When it comes to choosing between annuals vs perennial flowers, understanding their differences will help you achieve a luxurious landscape that blooms profusely throughout the growing season.
At first glance, planting perennials, which can last for years, is a much better way to go than planting annuals, which must be replanted yearly. However, a well-appointed landscape features both annuals and perennials to provide the best mix of colors and textures.
What Are Annual Flowers?
Annual flowers have a short life span, and they only last one season. However, there are important benefits to growing annuals.
Many of the most popular flowers for landscaping are annuals. Annual flowers do best when they are started indoors or purchased from a greenhouse as bedding plants.
Characteristics of Annual Flowers
Annual flowers add color to your landscape with bright, vivid flowers that bloom profusely throughout the season. Once planted, they are relatively maintenance-free, and you can enjoy their cheerful blossoms all summer.
You can also choose from several types of drought-tolerant and shade-loving annual flowers when your growing conditions are less than ideal.
Annuals are an excellent choice for containers, flower beds, and accent plantings. A wide range of colors, textures, foliage, and heights is available so you can find exactly what you’re looking for, including dwarf varieties for borders and edgings.
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Lifespan and Growth Pattern of Annuals
Part of learning about annuals vs perennials is understanding the lifespan of annuals in one growing season. They start from seed in the spring, bloom, and go to seed all in one year.
In the winter, they die off, and the cycle starts over. Some species of plants, like begonias, geraniums, and sweet alyssum, are perennials grown annually because they cannot withstand cold winters. You can quickly start them from seed or root cuttings, and they bloom abundantly in their first year.
Popular Varieties of Annual Flowers
When your yard needs a pop of color, try these popular varieties of annual flowers.
- Begonias–also grown as houseplants, these make excellent bedding plants with flowers in shades of pink, white, and red
- Calendula–orange and yellow daisy-like flowers with edible petals
- Cosmos–a colorful flower with ferny foliage and daisy-like blooms, often included in wildflower mixes
- Marigolds–sturdy plants with yellow, orange, and red flowers, usually ranging in height from 6” to 24”
- Nasturtiums–distinctive foliage and bright edible flowers
- Pansies–a perennial grown as an annual, these perform best during spring and fall
- Petunias–a favorite in flower beds because of their showy, long-lasting flowers and wide range of vibrant colors
- Snapdragons–spiky flowers in shades of pink, yellow, orange, purple, and white
- Sunflowers–there are many colors and varieties of this iconic symbol of happiness and summer
- Sweet alyssum–makes an excellent ground cover and, unlike many annuals, can be planted directly from seed
What Are Perennial Flowers?
Plants that come back three or more years are called perennials.
Long-lasting perennials like daylilies and peonies can come back every year for decades. Others are short-lived perennials, like delphiniums and pinks, that only last up to four years.
Characteristics of Perennial Flowers
It’s easy to plant perennials and enjoy the benefits year after year.
Many perennials tolerate a wide range of growing conditions, and most species have several cultivars. Low-maintenance perennial flowers return yearly, ready to bloom and fill your yard with color and texture.
For long-lasting beauty, perennial flowers are an excellent choice for borders and main plantings. You can use them as accents or features, and once planted, they are easy to care for, requiring less regular watering and weeding than annuals.
Most perennials benefit from plant division every three to four years. This gives you an abundant supply of new plants to share with your friends.
Lifespan and Growth Pattern of Perennials
You can propagate perennials in numerous ways, including tubers, bulbs, and plant divisions. When started from seed, they usually don’t bloom the first year, and while some perennials live for decades, others only last for a few seasons.
Even though many perennials don’t have bloom periods as long as showy annual flowers, they can provide greenery and interest in a flower bed all season.
When it comes to annuals vs perennials the perennial plants require a bit more work, as you need to divide them every few years to stay healthy. While this can be a bit of a chore, it also gives you plenty of new plant starts to share with friends and family. Some people even sell them at local farmer’s markets or online through Facebook marketplace.
It’s also important to mention biennials, which only live for two seasons.
Popular biennials like Foxglove, Sweet William, and Hollyhocks bloom their second year and then die. Nevertheless, they are wonderful additions to cottage gardens and for filling in corners and spaces in perennial flower beds.
Popular Varieties of Perennial Flowers
Like trees and shrubs, perennials provide year-round interest and give your landscaping structure and form. There are thousands of perennials to choose from, but here are some of the most popular varieties:
- Achillea–commonly known as yarrow, this herbaceous perennial comes in a rainbow of colors and is easy to grow
- Black-eyed Susan–a favorite due to its bright, cheery flowers and long blooming period
- Columbine–dainty bell-shaped flowers on tall, slender stems come in a variety of colors and sizes, including large two-toned flowers
- Coreopsis–large 2” yellow daisy-like flowers on plants that are one to three feet tall
- Daylily-–the robust growth habit of daylilies makes them popular for a variety of soil types and growing conditions
- Echinacea–also known as purple coneflower, this plant is available in a mix of colors
- Lupine–a long-lived perennial that produces spikes of showy flowers in a variety of colors, including pink, blue, purple, and white
- Peony–a long-lived classic flowering perennial that features fragrant blooms in shades of pink, red, and white
- Phlox–perfect as a ground cover or edging plant, these easy-to-care-for perennials produce mounds of blooms in almost every color, including bi-color varieties for added interest in your yard
- Shasta Daisy–another classic that produces abundant white daisy-like blooms with yellow centers that stand out against dark green foliage
Best Seasons to Plant Annuals and Perennials
The best time for the planting of annuals vs perennials depends on your regional climate.
Where you live and whether or not you are starting them indoors to get a jump on the season makes a big difference. Learn more about the best seasons for planting your favorite flowers.
Hardiness Zones vs Frost Dates
When choosing the best annuals and perennials for your garden, it’s important to understand the difference between hardiness zones and frost dates because they sometimes get confused.
- Hardiness zones are geographic areas that indicate which plants are most likely to thrive in a certain region based on average summer and winter temperatures.
- Frost dates are the day the last expected frost occurs in the spring and the first expected frost in the fall.
Ideal Planting Times for Annual Flowers
By definition, annuals only grow one year. Most of them start from seed in early spring and die back after the first hard frost in the fall.
Many people purchase annual flower plant starts from garden centers in mid-spring and plant them after all danger of frost has passed. You can learn more about frost dates in your area by consulting a USDA hardiness zone map .
While some annuals, like sunflowers, can be grown successfully by planting them from seed directly into the garden in the spring, other annuals, like petunias, are slower growing and take longer to bloom. So unless you purchase annual bedding plants for early fresh flowers, you’ll miss out on most of the growing season with many types of annuals.
You can grow annual flowers from seed indoors about 12 weeks before the last frost date for your area to enjoy bright, cheerful flowers all summer long. Even though spring is the best time to plant annuals, you can add them to your flower beds throughout the growing season to create visual interest and freshen up areas of your yard that need it.
Ideal Planting Times for Perennial Flowers
The best time to plant perennials is in the spring and fall. Planting perennial flowers during the spring or fall are both good times since they are long-term investments.
If you plant in the spring, they might establish quickly enough for you to enjoy blooms the first year, but fall planting is best because it gives perennials plenty of time to establish before the mid-summer heat spells.
Comparing Annuals and Perennials
The best landscaping designs feature both annuals and perennials because there are pros and cons for each type of plant. Learn more about the similarities and differences between annual and perennial flowers.
Similarities Between Annuals and Perennials
Annuals and perennials have more similarities than differences because they all require watering, fertilizing, and weeding to thrive and look their best. Various annuals and perennials grow in every type of growing condition, from shade to full sun, and you can grow both annuals and perennials in flower beds or containers.
Annuals and perennials both provide blooms for you and your family to enjoy, as well as providing pollen and nectar for creatures like hummingbirds. They both add variety and texture to your landscape design, and each type of plant has its place in your garden design.
Differences Between Annuals and Perennials
When looking at the differences between annuals vs perennial flowers, the most important distinction is their lifecycle. Annuals are plants that complete their life cycle in one growing season and then die, while perennials live for three or more years.
While annuals are generally faster and easier to grow than perennials and provide quick bursts of color to a garden, perennials tend to last longer and provide a relatively low-maintenance, long-term solution to garden design. Many popular annuals are known for having a long blooming period, whereas perennials usually only bloom for about two to six weeks per year.
The price is another big difference between annual vs perennial plants that most people notice right away. Annuals are much cheaper than perennials, but since you only have to buy perennials once, they are a great way to populate your landscape with color.
Annuals vs Perennials Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How Do I Choose Between Annuals and Perennials?
Considering annuals vs perennials doesn’t require you to make a choice. In fact, you should mix them up and plant them together.
When planting annuals and perennials together, be sure to consider height differences and put the tallest plants in the back of your flower beds.
Can Annuals Become Perennials?
Annuals don’t become perennials, but many plants grown as annuals are actually perennials in warmer regions. So if you live in a warm climate, you might be able to grow annuals like pansies, begonias, and geraniums as perennials.
How Do Weather Conditions Affect Annuals and Perennials?
Weather conditions affect all plants and help determine when they grow, flower, and die.
Because annuals only grow for one season, a hard frost in the fall usually determines the end of their lifespan. Hot weather is more likely to affect perennials, and they may enter a period of dormancy during long dry spells.
What Are Biennial Plants?
Biennial plants grow from seed and die within two years. Many biennials grow a sturdy rosette of leaves the first year, then send up a tall flowering stalk the second year, set seed, and then die.
Some flowers, like Hollyhocks, are considered either biennials or short-lived perennials because they sometimes come back another year.
How Do I Care for Annuals and Perennials?
Annuals and perennials are both easy to care for, but they require regular watering, fertilizing, and weeding.
While you have to plant annuals yearly, perennials only need to be planted once. After that, you should divide them every three to four years to keep them healthy.