In gardening, you often hear terms thrown around like perennial, annual, biennial, hardy annual and tender perennial. Most seasoned gardeners have a pretty good understanding of all of the differences, but it might be fun to review and give new gardeners some helpful info at the same time.
Perennials are plants that live through the winter and come back for at least two years of growth. Many perennials give you years and years of encore presentations. As long as conditions for their blooming remain in place, your perennials will work for you. Some perennials take more than a year to mature and be zesty. Gardeners love perennials because you might not get a super show of flowers, but like the tortoise racing the hare, they will be steady performersSo why plant annuals? Let’s say you plant petunias in your yard like one of our precious readers did. The petunias were “showstoppers.” Neighbors and people passing by would comment on the fabulous show from these petunias. For several months they gave it their all. Beautiful as they were, if you want them there again next year, you will have to buy more and plant again. Annuals do their job in one growing season, start from seed, and quickly grow to maturity, bloom continuously and then die. But boy do they put on a show for a while!
There is also a category of plants called biennials. These live for two growing season and then die. Usually biennials grow foliage only the first year and flower during the second season. Before they die, they often set seeds so they can re-seed themselves and grow new plants the following year. They appear to be perennial because of this re-seeding, but each plant actually lives only two years. Nurseries often mistakenly place biennials in their perennials section, just to confuse us further.
“Hardy annuals” are annuals that live longer than most. If we have a mild winter, they will continue to grow and set seed. But they are true annuals and will die sooner than later. A “tender perennial” is another interesting plant category. They are perennials that only live year after year if grown in the correct climate for their best health and happiness. Lots of tropicals are tender perennials in much of the U.S. but they are perennial in southern Florida or Central America. Oh yes, one more is the tag designation HHA. What in the world? This is the half-hardy annual. If you see this label at a nursery or in a seed catalog, it is an annual that, given the right conditions, comes up a second time or more.
Popular annuals include petunias, marigolds, zinnias and impatiens. More annual options are gazania, vinca and lisiathus. Some annuals are grown for their foliage including coleus or Joseph’s coat. You can consider the edibles like ornamental peppers, flowering cabbage and okra in the annual category, too. Popular perennials include daylilies, hosta, peonies and garden mums. Gardeners also love perennial coreopsis, black-eyed Susan (rudbeckia) and purple coneflower (Echinacea). The good news is that you don’t have to decide; plant from all categories just because you can.
Joette can be reached at (409) 832-1400 or joreger [at] msn [dot] com.