Wheelbarrow Gardener Column: Annual vs Perennial…..What’s Better?

by Valerie Loseth, The Wheelbarrow Gardener

perennialsSo it’s time to add some plants to the garden, maybe you have a bare spot to fill, or perhaps you’re starting with a blank slate. Which is the better choice, an annual or a perennial?

Well first we must distinguish between the two. By definition an annual is a plant that only survives for one growing season, they don’t overwinter in our climate, and although they go through a complete life cycle and may set seed for the following season the original plant dies.
Whereas a perennial is a plant that has a life cycle that lasts for at least two growing seasons. Many perennials are long lasting and can live for decades given the right conditions, like the peony bush that blooms outside your grandma’s house.

So why would you chose an annual if it’s going to only last a year? Would that not be a waste of time and money? I think of annuals and perennials as building blocks of the garden. Just like when you build a house you chose materials for the foundation that are going to last a long time, but you may chose cosmetic items such as paint or curtains that you keep for a shorter period, these items reflect your personality, status and attitude at that time.

The same holds true with plants in the garden. Perennials are great foundation plants, they set the structure of the garden. They are the plants that you build off of setting the tone for a yearly show of beauty. The annuals are the cosmetic show stoppers of the garden, they are the punches of bright colours, they add style and personality to the garden, allowing you to change every year or seasonally within one year.

What to keep in mind when you go to purchase your annuals or perennials.

When purchasing annuals, look for compact plants. You don’t want to buy something that has been stretching for the sun, the stem will be weak and it may not be able to withstand natures forces of wind or rain. Look for annuals that have bright clean leaves, if they are spotted, turning brown or have bugs on them leave them, it’s a sign of trouble that you don’t want. My personal opinion is not to buy annuals that are in full bloom. Purchase plants that are just ready to come into bloom, these annuals will survive the transplant better than ones that are already blooming. If you do buy ones in bloom, pinch off the flowers before transplanting. Don’t worry, they will recover nicely. Read the tags that come with the plants, make sure you’re buying the right plant for the right conditions of the garden. Shade lovers won’t do well if you put them in a sun baked south facing garden.

Unlike most annuals that bloom all season long, perennials usually have a set bloom period, so make sure that you buy a variety of different ones so that you get a season full of blooms. And as with the annuals make sure that you buy the right plant for the right condition and size of area that you want to plant. Perennials keep coming back year after year, so pay attention to the estimated mature size of the plant, you don’t want them placed too closely together and then have to transplant them in a year or two because they became too crowded. Perennials are generally more expensive, the greenhouses have had to look after them for a longer period of time so make sure your investment is not going to waste, do a little research.

There are so many choices for both annuals and perennials and just as many books, magazines and internet sites that cover the topic. If you’re looking for paperback or internet resources make sure that the sources are providing advice on the plants that grow in our zone which is 2b-3. Perennials in other zones may only work as annuals in our zone.

If you’re not interested in doing all that leg work or don’t have the time, speak to someone like myself or a knowledgable staff member of a reputable greenhouses about what you want and how you want to get there. We are here to help.

You can visit Vl online at The Wheelbarrow Gardener.

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