Perennial Vs Annual Plants: Everything You Need To Know
Even if all of us aren’t major garden enthusiasts or plant lovers, we have all come across the word annuals, perennials, biennials, etc. so what exactly is meant by annual plants or perennial plants? If you want to know more about this topic, then this article will surely interest you. Here is everything you need to know about the difference between annual and perennial plants, as well as the comparisons between different aspects of each of these plants. But first, let us get to learn each of these plants individually before making a comparative study about them.
Meaning of Perennial Plant
Perennial plants are those plants that can last for a lifetime or even longer. The term perennial means through the year. Perennial plants usually refer to herbaceous and woody plants like trees that live for many years. Unlike biennial plants, which have a two-year life cycle, and annual plants, which complete their entire lifecycle in just a single year, the perennial plants live for more than 2 years and keep on thriving.
Meaning of Annual Plant
While annual plants rely on the rapid growth of its flowers and seeds to move from one generation or one season to the other, perennials do this by building structures that can be converted in the next season into a way that will enable them to survive longer. An example of this is buds or bulbs in one season, which get converted into stalks and leaves in the next season.
This difference in perennial and annual plants is mainly caused by genetics. Still, thanks to the latest developments in technology these days, with the help of a technique known as plant gene therapy, we are now able to convert an annual plant into a perennial. But again, since the climatic and temperature conditions are different in different parts of the world, a plant that may be grown as a perennial in one country may be an annual plant in another country. Ultimately, the whole thing about plants being perennials and annuals can come down to their growing conditions and environment. A classic example of this is tomato vines. While growing in their natural habitat, tomato vines can be perennial plants by default. But in temperate regions of the world, tomato vines need to be grown as annual plants, or else they will not grow back in winter due to the extreme frost conditions.
And similarly, depending on the climatic conditions in a place, a perennial plant may also be grown as a shrub. But this is mostly seen in non-herbaceous perennial plants only.
So if you have been wondering how exactly it is that perennial plants other than trees survive for much longer durations, we’ll try to make this easy and explain it for you. Perennial plants, especially small plants or flowering plants, usually regenerate by the following mechanism – they grow, develop and bloom during the spring and summer seasons, they die every autumn season, and then they regrow or return during the winter season from their rootstock. They usually regenerate every year or every season through structures like buds, bulbs, tubers, rhizomes, etc. some perennial plants may also have special stems that allow them to thrive even in a state of dormancy. The lifecycle of perennial plants depends on many factors. While some perennial plants like small flowering plants live only for a few years, others like woody trees live for many years.
The most common examples of perennial plants include the following – strawberry, basil, sedums, geranium, lemon balm, potato, chives, blueberries, English lavender, and so much more.
Types of Perennial Plants
Perennial plants can be divided into two distinct categories: monocarpic and polycarpic. Monocarpic plants are those plants that produce fruits and flowers just a single time, while polycarpic plants produce fruits and flowers throughout their lifetime, all through the various seasons. Perennials also have some features which enable them to battle even cold winters or extreme temperatures like severe heat.
A common feature among most perennial plants is that almost all of them produce very large seeds. A common technique that farmers use to help the flourishing of perennial is to divide them. Usually, dividing perennial plants take place from September to October. It is believed that with more division on your perennial plants, the better they will mature and develop each year. The growth of perennial plants also depends on several factors. The plants will continuously keep growing and thriving in areas where there are warmer climates. But in areas that have seasonal climates, the perennial plants only grow during the growing season.
Let us now look at the various advantages and disadvantages of growing perennial plants.
- Perennial plants are good for the soil – it is pretty obvious that since perennial plants live for many years, they will most likely have a well-established root system. Furthermore, this developed root system can be a boon for your soil by helping it become more healthy and accommodating. These roots are also known to create pore-like structures or pore itself in the soil, which leads to better air circulation.
- Harvest seasons are longer and more in number – since the plants will be living for many years, you can be assured pf more harvests and each harvest having a long duration. They can be harvested in early spring, in late fall, and in summer too.
- They contribute to a better ecosystem – when you grow different types of perennial plants, it makes your garden a great place for pollination by birds and bees. It not only leads to a better ecosystem but also avoid pests and insects in your garden.
- Other potential benefits of growing perennial plants include the extent of their ornamental value in being used as a decorative flower. The very less maintenance – these plants require once they are established, and their resilience to survive even the harshest of weather conditions, be it heat, rain, snow, or flood.
- Once perennial plants have established their roots, it is hard to transfer them, and therefore one should be careful about where the plant is planted.
- Diseases affect perennial plants pretty badly, and once any disease inflicts the plant, then it will have to be dug up and destroyed, and there is no reviving it.
- Perennial plants also need more time for the crop to yield.
- They also have the potential to turn into weeds if they do not get the proper care.
Now let us look at all the details about annual plants. As we saw above, annual plants are those plants that complete their entire life cycle in just a year or season – this includes germination to the production of the seeds and eventually to the death of these plants. Only the dormant seed will be a part of the next growing season. And this is why the life cycle of annual plants are also sometimes referred to as the seed-to-seed cycle. It is also interesting that in some plants, their entire life cycle may get over within just a month, but in other, it may take longer months. Commonly, annual plants are divided into two simple categories; summer annuals and winter annuals based on the traditional seasons.
- Summer annuals – summer annuals germinate during spring or early summer and mature during autumn
- Winter annuals – they germinate during autumn and mature during early spring or summer.
The most common examples of annual plants include peas, maize, corn, wheat, rice, beans, fruits like watermelon, flowering plants like zinnia and marigold, and even some weeds and wildflowers. In a nutshell, we can say that annual plants are found in many categories of plants like fruits, vegetables, grains, etc.
Types of Annual Plants
The types of annual plants are as follows:
- Hardy annual plants – hardy annuals refer to those plants that can tolerate cool temperatures as well as frozen conditions. These plants are usually planted in early spring before the frost-free date. To get fall color, the hardy annual plants can be planted during late summer also.
- Semi-hardy annuals – semi-hardy plants, just like hardy plants tolerate cool temperatures but only a moderate amount of frost.
- Tender annuals – tender annuals cannot tolerate cool temperatures, and therefore, these need to be planted only after any potential danger of frost has passed.
Uses of Annual Plants
Annual plants have a wide variety of uses, which will be explained further. The main use of annual plants is in using them as bedding and border for garden soil and garden walls. Annuals consist of many beautiful flowering plants, and when used to decorate the garden, they will surely bring out a lovely view. They are also combined with other perennial plants to make a garden look fun, full of color, and brimming with life. Again, another use of annual comes related to decoration itself. These plants are used in indoor decoration like containers, indoor pots, and hanging baskets. They are also widely used in screens and hedges to provide a beautiful backdrop.
- Annuals are quick to grow, and bloom – not only do the plants mature and develop rapidly since they have to complete their life cycle in one season itself, but they also have longer blooming periods for the flowers.
- Annual plants are cheap – when planting annuals form the seed itself, the plants are inexpensive and can fit in your budget, even when you buy them for wholesale production.
- The make your garden colorful – annual flowers can be seen in a variety of colors, and when using as decorations for your garden, they can make it look exuberant.
- Some types of annual plants can self-seed – with the ability to reseed by themselves, you don’t have to worry about regrowing and maintenance of some species of annual plants.
- Plants are not hardy – most annual plants, especially annual flowers, are not so hardy. This also means that they cannot tolerate colds, nor will they survive in colder climates.
- The costs increase every year – even though initially annual plants are quite cheap, with each passing year, the costs can increase since the plants only last for a year, and they need to be regenerated for the next season.
- Need to water regularly and frequently – unlike perennial plants that can grow on its own once it has been established, annual plants require frequent watering.
Comparing Annual and Perennial Plants
Now, let us look at a brief comparison between annual and perennial plants to summarize the main topic of this article.
- Lifecycle – annual plants live for only one year whereas perennial plants live for more than two years
- Parts of a plant – in annual plants, the whole plant dies annually while in perennial plants, only the upper portion will die annually, and the remaining parts thrive.
- Survival – while hardy annual plants are cold tolerant to an extent, semi-hardy annuals and tender annual plants cannot survive in winter and cold conditions, but perennials can survive through frost also.
- Reproductive parts – the reproductive structures of annual plants are mostly seeds, while in perennial plants, they include the seeds as well as the bulbils.
- Characteristics of flowers – annual plants have a variety of bright and colorful flowers which are used for ornamentation purposes while perennials tend to have flowers that are less colorful and therefore less showy
- Planting season – annual plants can be planted from spring to summer to early fall, while perennials need to be planted in late spring or early fall since the plant will not get established when it has to tolerate so much heat, i.e., during summer.
- Blooming season – annual flowers will bloom for the entire season, unlike perennial plants that bloom in spring or summer of the second year of planting.
Even though annuals and perennials do have many differences in their structures that make them different, they do have few similarities like that both produce seeds and that both can be flowering plants. In a garden, it is always recommended to have a mix of both annuals and perennials owing to many reasons. The number one advantage of combining both annuals and perennials is that you can get a colorful garden without having to spend too many bucks. Simply planning perennials means that they take a longer time to grow, so annuals can be used to fill the garden along with perennials till they grow. Therefore, plant both annuals and perennials in your garden to promote a healthy and colorful ecosystem.