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Green-thumb Basics: Difference Between Annual and Perennial Plants

Difference Between Annual and Perennial Plants
If you love gardening and are planning to set up a beautiful garden, you will need to have a clear understanding of your flowers and other plants. For that, we shall tell you the differences between annual and perennial plants so that you can make the most of it and come up with a gorgeous garden.
Tanaya Navalkar
Last Updated: Mar 8, 2018
Coneflowers In Summer Perennial Garden
Did You Know?
Most of the plants in your garden are annuals or perennials that act as annuals. These are called bienniels. For example: carrots, tomatoes, and peppers.
Just as we grow and change throughout our lifetime, similarly plants also have a certain growth and development pattern. You must have noticed that some flowers need to be planted every year, while some pop up all by themselves. Each flower and plant has its own characteristics. When planning to set up a garden, the first decision should be whether to plant annuals or perennials. A plant can behave as an annual or a perennial depending upon the climatic and geographic conditions.

First, let us see what a seasonal growth cycle is. You must have seen that some plants and trees shed their leaves in the fall and then grow them back in spring. This is one seasonal cycle seen in plants.

Annuals are often bright and colorful. They bloom for a longer time and are cheaper than perennials. They are easy to plant. They give freedom and creativity to change the look of the garden every season. They are perfect for creating a colorful garden.

Perennials, on the other hand, live for two or more growing seasons. They have shorter blooming periods. They are a bit expensive than annuals. Planting a variety of perennials that bloom at different times will save much of your efforts. These are perfect for people who do not want to replant every year. For beginners, the perennials would be the best option, as they are easier to grow and maintain. They can even survive harsh weather conditions.
Annual Vs. Perennial Plants
Annuals Perennials
  • One Season
  • More than 2 years
  • Summer annuals germinate during spring or early summer and tend to mature by autumn.
  • Winter annuals germinate during the autumn season and mature during spring or summer of the same year.
  • Perennials bloom over spring and summer, and die back every autumn and winter. In warm conditions, they grow continuously.
  • Their growth is limited to the growing season in seasonal climates.
  • Annual plants live for only one season. They perform their life cycle from seed to flower to seed within just one growing season.
  • They die annually and have to be replanted each year.
  • They bloom for a long time.
  • They require moist, but not soggy soils after planting.
  • They require deheading to encourage more blooming.
  • Perennial plants can live for more than two years.
  • They can be short-lived or long-lived (specially trees). They need not be replanted each year.
  • They may require moist or dry soil, depending on the plant. Usually, smaller plants need lots of moisture to keep a healthy root.
  • They have structures, such as bulbs and rhizomes, which allow them to live for many years.
  • Only some perennials benefit from deheading spent flowers. Others grow seeds that can be used for decorative purposes.
Plant Reproduction
... in Annuals
  • The annual plants die soon after they produce mature seeds, having exhausted from sprouting, foliaging and flowering, and producing a useful seed in just one growing season.
  • The mother plant eventually dies, but leaves hundreds and thousands of offspring seeds.
  • As we know, in annual plants, one life cycle means one growing season.
For example, consider a Bean plant.
  • Plant a bean seed and water it. You will notice that the germination takes place in about a week, and it starts sprouting.
  • The seedling will grow and in about six weeks, the plant will enter a reproductive stage and begin to flower.
  • The flowers, after fertilization, drop petals, and soon they will start developing into tiny bean pods.
  • Instead of harvesting the beans, allow them ripen to their full size. You will get bulging pods with large seeds.
  • If allowed to fully mature, the pods eventually split, and you will notice the bean seeds within.
  • So, that was one life cycle completed, from seed to seed.
... in Perennials
  • Perennials continue to grow for more than two years, and many do so for even decades.
  • They produce flowers from seeds if they are successfully pollinated.
  • The mother plant doesn't die after the seed is produced.
  • The life cycle of a perennial plant varies widely depending upon the plant.
  • For common perennials, a life cycle usually takes 2 - 5 years.
  • Some weeds can produce more than one generation in a growing season. Their life cycle might just be of a few months.
  • On the contrary, the century plant may grow for up to 20 years to produce the long stalks.
  • The word 'perennial' is usually used to describe the herbaceous, non-woody plants.
For example, consider a Coneflower plant.
  • Plant a coneflower seed. For the first few years, you will only get foliage.
  • In the subsequent years, you will start noticing flowers and seeds coming up.
  • If the first seed in formed the fourth season, then we can conclude that the plant has a four-year life cycle from seed to seed. 
Self Seeders
Some annual plants can trick you into thinking that they are perennials. They are self-seeding, which means that the seeds fall to the ground and grow back the next year without any external help. They act like perennials, growing back at the same spot most of the time. However, they are not perennials. They grow from a completely new seed and are not a continuation of the old one.

For example: Marigold.
Annuals Perennials
  • Geranium
  • Petunia
  • Impatiens
  • Begonia
  • Marigold
  • Snapdragon
  • Sweet Pea
  • Sunflower
  • Zinnia
  • African Daisy
  • Amaranthus
  • Poppy
  • Pansy
  • Calendula
  • Cosmos
  • Corn
  • Wheat
  • Rice
  • Lettuce
  • Watermelon
  • Daffodil
  • Daylily
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Peony
  • Iris
  • Delphinium
  • Hollyhock
  • Tulips
  • Asters
  • Agave
  • Dahlia
  • Apple
  • Apricot
  • Banana
  • Grapes
  • Strawberry
  • Pineapple
  • Tomato
  • Ginger
  • Thyme
Still couldn't decide between the two? Well, you can mix both! Fill your garden with perennials primarily and annuals sparingly to add more color and variety to it. Annuals can also displayed on patios and porches. So, you can have the best of both, this way!