Defining Annuals and Perennials

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By Melanie Mathieson
Gardening Guru

Many gardeners are often confused between the terms annuals and perennials and which plants belong in each category. The classification of plants is determined by its life cycle. The life cycle of an annual is complete in one growing season, starting from a seedling and maturing into a plant that produces its seed by the end of the season. A perennial can be defined as a plant that has a life cycle of more than two years. Often gardeners refer to perennials, as plants that “come back” year after year. A biennial plant is a plant that grows its green leaves in one season and then flowers and produces seeds in the next season. Biennials are often mistaken for perennials, as they produce seeds in the fall and then new plants grow the following spring from those seeds. There are hundreds of perennials and annuals available at our local garden centres with each one having its own unique characteristics.
Annuals are a great addition to any flower garden, except for a few species, they tend to bloom all summer long,. Annuals can be planted directly into the flowerbed or can be used for container gardening. Annuals require basic care, as they need a good soil, water and fertilizer to thrive most of the growing season. Water the plants as needed to keep the soil moist but not soggy. Because annuals produce flowers for most of the growing season, they need a fertilizer with an equal amount of nutrients. Applying good quality 20-20-20 fertilizer that you can mix with the water in your watering can and a regular schedule of fertilizing, following the package directions, every two weeks is a good rule of thumb and will keep your plants healthy and blooming. Make “deadheading” a habit with your annuals. Deadheading is the practice of removing the spent flowers from the plant. This encourages new flowers to form and keeps your plants well groomed. You only need to spend a few minutes each day removing spent flowers. Make it a habit as you admire your garden or container garden.
There are also hundreds of perennial plant varieties to choose from when planning your garden. Perennials are a more “permanent” plant in your garden because they grow back every spring. Many people think that perennials are expensive but remember you are investing in a plant that will last for many years as opposed to one growing season. Also almost all perennials can be divided into additional plants after a few years of growth. Many perennials can be planted in the shade and in very dry or moist conditions, even as moist as a bog. Perennials for the most part do not bloom for the entire summer season. They usually have a scheduled bloom time and then produce seeds after they are done blooming. Many perennials are not just enjoyed for their blooms but also for their structure or growth habit, as many have very attractive leaves in a variety of colours and shapes, some are climbing vines or form a carpet in your garden. Perennials tend to be very low maintenance with a few exceptions. Most require the right growing conditions and once planted you make sure the garden stays adequately watered and add a slow release granular fertilizer to the garden in the spring.
I hope that I have clarified the difference between the two types of plants. The main thing I would like to express is to not be afraid to try something new and conquer your fears about doing something wrong in the garden. With the endless of varieties to choose from today, anyone can sport a green thumb. You can combine annuals and perennials with similar habitat conditions or just plant annuals or perennials. It is your choice and I am confident you can create your very own garden design that you and all of your friends will admire. So let’s get growing!