What’s the Difference Between
Annual and Perennial Plants?
When you’re choosing which types of plants you want in your yard,
the very first decision you have to make is whether you want annuals,
perennials or a combination of the two. What’s the difference
you ask? Annuals have to be planted every year, or
annually. Perennials come up year after year after year, or
Examples of annuals include petunias, pansies and impatiens. At garden
stores, you can buy large trays of annuals, which are called flats. Flats
contain 48 young blossoming plants, and they typically cost about
$15. Garden stores usually place these toward the front of
their displays in spring because they’re bursting with color. They’re
also irresistible to avid gardeners who can’t wait to get their
hands in the dirt. They’re usually fairly inexpensive--but
they must be purchased and planted every single spring.
Perennials are a great choice for people who don’t have a burning desire
to dig in the dirt. You plant them once, and you’re done. Unless,
of course, they die, in which case you have to replace them. Examples
of perennials include daisies, butterfly bushes and hostas. Perennials
are more expensive than annuals. They are sold individually,
and cost anywhere from $6 to $30 depending on whether it’s
a flower, bush or tree.
Certain types of perennials are only available as bulbs. They must
be planted in the fall so that they will bloom in the spring. Examples
include tulips, hyacinths, crocuses, irises and daffodils.
You can also purchase annuals and perennials as seeds--but that’s
not really recommended if you’re not an avid gardener. It’s
much cheaper to purchase seed packets, which usually cost $2 or less
for about 50 seeds--but it involves much more effort to grow the
plants. That’s because you have to dig the soil to just
the right depth, space the plants appropriately, provide consistent
and ample watering until the plants are established, and possibly
thin them once they’re established. You also have to
beware of squirrels and chipmunks digging up the seeds and ruining
all your effort. Seeds are best left to very hardy plants such
as sunflowers, which also provide a fun and easy gardening project
for children. It’s much, much easier to buy plants that
are already well-established.
If you want a low-maintenance but attractive yard, perennials are definitely
the way to go. Here are some perennials that are easy to grow,
hardy and proliferate easily:
Day lilies: Day lilies are tall, and they come in orange
or yellow. It’s near impossible to kill these things,
and they proliferate quite readily.
Daisies: Daisies are medium height, with white petals and
a yellow center. You may not realize this, but daisies do
not have a particularly pleasing fragrance despite their cute,
Coneflowers: Coneflowers look like big, tall daisies with
raised, conelike centers. They typically come in purple or
Black-eyed Susans: These look like yellow daisies
with dark brown centers.
Coreopsis: Coreopsis is yellow, and it comes
primarily in two varieties: tall or short. The tall varieties look
similar to very tall yellow daisies. The short type is called moonbeam
coreopsis. It is very compact and low to the ground, and sports
small bright yellow flowers.
Phlox: Phlox proliferates very readily as sort of a low-lying
groundcover. You often see it draping over short stone fences
and covering entire sloped areas. It blooms in early spring,
and comes in pastel colors such as lavender, pink and white.
You will want to avoid high-maintenance perennials that require a lot
of pruning, fertilizing and thinning. Such high maintenance varieties
- Roses: They exude intoxicating fragrance, but they’re
one of the most high-maintenance plants out there. Besides that,
they’re thorny! They have to be regularly pruned just so,
which involves counting the hips, or joints, of the stalks. They
also require very regular and very precise types of fertilizing. Roses
can be daunting to even the most fervent of gardeners.
- Irises: Irises proliferate quite easily, and they must be thinned
out every year by digging up some of the bulbs. And if you throw
the bulbs into the compost heap, they start growing!
- Clematis: Clematis climbs beautifully on mailboxes, arbors
and trellises. It’s not necessarily a high-maintenance
plant, but it has exacting needs for sun and shade: its
roots must stay cool in the shade, and its vines and flowers prefer
- Lavender: Lavender is a fragrant herb that requires well-drained
soils. If you have average soil or clay-like soil, lavender will
not thrive unless it’s elevated on a small mound to facilitate
proper drainage. But if you have really sandy soil, lavender
What many people do is fill their landscape primarily with perennials, then
add splashes of color here and there with annuals. Annuals can
also be purchased in hanging planters or be planted in pots to perk up
a porch or deck.