Do You Know Your Annuals From Your Perennials?

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 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, in pots, or in gaps in our borders to provide an instant pop of summer colour, 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.

Lobelia is a staple of the summer hanging basket
Cosmos is a tall annual which will add height and colour

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, lupins, 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, many can be lifted and divided to make more plants for free.

Lupins come in a wide range of beautiful colours and will die right back in winter
Hardy geraniums will reliably come back year after year

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.

Foxgloves are a biennial which self seed freely

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 in the second year or throw away a perennial as it is dying back for the winter by 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!


  1. I love my sunny bright happy annuals <3 But I think the perennials for their sheer staying and bloom power are my favourite!

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