Annuals and perennials are very different and their differences need to be understood before entering your landscape.
A lot of do it yourselfers and weekend gardeners get confused when roaming the flowery isles of the big box stores and garden centers.
They know they want to add color to their landscape so they tend to shop in the moment and pick out what looks good now, without considering important factors such as bloom time, hardiness, plant lifespan, size, and maintenance required.
One of the most important things to get sorted out is what kind of flowering plant are you actually looking at? Is the plant an annual or a perennial and which is best for you?
What are Annual Plants?
Simply put, an annual is a plant that lasts for one season. Annuals do not overwinter. They will die when the cold weather comes and they will not come back the next season.
Annual Plant Pros
*Instant Gratification- When you purchase an annual it is most likely already in bloom. All you have to do is plant your annual and you have instant color. If you’re looking to add instant color to your patio, deck, hanging baskets or landscape, annuals are a quick way to do it.
*Long Bloom Periods- Annuals tend to bloom for a long time. Often times they will bloom throughout late spring all the way to early fall. This guarantees you season long color in that location you planted it.
Annual Plant Cons
*High Maintenance– Annuals require a lot of maintenance, especially watering. Since these are small plants that are temporary, they never get a solid root system. This causes them to dry out very quickly.
If the plant begins to dry out the flowers are going to suffer and your annual plant will lose a lot of its appeal. Even if you slip up and miss one watering on a hot day, it could take a serious hit on the overall look of your plant. In many cases you might not be able to nurse it back to perfection.
*New Annuals Needed Every Year- Since annuals die at the end of every season you will have to be prepared to purchase, plant, and keep plants healthy every year. This means investing money, and time, every year.
*Size- Since annuals are only around for one season they never have the opportunity to get very big. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of uses for small plants, but their size does limit their uses which is why they are typically found in the front and borders of garden beds when planted in the landscape.
What are Perennial Plants
People tend to define perennials as plants that come back every year. I actually think that’s a pretty inaccurate definition.
A lot of perennials have short lifespans and will only live for a couple of seasons.
Also, nothing is guaranteed to come back year after year. If there is an unusually harsh winter, you can expect to lose plenty of perennials.
I think a safer way to define perennials is as a plant that dies back in the fall and will likely come back for several seasons.
Perennial Plant Pros
*They Come Back- I love the fact that at some point after the snow melts you magically see perennials emerging from the ground. No trip to the garden store or planting required.
My landscaping philosophy is pretty centered around creating more permanent gardens that require little replanting.
*Less Maintenance- One of the reasons I like creating more permanent garden beds that require little replanting is because older more mature plants require less maintenance.
Their root structures are more established and can find and store water and nutrients more easily. This requires a lot less watering and fertilizing.
*Larger Size- Since perennials usually live for several years they have time to get bigger. This gives you some more versatility since you don’t necessarily need to plant along the front of beds and borders.
Also these larger plants have more flower blooms.
*Overall Stronger- A plant that is more established is going to do a better job fighting off mother natures ugly side. Periods of drought or wet, heat, cold, and disease are all more likely to be fought off from a more established plant.
*Add More Plants For Free- A lot of times you are able to divide perennials. This is a great way to get free plants! Just make sure you have the right shovel for dividing perennials.
Perennial Plant Cons
*Shorter Bloom Period- Most perennials don’t bloom for as long as annuals do. Perennial blooms generally last for 2-6 weeks.
If you’re looking for season long color in your perennial gardens you will have to strategically plant different perennials next to each other that have different bloom periods.
Be sure to mix spring, summer, and fall perennials so you can have season long color.
I actually view the shorter bloom period of perennials as a positive because it creates a different look to your landscape as the seasons change and different perennials bloom.
Which Is Better, Annuals or Perennials?
Overall, I don’t think you can say one is better then the other. They both have their uses but I personally reserve annuals for hanging baskets and container arrangements around my deck and patio.
I pretty much never plant annuals in my actual landscape. They get too neglected out there and require too much attention. I can water plants on the deck and patio more easily.
In landscaping I try and take the permaculture approach as much as possible. For these reasons , if I have to pick a favorite it would be perennials.
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