What's the Difference Between Annuals and Perennials?

It's all about timing.

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Ever wondered why some of your plants die after one season, while others come back year after year? If you've pondered that, you've likely noticed the difference between two categories of plants: annuals and perennials.

What Are Annual Flowers?

Annuals live for only one season. For example: You plant them, they bloom in spring, summer, fall, or winter, and then they die. At that point, they must be removed and replaced. Annuals require replanting season after season, year after year, though their blooming season tends to be longer than that of perennials. Annuals, or plants treated as annuals, include marigolds, zinnias, impatiens, begonias, coleus, and pentas.

What Are Perennial Flowers?

Unlike the one-and-done annuals, perennials come back year after year. They bloom one or more times a year and then go dormant until their blooming season arrives again. Popular perennials include peonies, asters, roses, mums, coneflowers, hostas, and daylilies.

What Are Biennial Flowers?

Once you've learned all about annuals and perennials, turn your eye to a third category of plants: biennials. These are plants that require two years of care to establish themselves before blooming. At two years, their lifecycle is twice as long as that of other plants, but with correct care, they'll soon burst into bloom. Popular biennials include foxglove and sweet William.

Can Annuals Last Longer Than One Season?

It is possible to make your annual flowers perennials—in a way—with reseeding annuals. "After they finish flowering, their seeds drop to the ground, and then new plants magically appear the following year," the Grumpy Gardener says in this self-seeding planting guide. Some annuals can also be overwintered. The Grumpy Gardener explains, "There are two kinds of 'annuals.' The first are true annuals, like cosmos, larkspur, bachelor's-button, celosia, and common sunflower. After they flower, they set seed and die. […] The second are tender perennials we treat like annuals because of our cold winters. Remove the cold, give them winter sun, and they become perennials that you can enjoy for years."

How to Choose Between Annuals and Perennials

Undecided as to what to plant in your yard? Let us help you choose between annuals and perennials, or pair them to ensure there's always something green and blooming in your garden. "You don't need to plant a lot of flowers to make a big impression. Sometimes it takes several seasons to figure out what works in your garden. This is why annuals can be a good choice," says Rebecca Reed, former associate garden editor at Southern Living. Annuals give us the flexibility to play with colors and shapes with a season of commitment, while perennials are a solid base we can rely on each year. "If you don't like the look, you can try something different next year. When you find a combo you do like, stick with it or plant perennials that will come back year after year," Reed says.

Planting Annuals and Perennials By Season

When planting annuals and perennials, consider which season the flowers will bloom when adding them to your Southern garden. Browse some of our favorite early-blooming perennials and annuals to start planning for spring. For sweltering-Southern summers, choose heat- and drought-tolerant flowers. In fall, introduce seasonal color with annuals like violas and celosia and perennials like dahlias and dianthus while following this fall-planting guide. Winter is yet another opportunity for Southern gardens—either enjoy some color during the chill or plant seeds and bulbs for upcoming seasons.

What are your most-asked garden questions? Let us know what other plant- and garden-related queries you'd like answered.

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