Annual vs Perennial Plants – What’s the difference?

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Come springtime, you may be itching to get new plants into your garden. However, like most things, gardening requires some planning. Before you buy anything, be sure you know what the difference is between an annual and a perennial plant as this will help you decide how to create your garden.

Annual vs perennial plants: The main difference is that annual plants only grow in your garden for one season while perennial plants will grow for many years. Annuals typically have more colorful blooms that last longer. Perennials can withstand different levels of cold, so check each plant’s ideal growing conditions.

What are annual plants?

In your garden, you can expect annual plants to only grow for one season. This is usually from spring to fall as they won’t survive cold winters.

While there are many annual plants that live for years in the wild, their natural habitats may be tropical areas that don’t have cold winters. As a result, if you try to grow them in most parts of the United States and Canada, they won’t survive once the ground freezes.

What are perennial plants?

Perennial plants will live for years at a time, even through cold winters. You can plant them in the spring or fall and they will continue to grow each year.

Most perennial plants can live for at least five years although you may want to remove them or divide them if they become too large. Furthermore, while perennials can survive outside in the winter, some require warmer climates so you will need to pay attention to the gardening zones they are rated to.

What are biennial plants?

A unique category, biennial plants may confuse you, especially if you plant them without knowing what they are. As a result, you may be dismayed that you don’t get any blooms one year, even though the previous year was awash with them.

As you can assume from their name, biennial plants only bloom every second year. They are still alive the whole time, however, so you still get the benefits of seeing their foliage.

To make the most out of biennials, you can stagger their planting by planting new plants the next year. This way, half your plants will bloom one year and half the plants will bloom next year.

What is the difference between annual and perennial?

Bloom time

One major benefit of annuals is that they have larger, brighter blooms that last for longer. These are showstopper plants that add an immediate burst of color to your garden.

Perennials will bloom but the period they have flowers will be much shorter. This can be annoying if you happen to go away on vacation right when your flowers open up.

Another aspect to be aware of is that some perennials won’t bloom in the first year of planting. Not only can it take a year or two for the flowers to come out but it won’t be until the plant is more mature that it will produce more blooms.

Cold hardiness

Yes, there are some annuals that can survive winter conditions but for the most part, annuals will die naturally once a frost hits in the fall or winter. These plants will not come back and need to be removed from your garden unless you want to allow them to decompose naturally.

Perennials are much more cold hardy. However, this varies greatly by variety so you always want to check what their hardiness is.

With perennials, their foliage will die off for the winter but their root system will merely go dormant. Once spring comes along with warmer temperatures, the plant will naturally start to grow again.


Because annuals die off each year, there’s no need for maintenance. Simply plant your annuals, relish in their glory, and dig up the dead foliage in the fall or spring.

Perennials, on the other hand, require a lot more maintenance. Almost every year you will need to prune your perennial plants to maintain their shape and encourage new growth.

Once perennials become established, you may need to divide your plants so they don’t take over part of your garden. While this allows you to have more plants for free, it does require more work.

Tips for Planting Annual and Perennial Plants


Most annuals do best when planted in the spring as this will allow them to bloom during late spring and early fall. However, there are some annuals, such as chrysanthemums, that bloom in the fall, so should be planted in early fall.

As for perennials, early fall is one of the better times for planting. This way, there is enough time for the plants to establish themselves before they become dormant in the winter and then, in the spring, they will have larger blooms.


Annuals don’t grow very large in one season so you can plant them a lot closer together. While some annuals may double in size, because they only last one season, you don’t have to worry about them taking over your garden.

With perennials, a lot more planning is needed. There are many types of perennials that will continue to grow each year which can lead to overcrowding.

Other types of perennials have extensive root systems so you may want to place them in sectioned-off areas of your garden so as to not run the risk of one plant taking over the whole area.

Create a mix

Ideally, your garden will have a mixture of annual and perennial plants. This creates a diverse environment and staggers the bloom time of your plants.

Many gardeners will plant perennials in harder-to-reach areas or where you want more depth from your plants. Then, they will have containers or focal points where they can swap out annuals as they want.


When planning your garden, be sure to have a mix of annual plants that bloom for only one season and perennials that will grow in your garden for years to come. This way you can have foliage and a variety of intricate blooms.

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