If you look at plant labels or hear gardeners talk, you may be unsure of the difference between an annual plant and a perennial one? Knowing the difference can save you lots of time and money in the long run!
Put simply, an annual plant completes its whole life cycle in one year. It germinates, grows, flowers, sets seed and dies within one year. Many would refer to this type of plant as a bedding plant and we often use annuals in hanging baskets, pots or in gaps in our borders to provide a real pop of Summer colour in that year although annuals can be used for Spring or Winter displays too. Annuals are relatively cheap to buy and would include plants like petunia, lobelia, cosmos, marigold, antirrhinum, zinnia, begonia, sunflowers and some types of salvia.
A perennial plant is one which lives for more than two years but generally these are the plants which come back year after year in our gardens. They most usually die back in Winter and regrow the following Spring. Common garden perennials would be plants like hostas, lavender, hardy geraniums, lupin, alchemilla molis, astilbes, hydrangeas and some types of salvias. They cost more to buy than annuals but as they come back year after year, some people find that they are a better investment in the long run. You may not get prolific blooming of a perennial in the first year though as you would do with an annual, as it establishes its roots in the first year. An added benefit of many perennials is that once established for a few years in your garden, you can lift and divide them to make more plants.
There is a third classification of plant called a biennial of which foxgloves are the most commonly known. A biennial plant is one which lives for two years. It grows only leaves in the first year, and then flowers, sets seed and dies in the second year.
Knowing the type of plant you are buying will really help in the long run so that you neither face disappointment at an annual which does not come back the second year or throw away a perennial as it is dying back for the Winter assuming that it is completely dead. If in any doubt as to what a plant growing in your garden will do the next year, just leave it in situ and wait and see, Mother Nature often has a beautiful way of surprising us!