can balance the beautiful foliage of perennial plants with the vibrant blooms of the annuals. As perennial plants can either be tall, or used as ground coverage, place them accordingly. The taller varieties can be planted an the back of your beds, allowing space in the front for the instantly flower blooming annuals.

By placing vibrant annuals in front of the perennials, you are creating borders of your flower beds that also allow for a wide variation of pollinator plants in your garden to bring beneficial insects such as bees and butterflies into your garden.


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