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Updated : 21/9/2014

Annual, Biennial, and Perennial Plants and Herbs

Annual and biennial plants

Black-eyed-Susan, a self-seeding biennial.
Black-eyed-Susan, a self-seeding biennial.

The main difference between annual and biennial plants is their life-cycle length. Annual plants gets sprout from seed, flower and die in one year period. Biennial plants develop leaves and sometimes flowers during the first year, go dormant in the fall and winter, and flower again the next year, before dying. Growers have developed several breeds that were considered biennials to become annuals.

Annuals are a quick and effective way to add colors in the garden, and they usually flower from spring to late summer. Some of the most common annual plants are: petunias, impatiens, coleus, begonias.

Biennials can sometimes being mistaken for perennials because they are self-seeders. Some of the most popular biennial flowers: foxglove, hollyhock, pansy, black-eyed susan, sweet William, Queen Anne’s lace, honesty, forget-me-not, Canterbury bells, and several varieties of evening primrose.

Perennials plants

Perennials come back year after year. Many times it takes few years for the plant to be established in a garden and bloom in full beauty.

They cost more than annuals, but definitely pay for themselves.

Perennials come in a wide range of types and sizes, and can range from fruit bearing trees to flowery plants. The common characteristic of all perennials is that they live more than two years and regrow each year.

Types of perennials include:

Evergreen perennials

Rhododendrons and azaleas are both perennials, but while azaleas are deciduous (pink flowers on right), rhododendrons have beautiful flowers in spring, and stay green all year long, providing great texture and color also in the coldest winter months.
Rhododendrons and azaleas are both perennials, but while azaleas are deciduous (pink flowers on right), rhododendrons have beautiful flowers in spring, and stay green all year long, providing great texture and color also in the coldest winter months.

Evergreen perennials appear to be dormant during the warm season, but come very handy adding texture and color to the winter garden. They tend to require very little maintenance. Some popular evergreen perennials include English lavender, Christmas fern, coral bells and blue oat grass.

 

Deciduous perennials

Deciduous perennials prefer a warmer and temperate climate, and tend to grow only during spring and summer. They are reliable and spectacular plants that can provide a delight of colors and texture to the garden year after year. Some examples of deciduous perennials: daisy, peony, poppy, ferns, iris, daylilies.

Monocarpic perennials

Monocarpic perennials have a very unique life cycle: they die after they flower the first time; however, a plant can live up to forty years before it flowers. One example of monocarpic perennials is agave plants.

Woody perennials

Woody perennials are what we consider trees. Woody perennials are pretty strong and require minimum care, but you have to plant them in the right climate zone and in the right soil. Examples of woody perennials are: maple, apple, banana, and pine trees.

Herbaceous perennials

Many types of geraniums are excellent perennial ground covers.
Many types of geraniums are excellent perennial ground covers.

Herbaceous perennials tend to go dormant during winter, like the deciduous perennials, and their roots continue to grow, shooting out new sprouts in spring. Popular herbaceous perennials include herbs such as chives and dill.

Herbs

There are herbs of all three categories: annual, biennial, and perennial. Some herbs are technically perennials but they are not winter hardy in cold climates, and they are therefore grown as annuals in most parts of the country. like: fennel, scented geraniums, lemon grass, marjoram, and rosemary.

Some biennial herbs are: Angelica, caraway, clary, watercress, and parsley.

Some perennial herbs are: thyme, oregano, mint, lavender, cardamom.

Winter hardiness of herbs

Type of hardiness Characteristics
Not winter hardy Will not tolerate frost.
Hardy annuals Annuals that can be planted outdoors in early spring or even in autumn and winter. Anise, dill, coriander, garlic, etc.
Tender annuals Annuals that are easily injured by frost and thus must be planted outdoor after the ground has warmed up and all danger of frost has passed. Eg: basil, cumin, saf-flower, sesame.
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