Answer: Annuals are plants whose life cycle (vegetative growth, bloom, seed set) is completed in a single growing season. The plant dies at the end of the cycle and a new generation begins seed germination. Annuals typically bloom for a longer period than perennials, especially if you "deadhead" or clip off the spent, dead blossoms so the plant won't start producing seed as quickly. Many annuals can self-sow, meaning they will drop seed that will germinate again next year when conditions are right. However, you must let the flowers die back, turn brown and go to seed. Some people find this unattractive.
Perennials live for several years or more. Some won't bloom the first year, but develop root systems and vegetative growth and will bloom the second year. They are often divided after 3 years or more to create new plants and to invigorate the existing plant. Perennials typically bloom for a shorter period, such as three weeks, so they many different species are planted in a bed to have a continuous cycle of color.
Saving seeds is quite easy and it's fun to exchange with other gardeners. However, don?t save seed from hybrid plants, because when planted it will not mature identical to the parent plant. (A hybrid plant is produced by cross pollinating two different parent plants.) Hybrid plants are labeled as such on seed packets and in catalog descriptions.
Let some flowers dry and ?go to seed.? As seeds begin to turn brown and fall off, hold a paper bag or container underneath and tap dry seeds into it. Or, tie paper bags over the flowerheads to catch falling seeds. Punch a few holes in the bag to provide circulation. Another way is to wait until about 10 percent of the seeds are brown and falling off. Then cut the entire flowerhead and stem, place it upside down in a paper bag, hang it in a cool, dry location and let the seeds separate on their own.
Collect seeds on dry, sunny days to avoid any excess moisture. If needed, dry seeds completely on sheets of newspaper for a week or so. Dispose of stems and leaves. A screen or colander works well to remove chaff. Store seeds in an airtight container in a cool, dry place or in the refrigerator.
"Annuals for Dummies" and "Perennials for Dummies" would be good resources for you as you start out. Good luck!
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