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the difference between annual and perennial plants

If you are new to gardening you might wonder what is the difference between annual plants and perennial plants. Basically annuals only live for one year, perennials live for two or more years. And we need to mention biannuals, they live for two years. Read on to see the different characteristics of these types of plants and how to use them.



Annual plants live for one year or one season. Since they have a short life span they live life to the fullest, blooming like crazy trying to produce as much seed as possible. We use these super bloomers in containers, mass plantings, and to add pops of color to garden beds. Some of these plants are actually perennial in their native home-they come back year after year-but are “treated as annuals.” These plants naturally live in warm climates where it does not freeze, examples include impatiens, petunias, houseplants, and tropical palms. Some bulbs are also considered annuals, examples include tulips that only bloom one year then need to be lifted.



Perennial plants live for two or more years in their native environment. This includes most trees, shrubs, roses, and weeds of the world. Herbaceous perennials are plants that die back to the ground each winter then return year after year in the spring, examples include peonies, coneflowers, shasta daisies and hosta. Some bulbs are perennials such as ornamental onion. Now this is where things get complicated:  plants that may be perennial in southern Missouri, may not be “hardy” in the St. Louis area. Some perennial plants are tolerant of extreme cold, others are not. Likewise, some perennials can take it hot, others not so much. When selecting perennials it is important to know what plants are considered “hardy perennials” that will grow and return in your “plant zone.” The St. Louis plant zone is Zone 6. Here at Sugar Creek we have separated the plants into different departments to make your selections easier.



Biennial plants live for two years, producing leaves the first year and flowers and seeds the second year. Some of these plants we use as annuals such as pansies. Others reseed easily and return year after year from seed. These types of plants should be planted two years in a row, you will then always have some of these plants in flower. Examples include some foxglove, money plant and dame’s rocket.