Perennials vs Annuals: Which is Right for Your Garden?
Not sure whether to plant perennials vs. annuals in your garden? Learn the key differences between perennials and annuals and make an informed decision for your gardening lifestyle so it’s easy to grow and care for. Here’s what you need to know.
Whenever I’m asked about what to plant in the garden, my response is always, “What kind of garden do you want to grow and how much work do you want to do?”
It’s really important to understand what your gardening goals and aspirations are so you know what to plant and when to plant them.
Because how much work you want to do will dictate what kinds of plants to grow in your garden.
In this post, you’ll learn the differences between perennials and annuals, how to choose what works best for your garden and lifestyle, as well as how to care for them.
Here’s what you need to know.
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Perennials vs. Annuals: What’s the Difference?
Gardening can be a rewarding and enjoyable hobby, but with so many different types of plants to choose from, it can also be overwhelming.
One of the most basic distinctions to make is between perennials and annuals. Each has its own unique characteristics, advantages, and challenges.
Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or just starting out, understanding the pros and cons of perennials and annuals can help you create a beautiful and thriving garden that works best for you.
Perennials are plants that live for more than two years. They are typically cold-hardy plants that die back and regrow the following season.
Some perennials, I’ve had in my garden for well over twenty years.
So they can live a really long time!
Here’s a handful of what’s still in my garden today.
- black-eyed susans
- sedum autumn joy
- bearded iris
I grow a lot more than just these perennials. But I have divisions of these same plants in my gardens today that I started growing in my first flower garden well over 20 years ago.
Isn’t that amazing?
It’s one of the reasons I love perennials. Cause they keep coming back!
Annuals are plants that are not cold-tolerant and perform an entire life cycle from seed to flower. All roots, stems, and leaves of the plant die annually.
Some drop seeds and will regrow the following year. But in general, annuals are typically planted in spring and/or fall, depending on the season.
Some annuals thrive in cooler temps like garden mums and pansies. While others thrive in warmer temps like marigolds.
So depending on the season and purpose of the planting, choose what annuals you plant accordingly. Because timing matters.
How to Grow Perennials vs Annuals
As we recognize the stark differences in perennials vs annuals, it’s also important to understand how each needs to be maintained.
For starters, know your hardiness zone because that will determine how hardy plants are in your zone.
If plants are not hardy to your zone, they are annuals.
I’m in Hardiness Zone 6a, so what’s an annual for me, may not be an annual for you.
How to Fertilize Annual and Perennial Plants
For starters, I do not feed my perennials with any type of fertilizer.
Instead, I focus on good soil quality through amendments like compost and mulch that break down yearly. Depending on your soil quality, you may need to do something different.
So it is recommended that you test your soil to know what it needs to grow happy and healthy plants.
To get a soil test contact your local cooperative extension. You can also buy one – CLICK HERE.
In contrast, I DO feed my annuals with this slow-release fertilizer.
Because annuals have such a short life span, fertilizing them helps produce big, beautiful blooms all season long.
And if you grow annuals in containers it is even more important to make sure they are fertilized because every time you water, nutrients get washed out of the soil.
How to Plant Perennials vs. Annuals
Since each have different life spans, it follows that it’s not necessary to plant perennials as often as annuals. They return yearly, bloom and die back until the following year.
But annuals need to be planted seasonally.
Thus, when designing a garden, consider how much planting you want to do every season or every year as well as how much money you want to spend.
Because unless you grow plants from seed, annuals can be quite costly.
When choosing annuals in spring, think about how those same annuals will look in fall. Select annuals that can do double duty and look amazing during both seasons.
This will help you save money in the long run because you won’t need to replace spring for fall annuals if the color is there.
How to Care for Annuals vs Perennials
Another garden planning consideration is the care and maintenance of perennials and annuals because they are different.
Several annuals benefit from deadheading flowers. Some perennials benefit from deadheading, while others do not.
So it’s important to understand what the plant variety needs before deadheading flowers on perennials.
In general, because perennials grow, bloom, and die back, they may need to be pruned or cut back after they start to die back to tidy up the garden.
Some vining annuals may need to be pruned to keep their growth in check.
Also, consider the timing of working in the garden to maintain perennials and annuals.
Because how much work do you want to do in heat and humidity of summer?
For me, I try to do as little as possible when the temps are hot and humid here in New Jersey. So I consider this whenever I’m planting anything in my garden.
If a plant requires a lot of work, I either plant less of it or not at all. ‘Cause Jersey summers are too hot to do a lot in the gardens. So for me, I look for plants that don’t require as much from me during that time.
9 Quick Tips For Choosing Annuals vs Perennials
Now that we understand the difference between perennials and annuals, let’s talk about how to garden with them.
Here are some quick tips to keep in mind.
- Annuals last for one growing season.
- Perennials live more than a few years.
- For longer bloom time, plant annuals flowers because they bloom longer.
- Perennials cost more than annuals.
- If you are just starting out or want to experiment with plants, annuals are better for learning with no commitment.
- Native perennials are easy-care, low maintenance, and attract pollinators.
- Mixing perennials and annuals creates an everblooming garden with lots of interest throughout the growing season.
- Dividing perennials regularly maintains plant health and expands your garden for free.
- Annuals need regular fertilization.
For my garden style, I use a mixture of the two to grow a colorful garden that’s always in bloom. But I didn’t always grow my garden that way. Particularly when I first started out.
When my passion for gardening began while living in our condo way back when we had minimal growing space. So I focused on growing annuals and houseplants because that’s all I had room to grow.
After moving to our family home, I started a small perennial garden on the side of my house and lined my front foundation plantings with sun-loving annuals.
In the beginning, I focused on easy-care plants I knew I could grow with success while attracting pollinators like butterflies and hummingbirds to the garden.
As my gardens expanded, I realized there were lulls of color and bloom in my garden. Because perennials have certain bloom cycles, they grow and change during the season.
Some bloom for months while others bloom for a few days to a week, depending on the perennial. Because the color dies down when the perennials transition, I realized more color was needed to fill in those lulls of color through the growing season.
To achieve that season-long color, I plant annuals among perennials to grow a cohesive, colorful garden that blooms all season long.
Annuals help keep the garden blooming while those perennials grow, bloom, and fade. So to me, both are equally important if you want an everblooming, colorful garden.
Which Flowers Come Back Every Year?
If you want flowers to return every year without replanting, perennials are the way to go.
While it is true that some annuals can reseed and return the following year, you’ll want to plant perennials for more certainty.
Which Last Longer Annuals or Perennials?
Since annuals complete their growing cycle within a season, perennials technically last longer.
However, annuals tend to have longer bloom times because they are meant to grow for a season, whereas perennials may only bloom for a week to a few months before the flowers fade.
As I mentioned before, there are some annuals that can reseed and return yearly. But the choosing the best guarantee is planting a perennial.
Are Annuals a Waste of Money?
The answer to that truly depends on how you look at it the question. To me, all annuals have their place. And of course, I grow them.
As you gain experience as a gardener, you’ll learn how to plant annuals with purpose.
One example is my cut flower garden that is filled each year with plants I started from seed indoors or using the winter sowing method. And all are considered annuals in my region.
Annuals can also be planted for a seasonal look, like garden mums, or grown to fill in a brighten up a garden border or planters.
But keep in mind that planting and growing annuals require a little more energy because it is a yearly event. Plus, you rebuy the plants every season which means you are technically spending more money.
When purchasing annuals, timing is everything.
For example, don’t buy pansies close to summer because they won’t survive.
It’s better to purchase pansies and plant in fall because they love cooler weather and can go dormant in winter only to bounce back in spring.
So you’d get two seasons out of them instead of just one. And save money from having to buy them twice.
Another example is garden mums. They are beautiful plants for the fall garden, but not bred to last more than a few weeks, so plant them accordingly.
Are Perennials Better Than Annuals?
Because perennials return every year, you get a little more bang for your buck at the garden nursery.
And because they return every year, you are saving time, energy, and money from purchasing and planting.
Perennials generally bloom for a shorter period of time than annuals and require a little more effort in terms of cutting them back or digging and dividing every few years.
But are perennials really better than annuals?
I think that’s a matter of preference.
What is the Most Hardy Perennial Flower?
Depending on your hardiness zone (and I live in gardening zone 6a), where you garden will dictate what is most hardy in your locality.
In general, here is a good list of easy-to-grow and care-for, hardy perennial flowers.
- Rudbekia (black eyed susans)
- Echinacea (coneflowers)
- Monarda (Bee Balm)
- Nepeta (catmint)
- Sedum Autumn Joy
- Lenten Rose
Do Perennials Come Back in Pots?
Perennials do come back in planters, but they only last a few years in them, so you’ll need to transplant them to the ground after a year or two.
If you live in a cooler climate, plant perennials in containers that are two times higher than your hardiness zone. And be sure to choose planters that can handle the freezing and thawing temperatures.
If you live in an area where the winters are extremely cold, you may need to protect the planters to prevent them from winter damage.
For more container gardening care tips, click here.
And if you are a beginner to planting in containers, check out these 5 easy care tips for newbies.
Why Would a Gardener Choose Annuals Over Perennials?
Gardeners may choose annuals over perennials for several reasons that include the following.
- Annuals are often chosen for their vibrant, showy blooms that can add a pop of seasonal color to a garden bed, border, or container. They bloom continuously throughout the growing season, providing a consistent display of flowers and foliage.
- Annuals come in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes, offering gardeners more choices for creating a specific look or theme in their garden.
- Because annuals need to be replanted each year, gardeners have the flexibility to change the design and layout of their garden each season. This can be especially appealing for those who enjoy experimenting with new plants or who like to switch things up from year to year.
- Many annuals are relatively easy to grow and maintain, making them a great choice for beginner gardeners or those with limited time and resources.
- Annuals typically cost less making them an attractive option for gardeners on a budget.
Overall, annuals can be a great choice for gardeners who want to add seasonal color and variety to their garden without committing to a permanent planting scheme.
How Will Your Garden Grow?
Now that we’ve chatted about perennials vs annuals, what kind of garden should you grow?
Is it a 50-50 mix? 20-80 mix? 70-30?
There’s really no right or wrong way to do it. Plant what you love and what you want to grow.
Try new things.
Because that’s what the joy of gardening is all about.
More About Annuals vs Perennials
Do you have a preference for what you like to grow? Do you have any tips you’d like to share? I would love to know more in the comments below.
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Garden Supplies I Use
I’m often asked about the garden supplies and tools that I use most. From pruners to deer repellents, here are some of my favorites in no particular order.
- I like to use good-quality garden soil, compost, and perlite when planting.
- I have used this deer repellent with great success. But now, I’m all about this deer repellent that is systemic instead of topical. This means the plant takes it in as opposed to it just smelling bad.
- Hands down this is my favorite hand-weeding tool. You can use it to get underneath roots, loosen soil, and it cuts down on the weeding time because you work much faster.
- But I also love this long, stand-up weeding tool to really get around roses from afar.
- I like to use THIS ORGANIC FERTILIZER for roses because the blooms are more prolific and it’s organic.
- You’ll need a sharp set of pruners when working with plants and flowers. I buy a few so I can stash them around.
- Where pest and disease problems are concerned, I generally use this insecticidal soap or neem oil to help control infestations depending on the issue.
- This is my favorite set-and-forget slow-release fertilizer for houseplants, annuals, and container gardens.
- Whenever I stake my peonies or other plants, I generally use these grow through garden supports because they work really well and keep the blooms upright.
Looking for More Flower Garden Ideas?
If you want to learn more about flower gardening, wait until you see these ideas.
Here are some cottage garden tips, tricks, and inspiration.
- 5 Quick Ways to Grow a Cottage Garden
- How My Cottage Garden Grew in 2021
- Cut Flower Gardening for Beginners
- The Complete Guide to Roses Care
- The Basics of Hydrangea Care
- Everblooming Cottage Garden Design Ideas
- The Secret to Growing an Everblooming Cottage Garden
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