Plant Database forum: What does 'suitable as an annual' mean?

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Name: Deb
Pacific Northwest (Zone 8b)
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Bonehead
Sep 10, 2016 3:17 PM CST
I saw this when researching Melissa, hoping to find some clues on how folks winterize this plant (no luck), and noted this in the general description. Seems to me an herb/forb is an annual, biennial, or perennial. I suppose if a perennial is not hardy to your zone, you might plant it as an annual (I do that with lemon verbena) but it would still be categorized as a perennial (just not hardy to my zone) . On that basis, can a re-seeding annual be termed 'suitable as a perennial' (which is likewise incorrect)? In the interest of keeping our database as accurate as possible, this struck me as somewhat odd. But perhaps I am missing something?
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Name: Sue
Ontario, Canada (Zone 4a)
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sooby
Sep 10, 2016 4:00 PM CST
It's hardy to zone 4 or 5, so shouldn't need winterizing in a protective sense. The database categorizes it as a perennial. Then adds "suitable as an annual" which I would interpret in either of two ways, first that you might plant it as an annual if it's not hardy in your zone, as you mentioned, or alternatively that although it is a perennial it grows well enough in its first season from seed that it has some usefulness in its first year. I don't think one would ever consider a self-seeding annual a perennial unless it is perennial in a warmer climate.
Name: Zuzu
Northern California (Zone 9a)
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zuzu
Sep 10, 2016 4:23 PM CST

Plants Admin

Sue is right. The checkmark in that box means that a tender perennial will grow enough in the first year to bloom or display some other desirable attributes before succumbing to cold weather.
Name: Deb
Pacific Northwest (Zone 8b)
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Bonehead
Sep 10, 2016 5:40 PM CST
OK. I would never consider a perennial an annual (or a self-seeding annual a perennial), but can vaguely see the reasoning. Minor confusion that just caught my eye. It's of no moment.
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Name: Zuzu
Northern California (Zone 9a)
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zuzu
Sep 10, 2016 6:16 PM CST

Plants Admin

Petunias are a good example. They're perennials and they come back reliably in zone 9 and up, but people in the lower zones can and do grow them as annuals.
Name: Carol
Santa Ana,Ca. (Zone 10b)
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ctcarol
Sep 10, 2016 6:36 PM CST
It is confusing. Many perennials are considered annuals in the warmer zones that don't get enough winter chill/get winter rains. Box stores rarely get it right, and bulbs are up for grabs. Hilarious! Ideally plants should be listed as perennial in zones ? and annuals in zones ?, but then you factor in micro climates and all is lost.
Name: Zuzu
Northern California (Zone 9a)
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zuzu
Sep 10, 2016 7:48 PM CST

Plants Admin

Well, no, because there are more differences between the two than mere hardiness zones. An annual completes its life cycle in one year and doesn't come back in any zone. The weather doesn't magically turn a perennial into an annual, or vice versa.
Name: Carol
Santa Ana,Ca. (Zone 10b)
Sunset zone 22
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ctcarol
Sep 10, 2016 8:37 PM CST
I do understand that. But for some new to the technicalities of gardening, it can be very confusing. Many perennials won't come back in my zone, but are grown as annuals.
Name: Kent Pfeiffer
Southeast Nebraska (Zone 5b)
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KentPfeiffer
Sep 10, 2016 8:58 PM CST

Plants Admin

Yes, that is what "suitable as an annual" means. The database isn't claiming that petunias, as just one example, are annuals. They are perennials and are described as such in the database. However, people can (and do) treat them as if they were annuals.

That's why the "suitable as an annual" checkbox is in the USES section of the database, not the LIFE CYCLE section.
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
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RickCorey
Oct 7, 2016 6:33 PM CST
I forget where I saw it, but someone expresses it as: "perennial, often grown as an annual".

And I agree: almost any time you say "perennial" about a plant, it would be nice to have said "perennial in Zones X and warmer".
Name: Zuzu
Northern California (Zone 9a)
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zuzu
Oct 7, 2016 9:30 PM CST

Plants Admin

RickCorey said:And I agree: almost any time you say "perennial" about a plant, it would be nice to have said "perennial in Zones X and warmer".


It might be "nice," but it would only perpetuate the misunderstanding. A perennial plant is perennial in every zone. The fact that its life is ended by bad weather does not make it any less a perennial. That's why we have hardiness zones for perennials. There are no hardiness zones for annuals. They aren't coming back in any zone.

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