Perennials and Annuals: The Benefits

In most gardens, trees, shrubs and turf form the backdrop or foundation of the landscape. Ideally, these elements work together with herbaceous perennials and annuals to form a complete, dynamic appearance. More typically, though, perennials and annuals do the decorator’s work, adding interest and sprucing up an otherwise monochromatic landscape. Their diversity and versatility allow them to do their job well in this respect – both perennials and annuals offer a wide range of colors, sizes and bloom periods.

What is an annual?

An annual is any plant that lives and dies in one growing season. Because they are so short-lived, annuals use their brief lives to reproduce prolifically! In other words, they produce lots of seeds and, necessarily, lots of blooms. Cutting the flowers to bring inside or removing spent blooms just encourages them to bloom more. Rather than leaving the blooms to fade on their own, “deadhead” your annuals – you will find that the look of the plant is improved dramatically and you will get a longer-lasting show in your garden.

Perennials and annuals typically do the decorator’s work, sprucing up an otherwise monochromatic landscape.

Why grow annuals?

Some of the other reasons that a gardener might use annuals, aside from the fact that they provide constant interest all season long, also have to do with the very nature of the annual life cycle. Annuals, by nature, are temporary. This attribute makes them perfectly suited for those gardeners who enjoy change from season to season, who need filler for an immature planting, or whose garden itself is temporary (i.e. rental properties, etc.). And, because annuals are so quick to bloom, they are the perfect solution for those of us who crave instant gratification!

As with anything, there are negatives. “Temporary” also means seasonal removal and replanting. This attribute makes an annual garden both more expensive in the long run and higher maintenance than its perennial counterpart. (Fortunately, annuals have very shallow root systems, so planting and removing is usually quite easy.) To keep your annuals blooming happily from spring to frost, you must remove the spent flowers and fertilize. In addition, a seasonal color bed full of annuals will generally require regular irrigation.

What is a perennial?

A perennial is any plant that lives year after year, storing up energy in its roots during its dormant period, typically winter, and then renewing itself in the spring using that stored energy. Trees and shrubs have such life cycles, but the distinction “perennial” generally refers to herbaceous perennials (flowers and grasses). Most perennials die back to the ground during their dormancy, but there are some that will remain evergreen and provide some winter interest.

Why grow perennials?

A carefully planned perennial border provides the gardener with a sense of anticipation like no other landscape planting. Because there is a perennial that blooms for every season, you can easily plan for a constant, ever-changing flower show in your landscape. Varying foliage textures and hues create a lush, inviting atmosphere even absent of blooms. Staggered heights allow the gardener to create a garden showcase, every spot pleasing to the eye.

Perennials typically will bloom only for a short period of time when compared to annuals. And, while they do not require yearly replacement, as do annuals, you still must “deadhead” (remove spent blooms to promote flower production) and fertilize at key points during the growing season. It is also a good idea to rid the garden of debris by cutting back the tops of your perennials when they die down to the ground in the winter. This small amount of clean up can make a big impact on the prevention of disease in your garden. Otherwise, perennials are very easy to grow and will return year after year to grace your landscape with abundant, unique blooms and remarkable foliage.