What are Perennials?

What are Perennials?


What is the difference between annual flowers and perennial flowers?

Plants can be classified as either annual, biennial, or perennial. Annual plants live for only one growing season, during which they produce seeds, then die. Familiar annual plants include impatiens, zinnias, and sunflowers. Biennial plants, such as some types of foxglove, live for two growing seasons before setting seed and dying. The term perennial is reserved for plants that live for more than two years.

Trees and shrubs live for more than two years. Are they perennials?

Technically speaking, trees and shrubs are perennial plants -- they grow for more than two years. But horticulturists usually categorize perennial plants into two types: woody plants and herbaceous perennials. Woody plants are trees, shrubs, and vines whose above-ground parts persist over the winter, and resume growth in the spring. In this course we will be focusing on herbaceous perennials. These are non-woody plants that die back to the ground each fall. The roots, however, survive the winter and the plants re-sprout in the spring.

Why grow perennials instead of, say, a bed of annual petunias, marigolds, or impatiens?

If you grow lots of annual flowers, you are familiar with the annual chores necessary to maintain such beds:  you purchase flower seedlings (or start your own), and plant them. You nurture them throughout the growing season, fertilize and water them; then, when the season's over and the plants die, you pull them out. Next year, the cycle begins anew.

Perennial plants remain in the ground year after year. Once established, many perennials need minimal upkeep in the form of watering and fertilizing, since their roots are more far-ranging than annual plants’ roots. Many perennials spread readily, filling out garden spaces and providing more and more color each year.

Now that you're sold on adding perennials to your flower beds, let's look at some common myths, and discuss why you still might want to include some colorful annuals in your new perennials gardens.

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Perennial peonies and
Siberian iris are beautiful
and easy to maintain.

Some plants behave differently in different regions. For example, lavender and clematis will become woody in regions with mild winters, but will die back to the ground each winter in colder regions.

Also, some plants commonly referred to as perennials, such as rosemary and iberis, can grow to be small, woody shrubs.

Perennials include groundcovers like lily-of-the-valley, with its clusters of fragrant, dainty white bells.

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