Every gardener needs to know the difference between Annuals and Perennials. So what is an annual? What is a perennial?
The short answer is:
It's the lifespan of the plant that determines if it's an annual or a perennial plant.
As Webster’s dictionary remind us, annuals live out their entire lives in about one year. Perennials, in comparison, are plants with a lifespan of two or more years.
There! That was simple wasn't it?
Of course how to use annuals and perennials in your garden is a much more nuanced question. So now for the long answer...
You probably have lots of ideas for every inch of your garden. Should you plant annuals or perennials? Okay here is the good news...
Both annuals and perennials can be suitable for all types of climate, light, drainage, and soil. You just need to choose the correct variety for your garden and region. So what does determine which is best for your space? First let's cover the different survival strategies these two groups of plants use.
Both annuals and perennials can be suitable for all types of climate, light, drainage, and soil. You just need to choose the correct variety for your garden and region.
Also, there are very expensive and very cheap ways to grow both annuals and perennials. Cost is not really a factor at the home garden scale.
So what does determine which is best for your space? First let's cover the different survival strategies these two groups of plants use.
Annuals save nothing for future years. They sprout, reproduce, and die over the course of one growing season. Annuals grow quickly, and put as much energy as they can into producing as many seeds as possible. Seeds come from flowers, which means more flowers for you!
Perennials reproduce as well, but don't put their whole effort into reproduction. They save some materials and energy for themselves to live another year. And perennials grow at a more measured pace. Perennials produce fewer offspring. But their offspring have more resources to begin their own lives with. Perennials often create clones of themselves from offshoots of their root system.
Annuals stubbornly insist on doing all they can to create seeds. They are going to die after 1 year so flowering is their only chance to survive through their offspring. If you pinch off a flower, the plant will sense the absence of that flower and start producing more flowers. That's why deadheading works so well with annuals. You can pinch off wilted flowers before they go to seed and the plant will try to grow another flower. This can give you a blooming time for a longer part of the growing season.
Perennials are not as self-sacrificing. They make an effort with flowers but they rarely keep blooming if you destroy those flowers.
Annuals fling themselves wholeheartedly into reproduction. Their own life support is not as developed as perennials. If you are on vacation perennials will dip into the reserves they have stored in their roots to survive. Annuals might not still be alive when you get home. This is especially true if you start your annuals from seed. When they are in the sprout phase, plants are extremely vulnerable to dehydration. So are you away from home a lot? It's something to consider.
Your own personality can guide your choices. With an annual flower garden, you can start something completely new every year. You can try hundreds of different varieties and combinations with little consequence.
If you like the idea of having a long relationship with plants over the years, perennials are a good fit. And here's my favorite thing about perennials... All the perennials around my home were divisions from other friends’ gardens. When I walk around my property I can think of these wonderful people in my life and how happy I am to know them.
Beautiful perennials will come back every year. They will become part of the memories you have of a particular place. When old friends return each year the sight of those flowers can give great pleasure.
The amount of work you are willing to put into a plant variety is always something to think about. It does not dictate whether you should go with annuals or perennials. You do need to plant Annuals again every year, but perennials may also need care to help them survive the winter. There are varieties of Annuals and perennials for lazy and active gardeners!
Gardeners each have their own tolerance to "plants in the wrong place". Remember annuals vs perennials have different lifespans. This complicates matters when it comes to weeds
Perennials can serve as a double edged sword when it comes to weeds. A dense group of perennials can be an attractive, non toxic barrier. They can prevent grasses and other spreading weeds from penetrating into a space. You can plant perennials under a tree, along a fence line, or around a border to form a barrier to weeds. You can even use a barrier of perennials to discourage unwanted insects from your garden.
Yet, if a weed does establish itself in a perennial bed, it can be difficult to dig out. You might end up damaging your plant in the process. It helps to know your local weeds. Fast growing annuals or dense growing perennials are your two options. Try to figure out which type will compete better than your local weeds.
In contrast, if you plant a bed only of annuals you can replace the entire bed and can remove any weeds every year.
Perennials can also become weeds by dividing quickly. If this happens they can produce a mass of roots that is difficult to remove. These are what many garden experts call “thugs.” Read between the lines of nursery labels. Look out for terms like“quick spreader,” “strong grower,” or “fills in rapidly”. These phrases should trigger alarm bells! They might suggest the plant can take over your whole garden! Roots can even penetrate under brick walks and other features! These plants are best planted in a container with a physical barrier underneath it, or left alone.
Besides taking over your own garden some plants can lead to ecological problems. Patches of garden plants can spread and grow in fragile wild habitats. This can destroy the area for native plants and birds. Cuttings from perennials and windblown seeds from annuals can both be a risk. Research invasive plants through your local cooperative extension office to avoid this. While many nurseries know and are conscientious about this problem, some are not. If you see plants for sale that are harmful species discuss this with the management.
You can have your cake and eat it too!
While it is traditional, you don't need to plant annuals and perennials in separate beds. Feel free to experiment with combinations of both plants. It can be a trick to prevent mature perennials from shading out young, growing annuals. So make that a factor in your bed design.
Garden designers suggest starting plans with shape and color before delving into specifics. Challenge yourself to try at least one color/shape combination you don’t think you will enjoy. You might be pleasantly surprised! One thing designers agree on is: go for variety. Place tall with short. Place dark with light. This creates a much more interesting garden.
When you design your garden, remember that everything is going to get bigger. The first day your transplants are in your bed, they can look a bit sparse. But, your plants will be healthier if you leave them adequate space to grow. Don't pack them in too tight.
Also, think about the greatest height of the plants you select. Will they create undesirable shade? Will they end up bumping up against railings or other features of your home?
Perennial plants are often chosen not only for their flowers but their foliage. Foliage can be attractive not only in its shape but in its patterns and colors. Flower Gardening Made Easy ’s page on foliage perennials contains terrific photographic examples.
Mixing flowers and foliage gives you a chance for artistry.
You can try planting group of cosmos, which are tall, annual plants with feathery leaves. The surround the bed with perennial ferns that echo that shape.
If you prefer contrast, try this...
Mix the sky blue flowers of Nemophila with red-foliage border plants. The contrast can be quite dramatic!
There are perennial plants with beautiful flowers. It's not that annuals have beautiful flowers and perennials don't. One widely planted and loved example is the perennial larkspur.
Larkspurs are very tall flowering plants that come in a range of colors. You'll find them in colors from pale pink to iridescent blues and purples. Larkspurs produce extremely large flowering heads with many blooms. You might start a fight between flower lovers if you ask if larkspurs are superior to peonies. It's a hotly debated topic!
Other examples of showy perennials include bleeding hearts and iris. My personal favorite is the siberian iris. Also you get all shapes and sizes of lily, including tiger lilies.
It is difficult to know where to start when recommending annual flowering plants. There are so many! I can never resist trying a little bit of everything. But if you must narrow it down, start with growing conditions and then move on to shape and color. If you do not want to stake plants, pay attention to how tall they grow. Plants that are too tall will fall over unstaked.
I have already mentioned baby blue eyes, but it is one of my favorites because of its sky blue color. I have found cosmos and calendula to be extremely easy to grow from seed, and enjoy their bright colors. Calendula has the added benefit of being edible and high in Vitamin E. Snapdragons are another beautiful choice, but I would recommend starts instead of seeds.
One more variety I would like to highlight is white alyssum. The honey-sweet smell will waft across your property. I plant it near my parking space so that the smell will welcome me home. Colored Alyssum is sometimes available at nurseries but they don't smell as sweet.
Gardeners often like to nurture local wildlife with their choices. You can choose flower varieties that will be hospitable to migrating butterflies. The Butterfly Association has a wealth of information to get you started.
Whether you choose annuals, perennials, or a mixture of both, nutrition is important. Flowering plants with more nutrients will combat weeds and pests better. But take note, fertilizers that are extremely high in nitrogen may not give you what you are looking for. You may end up with big vegetative growth, or green parts, and not as many flowers. Special fertilizers such as Morbloom contain nutrients balanced specifically towards producing more flowers. Compost is also typically well balanced.
Your garden is yours. Your first worry should be whether a particular flower variety will bring you joy. On whether you should grow annuals or perennials, the answer is likely to be… Probably both! Grow whatever makes you happy! And enjoy!
What do you think? Are you an annual gardener? Or do you love your perennials? Let us know in the comments!
After years of being bathed in a market of pharmaceutical medications from seemingly every source of media, many people have turned back to the old ways of treating ailments with herbal powders, teas, and tinctures instead.
Unfortunately, some herbs are hard to find, or they are too costly to purchase, which is why there has been an increase in the interest of growing herbs instead.
One of the easiest and most important herbs to have in a herb garden is borage. This herb has blue flowers shaped like stars that are pretty, but it also has a wide variety of medicinal properties too. Although it isn't very finicky, it does have a few particular growing requirements.
Borage is considered to be a Mediterranean herb. It prefers the same full sun that other types of Mediterranean herbs like oregano and rosemary enjoy. But if there is a little shade in the area, it will still manage to survive.
This herb is not one that needs an excess of water. In fact, its soft stems won't do well if it gets too much of it, so watering just once or twice a week is usually enough for borage.
The soil for borage is of no great importance. However, its favorite is a sandy mix because this encourages drainage. Clay varieties don't work as well since they often hold onto water.
The roots get very long and straight, and they are somewhat fragile. They bury into the ground quite quickly, but this takes space. Because of this, it is best to plant borage into the ground of a garden instead of in a pot.
The delicate nature of the roots also makes the plant difficult to transplant to other locations of the garden. It is best to find the perfect area to plant it in before getting it started to prevent damage to it from occurring.
Growing this herb from seeds is the easiest. Some people prefer to buy pre-grown seedlings, but it isn't necessary. Once the plant is established in an area, it will reseed itself regularly.
Borage is a medium sized herb, so it works well as a border plant to other taller varieties of herbs. It doesn't take long to reach its mature height either. Most people plant it in the spring, so it is ready by mid to late summer.
If you are a gardening enthusiast then you'll already know about mulch and the role it plays in your garden.
Mulching is an ancient process which has improved gardens around the world. Mulch is any material that you spread around or over a plant to enrich and insulate the soil. Retaining moisture in the soil is one of the top benefits of mulch. And let's not forget about the ability of mulch to control weeds!
But, were you aware there are at least twelve different types of mulch?
Different types of mulch offer different benefits for your garden. We can separate mulch into two categories: organic and inorganic. Let’s take a look at your options and figure out which mulch is right for your garden.
Organic mulch can offer plenty of benefits to your garden:
Another big plus you get from organic mulch is it decomposes over time. It returns nutrients to your garden soil and improves the soil structure. Good organic mulch provides inviting habitats for beneficial garden helpers. Earthworms, ground beetles, frogs and toads will feel at home and that's good for your garden.
Shredded hardwood bark is a popular and inexpensive mulch used in landscaping. It is a derivative of the lumber and paper industries and is a great way for these industries to recycle. The hardwood mulch is great when it comes to insulating roots and holding in water. They can help increase your soil’s fertility as they decompose. Be sure to keep the mulch on top of your garden soil and don't turn over the mulch. You can find out more about mulch and how it will improve soil quality here.
This mulch comes in a variety of sizes from larger nuggets to smaller shreds. Wood nuggets look great around trees, shrubs, and in perennial beds. It is a favorite among gardeners, me included.
Shredded bark comes in natural or dyed varieties. If organic gardening is your goal, be sure to check what type of dye is in your shredded bark. It's usually a natural vegetable-based dye, but the vibrant colors can be artificial. I’m always a little cautious when manufacturers introduce additives to natural products.
Often mulch is available to homeowners at no cost from their city or municipality. Usually, it consists of larger chunks of wood. This mulch looks wonderful when used as material to create paths through your garden. This sort of mulch is not aged and the fresh mulch will consume more nitrogen in the soil as it decomposes. Get a detailed look at the importance of nitrogen here.
Once again, a word of caution as the key phrase here is waste. You will likely not get any sort of guarantee about the type of wood or absence of additives. But I’m not rejecting free mulch, especially for decorative gardening projects.
Cocoa hull mulch begins with the roasting of cocoa beans. During roasting, the shell separates from the bean leaving the hull as a byproduct.
It is easy to see why the cocoa hull mulch is so popular. The mulch is organic, has a lovely sweet smell, and a rich inviting color. Roasting sterilizes the hulls so that they are free of weeds or microorganisms.
Many gardeners see cocoa bean hull mulch as a gift from the chocolate industry. The hulls are easy to handle and give a nice finished look to your garden.
Apply hulls no more than 1” deep and water lightly to keep them in place. As wonderful as it seems, cocoa bean hulls have a few drawbacks. You need to replace them yearly because they decompose quickly. The largest problem in mulching with cocoa hulls is the potential to harm or kill if pets you have pets. The chocolate byproducts may be lethal to animals if consumed. Learn more about cocoa mulch toxicity to pets here.
Once again, it is just my opinion, but better safe than sorry in regards to cocoa hull mulch and your pets.
Gardeners sometimes avoid using leaves because they're not as attractive as commercial mulch. But what leaves lack in color they make up for in content.
Leaves contain around 80% of the tree's nutrients including carbon, potassium, and phosphorus. I’d prefer not to waste a fine resource like that. Leaves can help your soil by lightening heavy clay like soil and feeding earthworms.
Be sure to shred the leaves before using them in your garden. Whole leaves can pack together and make a fairly solid mat which rain cannot penetrate. If you don’t own a leaf shredder run them over with a lawnmower a few times. Do be aware that some types of leaves, like those of the eucalyptus tree, are not suitable for use as mulch.
Also, be on the lookout for leaves infected with some sort of blight like leaf spot, scab, or Anthracnose. You should dispose of these leaves instead of composting for mulch.
Using grass clippings is a great way to mulch your garden. Firstly, they decompose quickly. And you can also turn them under the soil at the end of the growing season to help add nutrients to the soil.
It is best to mulch with grass clippings in a thin layer; wait for each layer to dry before you add another layer. Wet, thick layers of grass clippings easily mold and have unpleasant smelling decay.
Mulching with grass clippings is extremely helpful for your vegetable garden. You should work green clippings into the soil, as they still contain plenty of nitrogen. Keep brown grass clippings for use on top of the soil. To prevent grasses from growing in garden beds do not apply grass clippings that have turned to seed.
Also, do not use grass clippings treated with chemical weed killers or pesticides. The soil can easily absorb the chemicals and become contaminated.
Gardeners sometimes overlook or misunderstand the idea of using shredded newspaper as mulch. Traditional black and white newsprint is an effective and inexpensive garden mulch. If lead-based ink concerns you don’t worry. Newspapers have not used lead in their ink for several decades. But, don’t use the slick or colorful pages, like those used in comics or advertising. Ink containing heavy metals will contaminate soil and harm plants.
Also using your old newspapers as garden mulch is a great way to recycle. Shredded newspapers are obtainable in some parts of the country. Check with your local recycling center to see what is available in your area. I find that newspaper mulch is helpful during cold weather keeping your plants safe and warm. And it's terrific for keeping weeds at bay.
Some gardeners feel shredded newspapers are unattractive as mulch. One ideas is to mix a layer of newspaper mulch with another variety of natural mulch on top of the newspaper.
Gardeners and farmers have used straw as mulch for decades.
Notice that I said STRAW and not HAY. I know some of you dear readers are asking yourselves, “what’s the difference?” while others are thinking, “how can anyone mistake the two?” For anyone looking for an in-depth explanation, this link will help.
Straw has many qualities that make it a great choice for your garden. It is convenient, holds moisture well, adds nitrogen to your soil, and it controls weeds. And you can till straw right into your soil when you begin to prepare the garden next year. Many people love the natural, down-home look that straw brings to gardens. Its light color is not only a nice break from the usual dark or red mulches. Also, straw reflects sunlight away from plants and helps to regulate soil temperature.
Vegetable gardens thrive under straw mulch. This video will tell you more about using straw mulch in your vegetable garden.
Straw mulch has some drawbacks not found in other mulch. The straw that comes from meadows tends to have seeds from various weeds mixed in with it. You can avoid this problem by purchasing straw from the production of cereal grains. A problem with using straw mulch is that it makes an inviting home for all sorts of critters. If you live where rodents, moles, and rabbits are a problem, I would suggest that you avoid using straw mulch. Especially if you are protecting perennials.
Decomposed compost is an ecological way to mulch your garden. Composting is an ancient practice, which is both cheap and green.
Organic gardeners especially like to make their own compost. and use it as mulch and to improve their soil. This link can help you learn to make your own compost.
Compost mulch has benefits of regular mulch as well as extra nutrients for your soil. Compost mulch is also free if you make it yourself. This is easy to do because compost is basically yard and kitchen waste allowed to rot.
However, as my father always said, nothing can compare to animal compost aka manure! Using manure as mulch does wonders for soil quality especially if you add it to new garden beds. The key to using manure is to be sure that it composted for four to six months. Ideally, the manure will have spent a week or more at temperatures between 130 to 140 Fahrenheit. This will eliminate organisms bearing harmful diseases. Avoid using fresh manure in your garden beds. For starters it will smell bad and because it can burn tender plant roots.
Inorganic mulch is simply a type of mulch that was never alive. Some popular kinds of inorganic mulch are man made and synthetic. Also there are natural inorganic mulches such as types of rock.
Inorganic mulches do not easily decompose and do not add to the quality of your soil. But they can look great and are effective weed barriers. They often cost more than organic mulch.
Pea gravel is a frequently overlooked mulch material. Its name comes from its size and shape, ranging in size from 1/8 inch to 3/8 inch. You can find pea gravel near bodies of water. The stones have a nice smooth surface created by natural weathering. Pea gravel comes in a range of natural colors like ecru, rust, gray, white, and translucent. Pea gravel looks wonderful around containers, trees, or garden beds.
Like its organic counterparts, pea gravel stifles weed growth and holds moisture. Unlike organic mulches, it does not decompose. This makes it an ideal choice for landscaping as well as mulching.
Paths, patios, driveways, and playgrounds are just a few areas that are perfect for pea gravel. Pea gravel is versatile and you make stunning landscape features with it.
This video contains some impressive ideas for using gravel in your yard:
Cost. Pea gravel costs between $35.00 per cubic yard to $50.00 and up per cubic yard. Usually, the color of the pea gravel dictates the price. Pea gravel’s biggest drawback is its inclination to travel. When installing pea gravel, make sure to edge the area well so you do not find it in your yard.
Be sure not to confuse pea gravel with ordinary gravel. Ordinary gravel differs from pea gravel in a few ways. A machine that crushes the stone creates gravel. Gravel is ideal for driveways as well as paths and patios. It does provide good drainage, but because it absorbs the sun’s heat, it is a good idea to keep it away from plants.
Pumice is a unique rock that forms during volcanic eruptions. It's attractive and makes a great addition to you garden.
Pumice is light and has characteristics that make it useful as mulch and in other areas of your garden. In all honesty, pumice is my favorite type of garden mulch because it has so many valuable traits.
Since it is light and porous, pumice gives great aeration to the soil and retains moisture well. Pumice allows your roots the space they need and it won’t break down, compress, or decay. This means it cannot provide a host to fungi, molds, or insects. Additionally, pumice can hold moisture; no other type of stone mulch can make that claim.
Pumice is useful and attractive mulch for flowerbeds and other perennial garden beds. Take a look at this video for more ideas of how to use pumice in your yard.
When it comes to versatility and beauty, pumice mulch is number one in my book.
Landscape fabric is a method to block weed growth. It comes in sheets that create a barrier between weeds and the upper layers of your garden soil. It is also a controversial type of inorganic mulching material. There are two distinct opinions about it. Gardeners either love it, or they hate it.
To be fair, it does have its place in the world of gardening when installed correctly. Landscape fabric does keep weeds from flourishing in your garden beds. And it does allow air and water to pass through.
Landscape fabric is best used along with organic mulches. And it decomposes faster than most other inorganic mulches.
Critics of landscape fabric explain that it drives away earthworms. They complain it's difficult to get water through and does not allow for easy transfer of plants. You will hear grumblings that it's expensive, and time consuming. And purists will argue that ultimately it does not do your garden any long-term favors.
This article has more in depth information about the drawbacks of landscape fabric.
Rubber mulch made from recycled or ground tires. It is a bit pricey, but it lasts for years. Rubber mulch is another controversial type of inorganic mulch. It has even stronger opposition to it than to landscape fabric.
First the positive. It does not soak in any rainwater, this allows water to reach plant roots unobstructed. Rubber mulch also does not feed nuisance insects like termites or carpenter ants. Unfortunately, it also deters beneficial insects.
One of the alarming criticisms of rubber mulch is possible toxicity. Also there a risk of flammability.
Rubber mulch is extremely slow to break down. Rubber mulch can actually remain in the soil indefinitely. The heavy metals and other chemicals found in rubber can potentially harm the soil. Not only that, this contamination is able to kill algae, plankton, snails, and fish.
Rubber mulch is quite flammable. It ignites faster, burns hotter, and is harder to extinguish than organic mulch.
Landscape professionals feel rubber mulch is hazardous and generally don't recommend it. This is true especially in areas where wildfires are common. I have to agree with this analysis; I do not see any benefits, which outweigh the drawbacks of rubber mulch.
There is much more to mulch than meets the eye, the right mulch in the proper setting is a useful and beautiful thing.
I hope you have enjoyed our look at mulch as much as I have enjoyed it.
When gardening is your passion, it's rewarding to discover new things and share them. We only have one planet and I love doing my part to keep it beautiful and healthy. If you have any tips, tricks, or opinions that you would like to share, please feel free to comment; I’d love to hear from you. Until next time, I wish you healthy and happy gardening!