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Posted by on May 16, 2017 in Tell Me Why |

How Can You Remember the Difference Between Annuals and Perennials?

How Can You Remember the Difference Between Annuals and Perennials?

Annuals – Plants that perform their entire life cycle from seed to flower to seed within a single growing season. All roots, stems and leaves of the plant die annually. Only the dormant seed bridges the gap between one generation and the next. They then need to be replanted each spring. Most annuals bloom for a long time. They provide beautiful colors from spring through fall and are popular with flower gardeners. Some favorite annuals are petunias, marigolds, and zinnias.


Perennials – Plants that persist for many growing seasons. Generally the top portion of the plant dies back each winter and re-grows the following spring from the same root system (e.g. Purple Coneflower). Many perennial plants do keep their leaves year round and offer attractive borders and groundcover (e.g. Tickseed, Shasta and Ox-Eyed Daisy). Perennial plants live for more than two years. They return year after year and continue growing until they reach maturity, which varies by plant but averages three to five years.

black-eyed susans

The term “perennial” refers to herbaceous (“green”) plants since woody plants, such as trees, are perennial by definition. Unlike annuals, perennials tend to bloom for just a short time — one to three weeks — each year. Examples of popular perennial flowers include tulips, asters, black-eyed susans, and lilies.

Perennials generally do not have to be replanted each year. However, some gardeners choose to replace certain perennials, such as the perennial flowers mentioned above, every three to five years if they start to decline. Hardier perennials might return year after year for 20 years or more. Perennials have structures, such as bulbs and rhizomes that allow them to survive for many years.

Perennials can be divided into two categories. Deciduous perennials, such as the perennial flowers mentioned above, grow part of the year and fall dormant the rest of the year. Evergreen perennials, such as pine trees, grow year round.

Some people have a hard time remembering the proper term for each type of plant. Because annual means “yearly,” some people think annual plants keep coming back each year on their own. Annual plants actually get their name because they only have a one-year life span.

Annual/Perennial – A plant can behave as an annual or a perennial depending on local climatic and geographic growing conditions. In the southern portion of the United States, these plants tend to grow much quicker than in the north due to the warmer weather and extended growing season. For example: a Black-Eyed Susan would behave as an annual if grown in Louisiana; whereas, if grown in Ohio, a Black-Eyed Susan would behave as a perennial.

Some plants that are perennials in their native region may be considered annuals in other regions. For example, snapdragon is a plant that may be a perennial in a warm climate where it can survive the winter but may be an annual in colder climates where it dies in the winter. These types of plants are sometimes called “half-hardy annuals” or “frost-tender perennials.”

Just when you think you understand the difference between annuals and perennials, though, you should know that there’s yet another classification! Biennials – Plants which require two years to complete their life cycle.

First season growth results in a small rosette of leaves near the soil surface. During the second season’s growth stem elongation, flowering and seed formation occur followed by the entire plant’s death.


Biennial grow as green plants their first year, survive the winter, and then bloom the following year. After they bloom and produce seeds, biennial plants then die. Examples of biennial plants include foxgloves and hollyhocks.

Content for this question contributed by Jill Mason, resident of Martinez, Contra Costa County, California, USA