The Differences Between Perennial, Biennial, and Annual Plants

Updated on March 31, 2018
Barbara Kay profile image

Barbara has planted and enjoyed gardening all of her life. As a young girl, she watched her grandmother and now has her own garden.

One of the most frequently asked questions by new gardeners is, "What is a perennial?" or "What is an annual?" Then there are biennials. I'll explain the difference below.

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Daylilies are perennials.Phlox, a perennial
Daylilies are perennials.
Daylilies are perennials. | Source
Phlox, a perennial
Phlox, a perennial | Source

What Is a Perennial?

Perennials will return year after year. This is considered a real bonus, since you don't have to replant every year. A few of these plants have a limited life. An example is a delphinium has a lifetime of just 5 years. Most perennials will provide many years of pleasure. Some reseed themselves. Others survive so long that you'll find old homesteads where the plants have outlived the buildings.

There are hardy and tender perennials. A hardy perennial can survive cold temperatures. A tender perennial may need to be replanted every year in colder zones.

If you'd like a plant to return every year, be sure to check that it is hardy in your zone. Some perennials won't grow in warmer zones. They can't tolerate the heat and sun in those areas. Other perennials will die in the north once the weather gets too cold. So no matter which zone you live in, check for hardiness.

You can find perennial fruits, vegetables and flowers. Some examples of vegetables are rhubarb, asparagus, and strawberries. Perennial flowers include shasta daisies, coneflowers, rhudabeckia,daylilies, peonies and many others.

Dianthus - A Biennial
Dianthus - A Biennial | Source

What Is an Annual?

An annual is a plant that needs to be planted from seed every year. Some will reseed themselves if the conditions are right. You can either plant the seed yourself or purchase them at a greenhouse. Some annuals need to be started indoors in colder climates. A good example is impatiens. These flowers need to be started in January to bloom that summer.

Some annuals can be brought indoors and later started from cuttings. Indoor conditions usually don't have enough light though. I've tried this with inpatiens and coleus. Both worked, but only the impatience did well. You can try with different annuals.

The advantages of these flowers are that many bloom all summer, if you keep the old blooms removed. This is known as dead heading. They are often used in baskets, containers or to fill in the perennial flower bed, since some perennials bloom for a short time.

For a beautiful display of color, plant some annuals this year. A few examples are marigolds, zinnias, petunias, and English daisies. Most vegetables are annuals.

What Is a Biennial?

A biennial takes two years from seeding before it will produce and then it dies. The first year the plant grows a good root system and grows it leaves. The leaves then die off in the winter and the plant goes into dormancy. The second year it will bloom.

Some good examples of this type of plant are hollyhocks, Sweet Williams, and parsley. I have had all three of these plants reseed themselves, so they acted much like perennials. Some biennials will put on bloom the first year and they are foxglove and stock.

Questions & Answers


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      • Barbara Kay profile image

        Barbara Badder 6 years ago from USA

        Eddy, Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • Eiddwen profile image

        Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

        Thank you so much for sharing this well informed hub on nature's wonders.

        I love flowers and even though we only have a paved patio we grow all sorts in pots and everything thrives.

        Great work here.


      • donnaisabella profile image

        Donaisabella 6 years ago from Fort Myers

        You are probably right. I need to buy soil because the soil is just the way you described it. Thanks.

      • Barbara Kay profile image

        Barbara Badder 6 years ago from USA

        donnaisabella, I live in the north, so I can't tell you what went wrong in Florida. I do know that you can take seeds and wrap them in a wet paper towel and seal them in a plastic bag and they will germinate. Just keep checking on them. Once they sprout put them in the ground and keep them wet. I know most of the ground in Florida is sand that is made up of ground sea shells. It might be a hard place to grow things with out going to a gardening store and purchasing some bags of dirt to replace it.

      • donnaisabella profile image

        Donaisabella 6 years ago from Fort Myers

        I love gardening and all sorts of plants. I am however still learning the behavior of plants and flowers here in America, I admire the flowers that will soon start blooming around Florida and the vegetables and spices but I am not confident enough to start experimenting. This past spring I did a large patch to plant a lot of mixed flowers and took time to keep the ground moist as stipulated on the package, but not a single plant germinated, I was stunned. I hope to do better this time around, so help me God.

      • Barbara Kay profile image

        Barbara Badder 6 years ago from USA

        Movie Master, Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • Movie Master profile image

        Movie Master 6 years ago from United Kingdom

        Hi Barbara, a very useful and interesting hub, I always get confused with these 3!

        Voting up, best wishes Lesley

      • Barbara Kay profile image

        Barbara Badder 6 years ago from USA

        mary615, Thanks for reading the hub.

      • mary615 profile image

        Mary Hyatt 6 years ago from Florida

        As a flower lover, I love reading about them. You did an excellent job explaining the difference between the seasonal ones. It's confusing to a lot of people.

      • Barbara Kay profile image

        Barbara Badder 6 years ago from USA

        pstraubie48, You are so lucky that spring is on the way. We see tulips and daffodils in early May and then we have to wait for the first perennials in June. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • pstraubie48 profile image

        Patricia Scott 6 years ago from sunny Florida

        I love it when a surprise from the year before reappears. I love my perennials. It is trying to be spring here in Florida and lots of them are peeking through. Thanks you for sharing this...I don't think I knew about biennials..I think my Momma may have told me...she was a wonder with plants...but I think I forgot...

      • Barbara Kay profile image

        Barbara Badder 6 years ago from USA

        Cardisa, Thanks for reading. I'm happy I cleared it up about the plant.

      • Cardisa profile image

        Carolee Samuda 6 years ago from Jamaica

        I had a plant that just up and died in December. I had it for nearly a year and I don't know what happened. Thanks for clearing that up Barbara, I had no idea of the difference between the three.

      • Barbara Kay profile image

        Barbara Badder 6 years ago from USA

        sgbrown, I do the same thing. I'm starting to get there. Last year I didn't plant any annuals, but have been adding dahlia bulbs. You can dig these up and replant them the next year. Thanks for commenting.

      • Barbara Kay profile image

        Barbara Badder 6 years ago from USA

        rebeccsamealey, Thanks for reading the hub. I'm happy I could teach you something new.

        KimberlyLake, Thanks for reading and sharing.

      • sgbrown profile image

        Sheila Brown 6 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

        Good information here for beginners in flower gardening. I try to plant as many perennials as I can so I don't have to replace as many flowers each year. Seems like I always have to fill in with annuals. Great hub, voted up and useful! :)

      • KimberlyLake profile image

        Kimberly Lake 6 years ago from California

        I haven't heard the term "Biennial" before. This is an interesting Hub. Socially shared.

      • rebeccamealey profile image

        Rebecca Mealey 6 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

        I never knew there was a third category! Biennials.Interesting.Thanks for the info!