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What’s the difference between perennial and annual plants?

Updated: Feb 6, 2023

When it comes to home gardening and even professional landscaping, there are two types of plants to choose from: perennials and annuals.

I get asked all of the time about which one is better. Well, I’m obviously a fan of perennials. But annuals still play a huge part in my landscaping and garden design.

The big question is, which one is right for your garden?

What are perennials?

Perennials are plants that come back year after year, while annuals only last for one season. Usually, the top part of the plant will die back in winter and grow again the following spring.

Popular perennials include:

  • Echinacea

  • Helianthus pauciflorus

  • Hosta

  • Brunnera macrophylla

  • Hylotelephium telephium

  • Heuchera

  • Astrantia

  • Phlomis

  • Gaillardia

Did you know that any plant that survives year after year is a perennial? That includes trees and shrubs and even cone-bearing plants.

Perennials can also be split into different categories based on their growth habits.

Herbaceous perennials die back to the ground in the fall and come back in the spring, like Verbena bonariensis, penstemon and ornamental poppies.

Then you have the evergreen perennials that keep their leaves all year round, like some heuchera and hosta.

Hardy perennials can handle cold temperatures and can stay outside all year, while tender perennials like dahlias need to be dug up and stored in a frost-free spot during the winter.

Click these links to see the best blue, purple, white or yellow perennials.

Why choose perennials?

  • Perennials are a great long-term investment because they keep coming back year after year.

  • Perennials can often be propagated by division, taking cuttings or reseeding. That means more plants for free!

  • Most perennials need less water once they are established. That’s great for areas where water is scarce — even in Denmark, we’ve been known to have dry summers.

  • Perennials that are native to your area of the world are the best way to encourage butterflies, insects, bees and other creatures to come visit.

What are annual plants?

Annuals are plants that only last for one season. In other words, they complete their entire life cycle in one year.

They germinate, grow, flower, and produce seeds all within the same year. A lot of people feel that annuals are easier to grow than perennials. I’m not so sure that they are any ‘easier’, but they do come in a wide variety of colors and blooms.

Most of the gorgeous summer flowers you see in garden centers and enviable gardens are annuals.

Here are a few of my favorite annuals:

  • Cosmos

  • Centaurea cyanus

  • Calendula

  • Papaver

  • Zinnia

  • Antirrhinum

  • Tropaeolum majus

  • Callistephus

Many gardeners choose to plant annuals because they provide an instant pop of color to the garden, and they can be used to fill in bare patches until perennials become established.

Because of the number of flowers they have, annuals are also great for attracting pollinators like butterflies and bees to the garden.

I use a lot of annuals in my pots, hanging baskets and window boxes. They’re an easy way to mix up the look of a border or flower pot, too.

Why choose annuals?

  • Annuals let you take gardening one year at a time. Feel like mixing up the color scheme? With annuals you can have a completely new color theme every year.

  • Annuals are great for filling in bare spots in established gardens or refreshing pots and containers all summer long.

  • Annuals mature quicker than perennials and you’ll usually get to enjoy their flowers sooner. Many types of annuals keep blooming all the up to the first frost.

  • If you’re a gardener who really wants color and flowers… annuals are the ticket. You’ll get more flowers from this type of plant.

What are biennials?

This is where it gets a little tricky. Biennials, such as foxglove and hollyhock are plants that take 2 years to complete their growth cycle. That means that they will die after 2 years. Oftentimes, biennials won't even bloom until their second year.

Which should you plant in your garden? Perennials or annuals?

Well, that depends on your needs. If you're looking for something that will provide color and interest all season long, then annuals are the way to go. They're perfect for filling in bare spots in your garden, and there's a variety of colors and textures to choose from.

If you're looking for something that will last for years with little maintenance, then perennials are the way to go. There are a variety of perennials to choose from, so you can find the perfect one for your garden. Plus, once they're established, perennials require very little care.

Perennials are also super easy to propagate whether by taking clippings or dividing the plant’s root system.

Perennials come back year after year, so you only have to plant them once. Plus, they're low-maintenance and can survive in a variety of conditions.

Annuals, on the other hand, need to be replanted each year and don't do as well in shady areas or extreme conditions.

If you're not sure what type of plants would work best in your yard, drop me a line and let’s figure out what works best for your garden. You can also check with your local planting school or garden center. They'll be able to help you choose plants that will thrive in your specific climate and landscape.

The final verdict — which plant is better…

The final answer is that there is no final answer. Ha! Didn’t see that coming, did you?

Annuals are hard to beat in terms of showy, season-long color, while perennials will give you the most value for your money.

Since the perennial flowering season is usually shorter, make sure to plant different varieties to keep color going through the season.

The answer is that it depends on what you're looking for. If you want something that will last for years and years with very little maintenance, go for perennials.

On the other hand, if you're the type of person who likes to change things up frequently or you're working with a tight budget, annuals might be a better option.

Whichever you choose, remember to have fun and enjoy the process!


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Welcome to my garden

Hi! I'm Lars (Denmark).

Thanks for joining me as I share tips and inspiration for perennial gardening. 

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