Annuals vs. Perennials 101
Creating a luscious flower garden requires planning and preparation. The first thing to consider is what you’re going to plant. Flowers generally fall into two categories: annuals and perennials. While both types produce vibrant blooms, they also have different needs and lifespans. Annual flowers last one season and must be replanted every year. Perennials are dormant in winter and return every spring. The size of your flower garden, your personal taste, and the amount of time you can invest in planting and maintenance will dictate whether you lean toward annuals or perennials. For most gardeners, the ideal solution is a combination of both.
Types of Annuals
Annual flowers are appealing because they’re low maintenance and only last one season. Although they have to be replanted every year, they don’t require year-round care. Annuals add instant colour to your flower garden since they’re already blooming or budding when purchased. They also produce more blooms than perennials because of their short growing season. Here are the most popular types of annuals:
- Gerbera Daisies
- Sweet Peas
Types of Perennials
Perennial flowers are a long-term investment as they grow back every season for years after you initially plant them. Perennials require more care and attention than annuals to keep them healthy and growing, but are also less work in spring because you don’t have to replant them. Popular perennials include:
Planning Your Garden
Since perennials grow and last for years, choose the type of flowers that you love, and avoid crowding so they have room to expand and spread. Hostas, for example, are infamous for covering a lot of ground and can quickly dominate a garden. Annuals are great if you have limited space because they tend to grow higher instead of wider. They’re a perfect choice for planters and small garden beds. Annuals also offer variety since you can mix and match and change the colour scheme of your garden every year. You can use annuals to close the gaps between perennial plants and add splashes of colour and contrast; just remember to consider lighting conditions and watering needs before you mix. Annuals typically require a lot of sunlight, but there are some varieties that thrive in the shade.
When to Plant
Spring and summer are the most common seasons to plant annuals and perennials, but some flowers can be planted at different times of the year:
- Spring: perennials can be planted or moved. Be careful not to plant annuals or perennials too early, unless they can withstand light frost.
- Summer: perennials can be planted, but need moisture to withstand the heat. This is the best time to plant annuals as they thrive in sunny weather.
- Fall: some annuals can be planted to add a final bit of colour to your garden. Fall is a good time to move, divide or plant perennials so that they bloom in the following spring.
Having good soil will enable your flowers to grow well. Both annuals and perennials need moist conditions but won’t flourish if the soil is too wet. Here are some tips on how to create good soil for your flower garden:
- Mulch or use organic matter from a composter to keep the soil moist and cool and to inhibit weeds
- Fertilize your soil yearly for annual flower beds
- Fertilize your garden once before planting perennials, and use slow release fertilizer once a year after they start to grow
How to Plant
Planting annuals and perennials requires a similar technique, but there are a few notable differences:
- Remove your flower from the container by holding it upside down and gently tapping to release it
- Annuals have dense roots so loosen them slightly by gently squeezing the roots
- If your perennials have dense roots, slice half off the bottom
- Use gardening tools to create a hole for your plant that’s deep enough for its roots
- Place your plant in the hole — the roots should be at or just below the surface
- For perennials, fill the hole with water
- Pat down the soil firmly to avoid air bubbles and pockets Water your flowers immediately after planting
Annuals need deep and infrequent watering, to help encourage their roots to grow. Perennials need to be watered as soon as they’re planted, and a few times a week or every day depending on the weather. Your watering equipment needs will depend on the size of your garden; use a hose for large gardens and flower beds and a watering can for small gardens and planters. Consider a soaker hose and timer to keep larger beds moist during periods of summer drought.
Garden MaintenanceBoth annual and perennial plants need routine care to keep them healthy and robust:
- Remove weeds from your flower garden as soon as they appear Pinch off dead flowers from annuals and perennials to encourage new blooms
- Use gardening tools to prune and clip dead tops and shabby parts of the plant to keep perennials in good shape
- Check your flowers for pests or disease and use pesticide as needed
- Use plant coverings or greenhouses to protect your perennials in the winter
Last updated: March 20, 2015