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Perennials vs Annuals What Should You Plant?

Not sure whether to plant perennials vs. annuals in your garden? Here are some gardening tips that will help you grow the garden of your dreams.

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 for your lifestyle, and how to care for them.

Here’s what you need to know to grow a gorgeous flower garden!

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Perennials vs. Annuals: What’s the Difference?

There’s a big difference between perennials and annuals.

And it’s important to understand each before planting a garden.

Dahlia flowers - After deadheading flowers

Perennials Meaning

Perennials are plants that live 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 since moving to my current home several years ago.

So they can live a really long time!

Here’s a handful of what’s still in my garden today.

  • black-eyed susans
  • coneflowers
  • sedum autumn joy
  • bearded iris
Closeup of Larkspur in my Jersey Garden

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.

Isn’t that amazing?

It’s one of the reasons I love perennials.

They keep coming back!

closeup of globemaster allium, siberian iris and bearded iris - 5 Ways to Grow a Cottage Garden

Annuals Meaning

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.

cafe au late Dahlia flowers close up

Some annuals thrive in cooler temps like garden mums.

And others thrive in warmer temps like marigolds.

So depending on the season and purpose of the planting, choose annuals accordingly.

Superwave petunias, Euphorbia and marigolds - How to Take Care of Plants While on Vacation

Perennials vs. Annuals Flowers

Now that we understand the difference between perennials and annuals, let’s talk about how to garden with them.

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.

Cottage garden flowers in zone 6a garden in June - happy gardening

When my passion for gardening began while living in our condo, we had minimal growing space.

So I focused on growing annuals and houseplants because that’s all I had room to grow.

When we moved to our current 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.

Butterfly enjoying nectar from this echinacea flower - Butterfly Garden

As my gardens expanded, I realized there were lulls of color 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.

Cottage garden flowers in summer in jersey zone 6a garden

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 my 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.

dahlias and nepeta in cottage garden flower bed - perennials vs annuals

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.

Close up of celosia - perennials vs annuals

Feeding 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.

Backyard garden surrounding the firepit with adirondack chairs -perennials vs annuals

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.

Closeup of sun loving container idea with petuniasOutdoor Planter ideas for sun
Container Garden Idea for Spring

Planting 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.

close up of daylillies - perennials vs annuals

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.

cottage garden with echinacea in summer - perennials vs annuals

Gardening Tip

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.

nepeta and butterfly weed flowers in cottage garden - perennials vs annuals

Caring 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.

deadheading dahlia flowers

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.

deadheading the knock out roses in my jersey garden

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.

Cottage garden outside of a garden shed with a wood picket fence -perennials vs annuals

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.

cottage garden flowers with alliums, siberian iris, salvia and bearded irises -perennials vs annuals

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.

close up of tickseed or coreopsis 'caramel creme' in my early summer garden tour

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.

close up of the potted flowers in my container gardens filled with superwave petunias, elephant ears, coleus in front of a stone wall on river rock in my zen garden in the outdoor living spaces home tour

Are Annuals a Waste of Money?

The answer to that truly depends how you look at it the question.

To me, all annuals have their place.

Whether they are grown for a seasonal look, like garden mums, or grown to fill in a brighten up a garden border or planters, annuals are the way to go.

However, planting and growing annuals require a little more energy because it is a yearly event.

close up of hosta and container garden with ranunculas and pansies near a buckeye tree in front of a front porch with bugleweed flowers

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.

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.

close up of foxglove digitalis flowers

Why 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.

close up of nepeta 'cat's meow' and salvia 'May night' in front porch garden

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)
  • Coreopsis
  • Daylillies
  • Monarda (Bee Balm)
  • Nepeta (catmint)
  • Peonies
  • Sedum Autumn Joy
  • Lenten Rose
  • Irises
1850 farmhouse with front porch and spring flowers including ajuga, ranunculas, with hostas and buckeye tree.
The Prettiest Thrift Flip Idea for the Front Porch

Do Perennials Come Back in Pots?

Yes!!!

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 an area where the winters are extremely cold, you may need to protect the planters to prevent them from winter damage.

cottage garden in front of green wood picket fence with perennials, pink flowers and concrete planter

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.

my jersey garden hydrangeas at sunset

Plant what you love.

Plant what you want to grow.

Try new things.

Experiment.

Because that’s what the joy of gardening is all about.

Happy Gardening!

Hostas in the shade garden in front of a beautiful sunset - landscaping for curb appeal
tulip 'sensual touch' that blooms like a peony flower

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.

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Close up of butterfly weed flowers that monarch butterflies love
Close up of echinacea in cottage garden with perennials and annuals
close up of celosia - All About Perennials vs Annuals

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7 Comments

  1. Stacy,
    Such stunning photography. I’m sharing on Sunday and need to remove my own garden photo’s. LOL.

  2. Pingback: Dirt Road Adventures - The Miracle of Chalk Paint Wax - The Ponds Farmhouse