Annuals or Perennials?

What's the Difference? Which is better?

Annual flowers are plants that grow for one season only

They grow fast and flower fast, and then die off from the cold weather. Their mission in life is to produce seeds in a year.

Most annuals grow in the warm season and flower in the summer. Examples of annual flowers are: sunflowers, zinnias, marigolds, cosmos, and annual scabiosa.

There are some early annuals that grow during the cool weather and flower as days get longer and warmer. An example of these is money plant that sends up its leafy stems (they’re weeds around here) in very early spring, flowers in early June, forms its pods and dries up in early summer when it warms up.

Annual flowers don’t make any woody tissue, they’re all herbaceous.

Advantages of growing annual flowers

There are so many beautiful annual flowers great for cutting! Liking the flowers is one reason you’d grow them!  

When you grow annual flowers you’re probably after certain ones. Two of the most popular annual flowers are sunflowers and zinnias. Who would grow a flower garden without these? I’m actually not a fan of zinnias though most people love them. But I’m a big fan of sunflowers.

The other advantage to growing annuals is that you get a lot of flowers in the same season. With deadheading they’ll produce all season long. See the Annuals section.

But they need to be planted each year. Which is where perennials come in as an easy solution to that problem.

Perennial plants live from year to year

Some grow fast and may flower in the first year from seed.  But some take years to develop before they flower.

They come in two versions: herbaceous perennials and woody perennials.

Herbaceous perennials lose all or most of their foliage and stems for the winter. They usually need to be cut back at some point. An example of herbaceous perennials that die back is peonies, echinacea, alstromerias, and shasta daisies. Examples of some that don’t lose their foliage is German statice, perennial scabiosa, and peach-leaved bellflower.

Woody perennials grow wood and are in the forms of sub-shrubs, low shrubs, or taller shrubs. They keep a presence in the garden in the winter. Examples of taller shrubs are butterfly bush, roses, and lilac. An example of a low shrub is lavender, and sub-shrubs: feverfew and globe thistle.

White alstoemerias with feverfw
'Casablanca' alstroemerias and feverfew, both are perennials

Advantages of growing perennial flowers

  • Plant perennials once and reap the benefits for years to come. They are a nice “set-it-and-forget-it” way to go about your flower gardening.
  • Perennial flower plants grow larger each year giving even more flowers. And as they grow larger, most are easy to divide and propagate from. So you can share them with friends and you can keep adding to your perennial garden beds.
  • If you have a bad spring, a bad year, or something prevents you from getting to your flower garden before summer hits, you’ll still have your perennial flowers!
  • Many perennial flowers are good in landscaping beds. Many are even deer-resistant allowing you to put them outside of a fenced area. In my growing instructions I include information on whether a plant would look good in a landscape perennials bed. Otherwise, a flower garden with a perennials bed or beds is a treat to have.

 There are huge numbers of perennial flowers to grow for cutting! See the Perennials section.

Remember the difference:
 Annuals—Plant annually

Are annual flowers or perennials better?

I’m biased. While I love to grow sunflowers, cutting marigolds, and a few other annuals, my preference is always for perennials. Many of the perennial flowers I work with have fairly long bloom times.

I find that many perennials are water-wise plants, something many of us need to pay attention to, especially here in California.

Plus there’s less effort in not growing new plants each year, the  maintenance of soil fertility is easier (just apply compost or mulch around the plants), and the year-round beauty and presence some of them add to the winter garden appearance.

Like I mentioned above, no matter if you have a bad spring, a bad year, or for some reason you can’t get out to plant your annual flowers before the summer hits, the perennials will just be there for you. I love that

A couple of sub-categories:

Tender Perennials are perennials that are killed by the cold each year but can grow and flower as an annual. Where it’s warm enough tender perennials live through the winter.

Biennials are plants that take 2 years to flower. The first year the plant puts on growth and the second year it blooms, producing seeds, and that’s it. Examples are Sweet William and Fibigia clypeata (Roman Shields).

See what flowers I recommend:

For perennial flowers go here.

For annual flowers go here.