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Annual, Biennial and Perennial – What Do They Mean?

It’s a good question, especially if you are new to gardening and trying to get your head around all the terminology and plant names, never mind the ‘ennials! So we thought we’d help with what we hope will be a useful blog on Annuals, Biennials, and Perennials.

We’ve put them in order of lifecycle so they are easier to remember or pick a Mnemonic (rhyme) to help you out “Amazing Blooms Please”

So here we go, Annual, Biennial and Perennial – What Do They Mean?

Annual

These are pretty straightforward and we guess a little obvious – they last a year! Completing their lifecycle from seed to bloom in just one growing season. They leave behind only a dormant seed and are fast movers so you get instant gratification. All the plants’ energy goes into producing flowers so if you are looking for masses of flowers, very quickly they are a great solution. 

They offer a great way to experiment with colour in your garden, as you can change them year after year. They also sit nicely alongside perennials filling in gaps and providing additional colour.

The sunflower is a great example of an annual plant but did you know that there are also perennial varieties available? These are a great addition to any garden as they attract pollinators and birds, they can also grow as high as 10 feet!

Biennial

These plants have a two-year biological cycle, they take things a little slower. Their first growing season starts with a seed that produces a root structure which creates a stem and leaves. It’s then time for a break before their second growing season when they complete their growth with the formation of flowers or fruit and seeds. 

A biennial plant will usually finish by elongating and bolting, as it switches all its energy from growing to reproducing – you may say it’s a final swan song

In some regions of the world, a biennial can take on the behaviour of an annual due to a process called vernalization. This is when the plant is exposed to the cold and this prompts it to complete the process of germination to seed production in one growing season. 

You’ll find far fewer biennial plants, annuals and perennials are usually more popular and many biennials have been cultivated or bred to be annual or short-lived perennials. You will find vegetables that are biennial though including carrots, sprouts, swiss chard and lettuce.

Perennial 

In our opinion, we’ve saved the best to last but if you know Golden Valley Plants, then you’ll know we are expert perennial growers so we would say that! If you’ve not met us before then this is a big hello to you, please take a look at what we offer and if you have any questions we are always happy to help. 

Back to perennials, they will provide you with flowers for around three years, maybe longer and most are easy to grow and low maintenance which is great news if you are new to gardening. There’s also a vast variety and every colour you can imagine to choose from, they are popular, diverse and versatile, and you can find one for pretty much any growing condition. 

Hardy perennials are best planted outside in spring or autumn when the soil is warmer and they can establish themselves well. There’s a perennial to suit all growing conditions but make sure you check when you are buying, there should be information readily available on how to care for your plant as they can be a little fussy, some like sun, others shade. It’s important to put the right perennial in the right place for the best results. If you buy a bare root, plug or young plant they will need to be nurtured a little more so they are usually only available in spring.

Perennials usually let their top foliage die back in the winter to allow regrowth from the existing root system the following year but some do leave their foliage and it can change through the seasons, Heuchera springs to mind. As well as lasting for years you can divide perennials too which makes them great value and gives you the bonus of free plants!

We mentioned they were versatile, you can use them in hanging baskets, pots, window boxes, beds and borders making them great for all types of gardens including balconies and patio gardens. Popular as we write are Primulas (Primroses), these hardy perennials come in different colours and varieties and are so welcome in gardens after what always seems to gardeners, a long winter!

A little note from us: we have recently launched some new collections to help take the stress out of what’s best to buy. There are quite a few collections to choose from including the Perennial Plants for Shade Collection, Perennial Hot Shades Collection and Chelsea Perennial Collection we will stop there as there’s a whole blog on them coming soon!

We hope you’ve found this whistle-stop Annual, Biennial and Perennial – What Do They Mean? blog of some use in understanding what these types of plants are but it’s important to note that there are exceptions to the rules and rule breakers so it’s worth reading up a bit, useful websites include the RHS and Gardeners World 

Further Reading – our blogs:

Winter Garden Jobs, Look Out For The Birds This Winter, Planting Perennials Gardening Books To Cosy Up With This Winter Browse our Blogs