annual vs perennial

Perennial vs Annual: What Are The Differences Between These Flowering Plants?

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If you’re starting your first ever flower garden this year, you might be wondering, “what is the difference between annuals and perennials?” The two share many similarities, but there is one vital difference you need to know about—how often they live for. 

Perennials come back year after year, while annuals only survive for one growing season. The difference between the two is purely genetic, so, unfortunately, if a plant is meant to be an annual, there is nothing you can do to change it. 

Here are some tips on telling the difference between the two types of plants—as well as how you can extend your growing season no matter what kind of plants you might be growing. 

perennial vs annual

Annuals vs. Perennials: What is the Difference?

At the most basic level, perennial plants are those that regrow each and every year, usually coming back in the spring. Most perennial plants can live for three or more growing seasons, although this can vary depending on what, exactly, you are growing. 

Perennial plants are often better suited to your native climate and can, therefore, benefit pollinators and other wildlife.

Annual plants, on the other hand, tend to have a long bloom season but will only last for one year. They tend to be brighter and showier, adding a burst of color—but they will die once the weather shifts. 


A third option – albeit one that is discussed less frequently – is a biennial. Biennials are plants that grow for two seasons but don’t bloom until the second year.

After the second season, these plants drop seeds. Your garden will be able to rebloom from a new generation—you just have to know how to stagger these seeds properly. 

Although annuals can be planted at any time throughout the growing season, even during the middle of summer, perennials are best planted in the spring or fall, ideally no later than six weeks before the ground freezes.

Something else that is important to note is that some annuals are actually perennials, too—but only in warmer climates. 

difference between annual and perennial

Examples of Annual Flowers vs. Perennial Flowers

Not sure where to start? Here’s a quick list of some of the most common annuals and perennials:

Annual plantsPerennial plants
Sweet alyssum 
Wax begonias
Black-eyed Susan
Russian sage
Bee balm

Should I Grow Annuals or Perennials?

Annuals are great options when you want to take gardening one year at a time—if you aren’t sure how you want to fill your garden, growing annuals is a great way to get your feet wet.

They can also temporarily fill in bare spots or containers, helping to add a splash of color when necessary. They tend to offer more blooms than perennials, too. 

Perennials, on the other hand, are good long term investments. If you know exactly how you want your garden to look ten years from now, perennials are smart. Although they cost more initially, they will come back every year.

Perennials often require less water and care once they are stained making them a good choice for drought-prone areas.

Finally, growing perennials that are native to your region is smart, since they’ll welcome local wildlife and pollinators

colorful tulips

Tips for Planting Annuals vs. Perennials

There are several ways you can maximize your garden plantings regardless of the types of flowering plants you choose to grow.

For starters, don’t be afraid to mix it up. You don’t have to dedicate yourself solely to just annuals or just perennials. Instead, consider growing a variety of plants so you will have long-lasting beauty and blooms as well as habitat for essential pollinators.

You may need to give your plants some help when they’re first getting established, too. Consider watering deeply after you plant, particularly during dry spells. Mulching to preserve moisture and repel weeds can help, too. 

tulip fields

How to Help Your Flowers Last Longer

Unfortunately, if you’re growing annual flowers, there isn’t much you can do to help them live forever. They will die back eventually when the season comes to a close. That said, there are a few tips you can follow to help your flowers last longer.

In addition to following proper watering and mulching tips, as mentioned above, it’s imperative that you pick the right spot for your blooms. Be sure to read the label on your plants before you put them in the ground (or in containers).

In most cases, your plants will need full sun (at least six to eight hours of sunlight each day) in order to thrive—but there are some plants that thrive in partial shade or full shade, too.

Be patient. Some perennials will be beautiful during the first season, but, for the most part, it’s going to take more time for your perennials to really kick off—often, up to three growing seasons.

And finally, after each growing season, take the time to give your garden the TLC it deserves. You may need to divide your perennials to encourage them to grow elsewhere and you might have to report annuals growing in containers to extend their bloom time for the year. 

Whatever the case may be, understanding the difference between annuals and perennials is the best way to enhance the beauty of your garden—and to make it last a lifetime, too.

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