Annual Vs. Perennial Vs. Biennial: 3 Plant Types You Should Know - Homesteading Alliance
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Annual vs. Perennial vs. Biennial: 3 Plant Types You Should Know

Do you ever find yourself browsing at the nursery only to read labels and not understand what they mean?

One of the most challenging items to distinguish is whether a plant is an annual, biennial, or perennial. It’s important to understand the difference between each type of plants.

It could be the difference between having lush landscaping for one year or years to come. I’ll be explaining the difference between each type of plant and giving you an example of each type as well.

Hopefully, this will make your next nursery trip easier. You will find the plants to suit your needs better. Here’s what you need to know:

Annual Plants

Annuals are plants which only produce for one year. If you plant an annual in your garden, and you wish to have the same plant the following year, you’ll have to replant it. They don’t overwinter.

In short, an annual plant fulfills its whole process from germination to production in one growing season. This growing season is typically from spring through the fall.

The Lifecycle of an Annual

The lifecycle of an annual begins with germination. The seeds will sprout and produce flowers. When the flowers finish producing, they’ll die off.

However, in their end-of-life process, the plants will produce seed for future generations. If you leave the seeds alone, in some cases, they’ll voluntarily come back on their own the following year.

In my experience, if I plant annuals in my window boxes and take my window boxes down for the year and store them in my garage, I’ll sometimes get volunteers to pop up in my window boxes the following year because the seeds were protected during the winter.

I’ll still add more annuals to get the look I desire, but I’ll have a few who return on their own in these instances.

If you plant annuals in an in-ground garden bed, most of the seeds won’t return on their own because they have a difficult time overwintering.

You can save the seeds when you begin to see the annual plant die. They have a seed sack inside the plant or flower, which you’ll see when the leaves start to wilt. Wait until the last petals fall from the plant on their own and remove the sack.

You can take the sack indoors to finish drying, crack it open, remove the seeds, and dry them the rest of the way.

This will give you free seeds to start your annuals for the next year.

What They’re Ideal For

Are you looking for a way to add instant curb appeal to your home or business? If your answer is yes, you’ll be glad to know annuals are a great way to accomplish this.

When you are fixing your landscaping, annuals are a good choice because they make instantly beautiful garden beds. You don’t have to wait for years for their flowers to produce.

Instead, you put them in the ground, and they blossom the same year.

Also, if you have a spot in your landscaping which looks bare, don’t assume it has to stay this way. Instead, plant an annual in the empty spot.

From there, the flowers will bloom, and it will liven the bare spot right up. I like to use annuals in my window boxes, as I mentioned earlier. They are a great way to add lots of beautiful color to my front and back porches for little money.

You can purchase or make your window boxes and plant them full of different varieties of annual flowers. They’re simple to care for and draw the eye to our home.

If you tend to stay away from annuals because they only last for one growing season, I encourage you to consider deadheading annual plants. When you follow this process, it prolongs the life of many annuals drastically.

Instead of growing them from spring to the beginning of fall, you could get them to live through the fall in many cases. It makes them an excellent choice for many gardeners as you not only get instant flowering, but you get the longevity of the plant too.

Types of Annuals

If you’re interested in planting annuals, here are a few you might want to try out:

  • Marigolds
  • Petunias
  • Zinnias
  • Cosmo
  • Geraniums
  • Snap Dragons

Biennial Plants

Biennial flowers isn’t a term you hear on a regular basis. The reason being is botanist has a difficult time distinguishing if plants are short-lived perennials or biennials in some cases.

For this reason, many plants automatically get labeled a short-lived perennial for simplicity’s sake.

In reality, a biennial is in between an annual and a perennial because biennials will exist for two years and die. Here is what you need to know about biennials:

The Lifecycle of a Biennial

Many people invest in biennials and don’t know what they’re getting. They plant it, expect it to bloom and become frustrated when it does nothing.

They’ll fertilize it, talk to it, and try every trick in the book with no success. The following year, the same plant will return and burst with blossoms.

Right as the gardener becomes excited for the next year, the plant dies. It leaves no forwarding address, and no amount of fertilizing and care will bring it back.

Many gardeners will buy another plant of the same variety and assume they did something to kill it or believe they purchased a ‘dud.’

But what happened? The answer is simple: The plant did what it was supposed to do.

Biennial plants will produce nothing but foliage in the first year. It will look like a bunch of leaves.

The next year, the plant will produce flowers and look gorgeous, in most cases. This is the final year of the plant’s life, however, it will provide seeds you can save and start your biennials for future use.

But as for the original plant, it’s done. It’s important to recognize when you have a biennial because if you don’t, you’ll become frustrated feeling you’ve done something wrong when you haven’t and will be left wondering what in the world has happened to your plant.

Does this sound like a great deal of work for one plant? Maybe it is, but if you enjoy a particular variety of plant, it may be worth every bit of waiting done.

Keep in mind; you could also succession plant biennials to make sure you keep your favorite flower varieties in bloom.

Biennial vs. Biannual

Another bit of confusion biennials bring to the table is many people hear the term and automatically think they hear biannual.

Let’s clarify: biannual means the plant will produce every two years. It won’t die off at the end of the first growing season. It lies dormant for a year and produces flowers the next. This pattern would continue if the plant were biannual.

However, a biennial isn’t this way. It produces at the end of year two, and this ends its life cycle.

Types of Biennials

If you’re interested in planting biennials this year, here are a few varieties you might want to try:

  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Foxglove (You may find labeled as short-lived perennial or a biennial.)
  • Queen Anne’s Lace
  • Pansies
  • Forget-Me-Nots

Perennial Plants

Perennials are what some gardeners prefer because though they take longer to get started, many feel they get more bang for their buck.

A perennial is a plant you can plant one year, and it will return for three or more years. Keep in mind; some plants can be both a perennial or an annual depending upon what areas you’re growing them in.

For instance, tropical plants are usually perennials when grown in their native climate. When you bring them to an area which has a colder climate for part of the year, they become annuals.

You’ll need to check your planting zone to find if plants labeled as perennials will remain true perennials when planted in your grow area.

The Lifecycle of a Perennial

It’s important to understand the life cycle of a perennial to keep from being discouraged during year one. The first year you plant a perennial, don’t expect the plant to produce flowers.

In most cases, it’s recommended to deadhead the plant if you do see flowering. It’s to encourage stronger roots to develop which will make for a healthier plant in years to come.

For the next three or more years, the plant will return without needing to be sown again. The plant should grow more abundant and more beautiful with time.

Keep in mind; perennials don’t last forever. The plant sows fresh seeds each year when it begins to enter dormancy. This allows offspring to flourish each year.

What does all of this mean for you? When the parent plant dies, you most likely won’t even notice because the plant’s offspring will be vibrant by this point. This cycle will continue unless something catastrophic happens to upset the cycle of the plants.

Type of Perennials

Perennials can be more expensive when purchasing because it takes nurseries longer to raise them. Obviously, they want to be compensated for their investment of time. You could start your own perennials to save money or pay the extra money when purchasing them and realize you’ll have them for years to come.

If perennials interest you, here are a few favorite varieties you’ll love:

  • Mums
  • Hostas
  • Lavender
  • Hydrangea
  • Butterfly Bush

You now know the difference between an annual, biennial, and perennial. As well as what some of the popular varieties are for each type.

But I’d love to hear from you. What’s your favorite type of plant? What’s your favorite variety of the particular plant type?

We love to hear from you. Leave us your thoughts in the space provided below.

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