In the gardening world, words like annual and perennial are used frequently. For the naturally green-thumbed, it’s a part of the everyday lexicon. But for those who are decidedly newer to botanical topics or who want to expand their green know-how, it’s important to understand the differences between the two so your plants can thrive year-round.
How They Differ
In simplest terms, the life cycle of an annual is a single growing season. Their seeds are planted in the spring, yielding new annuals that thrive throughout summer by producing beautiful flowers. Once the growing season culminates, usually at the end of summer or early in the fall, the flowers generate seeds. That’s a sign that the annual life cycle has completed for the year. As temperatures drop, the annuals will wither.
By contrast, perennials don’t generate any flower growth during their first year after planting. They stay dormant during the winter months, then bloom year after year without fail. Some perennials don’t have a long life expectancy — they may last for only a handful of years — while others remain vibrant for several years.
Caring for Annuals
It’s important to show up for your annuals so they have the best chance at thriving through the season. Annuals generally love full sun exposure. Most of them also require daily watering, and it’s important not to fall behind on this task. Common indications that they’re lacking moisture include dry soil and lackluster leaves.
Ideally, the soil should be moist to about three inches below plants, but not soaked. Slight moisture is what you’re after here. Aim to water the soil instead of the plants themselves, since the shallow root systems require consistent nourishment. Watering the leaves could cause petals to stain and encourage fungus formation.
Easily the most important step you can take for your annuals is deadheading old, withering blooms. Just snap or pinch or cut them away, which will ensure that the flowers look robust and lively all season long. Neglecting to do that will cause the plant to cease flowering. This is an easy, quick step you can take when you water the plants.
Caring for Perennials
The beauty of the perennial is that it’s incredibly reliable. There’s no need to replant — it simply returns to form every year. Most perennials don’t need much water. With enough mulch, you may not even need to think about watering them during the growing season. However, especially dry climates may leave the soil more arid than you’d like. In that case, be sure to water the soil with a soaker hose to ensure optimal moisture levels.
While perennials require decidedly less maintenance than annuals, they certainly benefit from a little attention. The average perennial is a little more flexible in its lighting needs and may thrive in both sunny and shaded spots. If your conditions tend to favor the low-light end of the spectrum, you might be out of luck where most annuals are concerned. In those cases, planting perennials is almost always a safe bet.
The key to protecting the lifespan of your perennials is to divide them every couple of years. That will prevent them from overcrowding and ensure that your flower beds look their best. It’s best to do this during winter or even early in the spring, but the soil must be malleable enough for you to shift the plants. Doing this after it rains can simplify the process.
Both annuals and perennials add beauty to your landscape in their own ways. Perennials produce the ever trusty blossoms that bring your garden beds to life without fail. Annuals are ideal for adding pops of fresh color and personality to your outdoor space and changing things up every year. With the right care and maintenance, both can elevate your curb appeal considerably.